It’s Time: Adopt Buying Groups and Intent or Risk Falling Behind

Kay Kienast, True Influence CMO

Most big B2B purchase decisions get made by buying groups of individuals within an organization. That’s not news – in fact, savvy B2B marketing and sales teams have used the buying group model to engage and convert B2B prospects for several years now.

Today, building marketing and sales strategies around buying groups gives you a compelling advantage over the competition. But don’t delay. In the near future, failing to understand and embrace buying groups will endanger your revenue stream and pose a real risk of your pipeline going extinct.

That was the clear message at a SiriusDecisions Summit, a leading conference for B2B demand generation marketers. During the event, SiriusDecisions unveiled its Buying Groups Manifesto, which proclaims that marketing and sales must align all their processes and efforts around the buying group model. It’s a complete transformation in B2B sales strategies.

In fact, SiriusDecisions says B2B marketing and sales have now evolved past the “leads era” and entered the Buying Groups era. The consultancy has described the impact of buying groups as “blowing up marketing,” and presentations at the conference included images of dinosaurs and meteors slamming into the Earth, just to hammer home the point.

Here at True Influence, we’ve fully embraced buying groups. We’ve built buying group-centric intent monitoring in our True Influence Marketing Cloud solution, and we map buying group roles to our massive B2B buyer contact database to build a complete picture of how teams make purchases at your target accounts.

Our True Influence leadership team has also extensively discussed how you can design marketing and sales efforts around buying groups here on our blog.

We’re all in, and you should be, too.

Let’s take a look at the SiriusDecisions manifesto in a little more detail, and then cover some basic concepts and real-world applications of buying groups that can transform your B2B revenue strategies.

The Buying Groups Manifesto

 SiriusDecision’s Buying Groups Manifesto is based on four key tenants:

  1. The B2B buyer is a buying group. It is as simple as that. There’s simply no benefit in trying to engage and convert an individual prospect in isolation. That’s not how businesses buy, so it can’t be the way you market and sell. As Vicki Brown, VP and principal analyst for SiriusDecisions, said during the conference, “One lead at the top of the waterfall does not equal one opportunity at the bottom of the waterfall.”
  2. It is impossible to optimize B2B performance that starts with lead-centric processes, technologies, and culture. If you’re still stuck in the “leads era,” you’re on the road to obsolescence.
  3. Marketing and sales must align systems and processes to attract, engage, and convert buying groups. The buying group model impacts everything you do, from designing engagement campaigns to prioritizing accounts for sales.
  4. When marketing and sales align by adopting buying groups, the organization gains a competitive advantage. In addition to other benefits, understanding buying groups compels sales and marketing to work together more effectively. In fact, marketing often finds itself more involved after sales qualification, providing content and assets that help the buying group make its final call.

“One lead at the top of the waterfall does not equal one opportunity at the bottom of the waterfall.”

Vicki Brown, VP and principal analyst for SiriusDecisions

Presenters at the SiriusDecisions Summit were quick to point out that as adoption of buying groups methodologies continue to increase, the era of competitive advantage will quickly come to an end. Buying groups will simply become the way B2B sellers do business, and if you’re not ready, you’ll be left behind.

Buying Groups: Here today. Here to stay.

This endorsement of an immediate transition to a buying groups model is not based simply on a hunch. Survey after survey shows  this is how businesses make purchase decisions today and will continue to do so in the future. In its own recent survey, SiriusDecisions found that 81 percent of B2B purchases of $50,000 or more are made by buying groups of three or more people. 

Gartner reported last year that 75 percent of B2B purchasers agreed that buying groups, from across a wide range of functional teams within the business make purchase decisions.

SiriusDecisions incorporated buying groups, which it brands as “Demand Units,” as a core component of its core waterfall methodology a few years ago. This after the Harvard Business Review said that the typical B2B buying group consists of five individuals – a number that keeps inching up as new research is published. 

No matter what you’re selling, you can’t afford to ignore buying groups.

Resources to get you rolling with buying groups

If you’re just beginning to research buying groups or need some pointers on how to elevate your revenue operations using the model, check out these insights from our True Influence team.

Buying group basics – a primer

In this useful primer, we walk through the basics of how buying group members work together to make purchase decisions.

It’s important to remember that an individual’s job role and demographic info doesn’t necessarily define their inclusion or role in the buying group process. Some buying groups span multiple teams within an organization; others are localized in a single business unit. It really just depends on the nature of your product or solution.

SiriusDecisions has identified five key roles in the buying group dynamic.

  • Champion: The person who has identified a problem and is pushing hard for a solution. They are deeply engaged in the purchase process throughout.
  • Influencer: These individuals may come from various teams and tend to be concerned with very specific issues relating to the purchase. For example, an IT manager may be concerned only with the data security of your solution, and so will focus on that topic, often at key stages of the purchase journey.
  • Decision-maker: This person is typically a department head who makes the call on which solution will be presented to the C-Suite for approval. They are most interested in the competitive advantage or pain-point resolution your solution provides.
  • Ratifier: The CFO or other C-level executive who signs off on the purchase decision. They are concerned with ROI and critical risks.
  • User: The people in the organization who will actually use your solution. You steer them toward a favorable view of your offering by emphasizing its day-to-day benefits. 

This post also offers a breakdown of different buying group scenarios and building a purchase journey map based on this information. It’s a great starting point for marketers beginning their transition to buying groups.

Enrich your database to cover buying group personas

A key to successfully implementing buying groups in your revenue operations is identifying the individuals who fill those roles at your target accounts.

The first step, obviously, is to research and fully understand how organizations overall decide to purchase each of your solutions. Again, the buying group profile and process will be quite different, based on what you’re selling.

This piece at Forbes stresses that finding “hidden” buying group members within purchasing organizations is essential to winning new business. You can accomplish this through database augmentation — discovering contacts that fit the personas you’ve identified as typically involved in researching and buying your products.

Our True Influence Marketing Cloud allows you to define the presumed customer personas within your buying group model, then it fills in contact gaps by matching those personas to our massive B2B contact database. We also flag contacts in accounts who exhibit high levels of buyer intent. By correlating this data with account-level intent monitoring, you can also find “hidden” buying group members who may not fit your pre-defined customer personas, but clearly are researching a purchase at an in-market account.

Let intent guide outreach to buying group members

B2B marketing is all about connecting with individuals. Understanding buying groups gives you enormous insight into how these individuals work together to make the final purchase decision, but in your messaging and outreach, you still have to make that one-on-one connection.

This is particularly critical, because individual members of the buying group may not all be at the same stage of their unique purchase journeys. For example, a champion may be researching differentiators between solutions, while an influencer may well just be getting familiar with key concepts in your market.

I discussed how intelligently designed intent signal monitoring lets you identify the precise engagement level of the individual buying group members you need to reach. This includes understanding the types of terms they are searching for – broad, general terms indicate top of the funnel engagement, while specific category language points to a buying group member who is further along in their purchase journey.

Intent monitoring at the contact level connects you with individuals and lets you influence how they move the buying group process forward, based on their role.

Frame ABM and account prioritization around buying group intent monitoring

On the sales side, buyer intent provides powerful insights on how to manage account prioritization for sales qualification and outreach.

Peter Larkin, True Influence’s  Chief Revenue Officer, discussed how he evaluates intent signal monitoring intelligence across buying group roles when deciding whether an account is ready for acceleration to sales, or if it needs more time for marketing to develop the opportunity.

For example, a spike of buyer intent by the decision-maker role, while the rest of buying group remains active indicates a good chance for sales to get its foot in the door. If a C-level contact at an account shows an unusually high level of intent activity, he or she is likely researching a strategic investment that will be ready for sales engagement in a few months.

In addition, account-level buyer intent spikes for organizations that aren’t on your Account-based Marketing (ABM) or named accounts lists indicate you may want to add them to the mix. But understanding the buying group dynamics within those accounts should always guide your revenue strategies.

Buying Groups = The future of B2B

If you’re not using buying groups as a cornerstone of your B2B marketing and sales strategy, you should be. Buying groups are the B2B buyer, and ignoring this reality puts you at risk of missing out on opportunities and ultimately falling behind your competition. Coupling the buying group model with database augmentation and intent signal monitoring positions you for continued revenue growth in the new Business Group era of B2B marketing.  

Want to keep going? Here’s another good piece on Buying Groups: “Using Buying Group Intent to Prioritize Your ABM Targets.”

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