The Usual Suspects – 5 Characters on the B2B Buyers’ Journey

In my post Navigating the B2B Buyer’s Journey, I talked about the changes B2B buyers are exhibiting with respect to how they think about, find and consume product information while doing research. They are becoming more and more independent as B2C and B2B buying expectations merge in their minds and their behaviour.1

I also touched on how complex that process can be. In the majority of cases, purchasing committees are made up of several participants and stakeholders. In addition to their personal feelings about a brand or product, all of these individuals look through a lens tinted by the concerns dictated by their roles.

77% of B2B buyers state that their latest purchase was very complex and/or difficult.

Source: 2019 research by Gartner, Inc.2

It is your goal as Marketing and/or Sales to know as much as possible about the specific procurement process for each prospective customer. How you proceed will depend on that process, the participants in that process, and their relative influence on the final decision. The ‘usual suspects’ are:

  1. Gatekeepers
    • This is usually an executive assistant or a junior employee at your target company.
    • They usually appear before you actually have contact with members of the purchasing committee itself.
    • They’re main job is this capacity is to separate the wheat from the chaff.
    • You need to convince them that letting you past the front gate is going to be seen as a good thing by, and offer value to, the company’s influencers and decision makers.
  2. Internal Influencers
    • There can be multiple influencers from a variety of departments in any given sales process. It is important to understand how much each person or group will affect the final buying decision.
    • It’s not always clear cut because they don’t necessarily agree on what features and benefits are must-haves and which ones are nice-to-haves for the item or service being purchased.
    • For example, let’s say we want to sell specialty uniforms to be used on a new production line in a manufacturing facility. There are four or five groups of people who have a stake in the final decision:
      • Users – Employees that must wear the uniforms care about safety features and want to be as comfortable as possible throughout their 12-hour shifts. (Employee concerns may be presented via a shop steward in unionized facilities.)
      • Health and Safety Committee – Above all else, this group prioritizes employee safety.
      • Plant Manager – Supervisors want their employees to be safe and working to maximize productivity.
      • Project Manager – Being responsible for the delivery and overall budget for a given project, they will be most concerned with the cost of goods and/or the delivery time line.
      • Engineering – One or more stakeholders might ask engineers (internal and/or external) to test of the uniforms’ features to see if they match specifications.
    • You might also come up against one or more individuals who have been loyal to another brand for years. It can make for a difficult path to getting the sale.
  3. External Influencers
    • There is another group of influencers that you need to be aware of and prepared to manage if necessary. The role of reviews cannot be underestimated.
      • Word of Mouth (known) – A personal recommendation from a colleague or respected industry leader could have a significant effect on the purchasing decision.
      • Word of Mouth (unknown)These reviews can take the form of product reviews, testimonials, case studies, etc. in any number of forums and formats. These are ideal assets to develop and share with your customers in favour of your solutions.
    • Don’t forget about your competition as an influencer! They should always be on your radar, even when you are selling to an existing customer!
      • Have they already pitched a solution to your customer/prospect?
      • How well was that pitch received and by whom?
      • What claims are they making regarding their solution to your prospect’s needs?
  4. Decision Makers
    • The final decision can come down to one person like the CEO or CFO. Alternately, it can be some sort of consensus or vote by an entire committee.
    • The decision making process typically involves soliciting input from all internal influencers and integrating it with information from all external sources.
    • This person or group weighs all of the pros and cons of your solution to their problem and prioritizes which features are most important overall.
    • They also compare your solution to any others that have been presented by your competitors.
  5. Purchasers/Sourcing
    • You might think that a purchasing agent will just order what they are told to order. In some companies or industries that might be the case.
    • However, in the electrical industry for example, unless a product is “sole spec”,3 the purchaser could switch it out for another product considered to be “equivalent”. Their motivation for doing so could be to save money, get a faster delivery, because they prefer to deal with another supplier or a host of other reasons embedded into the complexity of the B2B buying process.

The diagram2 below by Gartner© shows us an example of one heck of a complicated B2B buyer’s journey! Believe it or not, this example is not outlandish. It’s a very realistic representation of a current day B2B purchasing cycle that you will need to anticipate and accommodate to the best of your abilities. To further complicate this process, multiple divisions of a company or multiple companies can have a stake in the product or service being considered!

What’s been your most challenging buyer’s journey to date, either as a seller or a buyer? Please share in the comments!

References & Notes:
1DemandGenReport.com, 2021 B2B Buyers Survey: As Buying Committees Expand, Unique Patterns Emerge Among Different Stakeholders, June 2021.
2Gartner, Inc., 5 Ways the Future of B2B Buying Will Rewrite the Rules of Effective Selling, October 2020.

3A “sole spec” (a.k.a. sole specification) is a customer’s internal directive that only a specific product SKU from a specific supplier is to be used for a given application. It can apply to one project or many. This is a rare occurrence but definitely something worth pursuing should your customer be open to the idea. It essentially blocks the competition from selling to that customer by claiming that their product is “equivalent” (which may or may not be the case). It’s your job to demonstrate the added value of your solution, with the quality/suitability of your product or service plus extras like faster shipping, free training sessions or an exceptional customer experience overall. If you ever achieve this “unicorn” status for one of your products, congratulations! DEFEND IT!

Unlike wild bears, feeding the content creator is encouraged! 🙂

© 2021-2022 Tracey Copeland, Rolling Sands Consulting.

Published by tracey copeland

Marketer, Creator, Coach | Brand Communications | Strategic Planning | Talented Leader of Diverse, Cross-functional Teams ― Tracey is an award-winning marketing and communications specialist with a passion for helping others define and reach their goals.

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