This post was originally published on June 4, 2019 and updated on February 26, 2020.
As if B2B demand generation wasn’t hard enough, now we must include buying groups as we scope out revenue strategies. While this additional layer of contacts creates more complexity, by mastering the art of engaging at the buying group level, organizations can improve their chances of winning these accounts.
Three phases of the B2B buying journey
According to SiriusDecisions, a buying group is a collection of personas, compared to a buying center, which is the function that holds the budget.
Once they recognize a problem or need, buyers within these groups typically go through three phases on their journeys: education, solution and selection.
Education phase – Buyers try to understand why they should loosen the status quo and commit to making a change.
Solution phase – Buyers evaluate options and determine which solution best addresses their needs.
Selection phase – Buyers justify the investment and then determine which provider will get their business.
How to build an audience framework for buying groups
The first step in identifying a buying group at a particular account involves an audience framework. This organizes target market segments and sub-levels like region, industry, organization type, buying centers and personas engaged in the buying process.
Without this documented framework, marketing and sales can become misaligned on the target audience. Even more damaging, both teams may target only the primary persona – someone who’s already familiar or someone who holds a decision maker or user role. This can lead to what is known as “second-lead syndrome,” which we cover more in depth in this article, “Intent Monitoring Helps Solve Hot-Button ABM Complaints.” Featuring RK Maniyani, True Influence Chief Technology Officer, the piece explains the downside of this condition, noting that “Marketing teams sometimes perceive additional leads at a named account as being of lesser value than an initially engaged prospect.”
Understanding the roles of the personas
A persona’s purchasing behavior and preferences often vary depending on buyer needs, job role and buyer role. Behaviors are most directly observed in how the persona participates in the buyer journey stages.
According to SiriusDecisions, a persona may hold one or more of these buyer roles:
- Decision maker
Using a buying group journey map
When designing a demand generation program, B2B marketers use the buying group journey map to guide the right combination of marketing interactions and tactics. It also helps with the sequence and timing of tactics.
Operating from the buyer persona’s perspective, a journey map lays out interactions, content choices and engagement at each stage of the purchase decision. Marketers use this information to create programs that get buying group members to engage at appropriate points.
What’s so hard about understanding personas and buying groups?
When you have too many personas to target, quantitative and qualitative metrics like number of personas, and new or known personas can help prioritize which need immediate attention. By prioritizing your focus, B2B marketers can overcome the hurdle of understanding the intent of personas and buying groups. Best practice is to use relative targeting to rank the potential of each segment.
SiriusDecisions recommends the primary target be a champion or decision maker, then you can target additional buyer roles as resources allow. With a phased approach, teams operationalize insights about a few key personas and buying groups to start. Over time, team skills and scalability improve.
How to capture buying group dynamics in the buying decision process
If you’re a B2B revenue contributor, you know the value of understanding buying groups, but there’s always more to know. For more on “Capturing Buying Group Dynamics in the Buying Decision Process,” get the SiriusDecisions Research Brief here.siriusdecisions-capturing-buying-group-dynamics-in-the-buying-decision-process
Know the groups who really make purchase decisions
B2B purchases are made by more than one person. Individuals ranging from IT department heads to end users guide the final buy decision, and understanding how these prospects work together in what are known as “buying groups” is essential to moving accounts from initial engagement to closed business.
That’s not news. Some version of this concept has been part of B2B marketing for 40 years now. But it’s picked up speed recently. Harvard Business Review famously took a deep look at what it called the “consensus sale” back in 2015, reporting that the average B2B buying group has more than five members.
Since then, buying group dynamics have grown from being an interesting topic of discussion to an essential component of Account-Based Marketing (ABM) and named account strategies. SiriusDecisions, a leading B2B sales consultancy, incorporated buying groups into its Demand Unit Waterfall methodology in 2017, and the concept is becoming increasingly central to creating B2B account purchase journey models and corresponding campaigns.
Building Your Buying Group Strategy
We here at True Influence are firm believers in the power of buying groups and are excited to have introduced buying group-level intent monitoring and account discovery in version 4 of our InsightBase™ platform. We’re confident that these new features create powerful insights to fuel buying group-driven sales and marketing.
But as with every strategy, getting the most from the buying group model begins with truly understanding the concept, then following up with research and planning to ensure you have implemented it correctly for your best-fit prospects. From that foundation, advanced technologies like InsightBase can take you to new levels of success. But the foundation must be in place.
With that in mind, here’s a practical guide on how to use buying group dynamics to design your marketing and sales strategies. For the purposes of this post, we’ll use examples and terminology as defined by Sirius Decisions, but the principals we’ll cover apply to any account-centric marketing program.
Step 1: Identify Which Personas Are Likely to Be Involved in the Buying Group for your Solution(s)
This may sound like a no-brainer, but if you aren’t currently employing a buying group methodology, it’s page one.
The customer personas that are likely to be involved in the buying group for your solution depend largely on the complexity of what you are selling. For example, if you are marketing a sophisticated data platform, particularly one that handles personal information, the buying group will likely include members from outside the department that ultimately controls budget for the purchase. You can be sure compliance will have a seat at that table.
If you’re selling a hardware solution, your buying group personas likely come just from IT.
And – this is critical – if your company markets more than one solution, you need to model out buying groups for each offering. You’ll want to talk to the HR chief about your payroll solution, but they aren’t likely to care about your inventory tool. Buying groups are interested in solving specific problems – not in your overall relationship with the account.
Sirius Decisions defines three core scenarios for buying groups, which it sometimes refers to as Demand Units:
• Committee scenario – 6 to 10 personas. This scenario usually surfaces for complex solutions with lengthy sales cycles, and tends to be quite formal. At True Influence, we find that buying committees are likely to include members from outside the department or division that controls budget.
• Consensus scenarios – 3 to 5 personas. Buying group members hold different job roles and functions, but are more likely to come from a single department.
• Independent scenarios – 1 or 2 personas. You’ll typically find this buying group scenario for highly specific solutions.
2) Be Sure You Know the People that Match Your Personas
Once you define which job roles should be included in your buying group models, you need to attach those personas to business contacts in your target accounts.
That’s a nightmarish amount of work if you try to tackle it on your own. Very few B2B sales and marketing teams have this kind of insight into even their most desired target accounts, not to mention other buyers you need to be building relationships with.
Fortunately, this is an area where InsightBase’s new workflows really shine. Our toolset lets you build buying groups by persona, then matches those models to verified records in our 50 million-record contact database, along with your in-house lists. Intuitive visual tools highlight any gaps in your buying group contacts at the account level, helping you strategize database enhancement and other outreach efforts.
3) Match Your Personas with Buyer Roles
To truly understand how B2B purchase decisions are made, you not only need to know exactly who is in the buying group – you need to know how these individuals interact. Some buying group members are pushing hard for organizational change; others just want details on your platform’s data import and export tools.
Sirius Decisions calls this additional layer of behavioral modeling buyer roles. Coupling these behaviors with your personas gives you a 360-degree view of how buying group members actually works with each other. These insights let you build a buying group purchase journey map (more on that in step #4, below) that defines your sales and marketing strategy.
It’s also important to understand that each buying group behaves a little differently. You have to make some initial assumptions, of course, but as you work an account you may notice that an executive is rabidly consuming every piece of high-funnel educational material you offer. Lucky you – you’ve found your champion.
Here are the five typical buying roles, as defined by Sirius Decisions:
These people tend to be engaged throughout the buying process. They often are in a mid-level managerial role and see the need for a new solution to improve efficiency or tackle new opportunities on a day-to-day basis.
Influencers tend to pop in and out of the purchase journey, to provide expertise or conduct additional research. It’s important to engage influencers at the top of your pipeline with educational materials, and stay connected during the solution evaluation and selection process.
In enterprise B2B, these tend to be heads of the department that holds the budget. These prospects come into the buying journey when it’s time to commit to budget, and again when it’s time to pick a solution.
Identifying exactly where users fit into the buying group’s purchase journey is nuanced. In a committee purchase scenario, users often come from LOB teams and get involved very early in the process. For buying groups that are contained exclusively within a single department, users tend to be involved in requirements definition and hands-on demos of solutions.
These folks sign the checks. They tend to simply follow the guidance of the buying group, and just need an offer of a case study or other confidence-builder toward the end of the purchase.
Knowing exactly which people within a buying group fit each of these buyers roles is requires a wide range of marketing and sales intelligence, from customer panels to feedback from your winning sales reps. Buyer roles can also be greatly enhanced by intent data (a little more on that, in section #5). And just keep your ear to the ground – an enthusiastic manager you meet at a trade show is likely to be a champion, and you need to take full advantage of that relationship.
4) Build your Buying Group Purchase Journey Map
After you identify the buyer roles that you are going to associate with your personas, you map them out across the phases of the buyer group purchase journey.
Your solution’s specific purchase journey map will be determined by the market intelligence you gather, but here’s an example from Sirius Decisions:
Note that the persona identified in this buying group as the champion is the IT OPs Leader, and is engaged throughout the journey – you never want to lose touch with this persona. The influencer (here, an Enterprise Architect) is targted at key steps in the journey to support or verify the next step.
This infographic from Technology Advice described the process a bit differently, but you can see the same general principles in application. Most interestingly, TA notes the likelihood of a purchase being made drops significantly as a buying group grows – as much as 26 percent when a new member joins. That’s compelling evidence as to why you need to identify and build a strong relationship with your champion; you need an ally to keep the purchase journey moving forward.
5) Monitor, Adjust and Target
With your buying group framework in hand, you can target individual personas based on their buyer role, as well as their formal stake in the purchase process. No matter how badly they may want to, your champion is not going to sign that check, after all.
As with all data-driven sales and marketing strategies, it’s vital to identify exactly when your prospects are expressing interest. Intent signal monitoring is a powerful advantage here, and InsightBase’s new buying group workflows seamlessly incorporates intent to your buying group model.
InsightBase’s account dashboards not only identify which personas are matched with a verified contact, they also highlight when those contacts are creating intent signals — reading blog posts, downloading whitepapers, attending webinars. This intent data is your guidepost on the account’s progress along the purchase journey. If an influencer begins to actively research a topic, there’s a good chance the group is at a key point and should be targeted with specific decision-support materials. A steady flow of intent from a persona you’ve marked as a user for an account may reveal that you may have found a champion.
Coupled with response to your own campaigns, this level of intent mapping offers unrivaled insights into how a B2B buying group is progressing toward that final purchase decision.
Sell the Way Your Target Accounts Buy
Account-based Marketing strategies continue to evolve at a rapid pace, as data-driven technologies like intent monitoring give you deeper insights into account behavior than have been possible before. With these tools, you can build campaings around buying group dynamics and scale purchase journeys models that truly reflect how your prospect accounts make purchase decisions.