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Why Are They Buying—Do They Know?

by David Brock on July 6th, 2015

I’ve written, often, about the importance of understanding why our customers are buying.  Too often, we lose this in our headlong rush to pitch our products and get the purchase order.  We fail to understand what the customer is trying to achieve, their goals, the opportunities they are trying to address.

We don’t know what’s making them dissatisfied with their current operations and driving the need to buy.

Clearly we increase our effectiveness and impact when we clearly understand what’s driving the customer and the consequences of doing nothing.

But in today’s world of large buying groups and complex decision-making, sometimes the customer loses sight (perhaps they never have it) of why they are buying.

If we are doing our jobs as sales professionals, we are engaging everyone involved in the buying process.  We are understanding their own personal motivations and drivers for buying.  We are learning their roles in the process.

However in spite of how well we understand the motivations and drivers of the individuals–we still find 40%+ of forecast deals end in no decision made.

The challenge these buyers face is, as a group, they may not know why they are buying–or at least they aren’t aligned with why they are buying.

There are various pieces of research showing the average size of decision-making groups in complex B2B purchases is increasing.  Most of the data shows numbers in the range of 5-6 people involved in a complex decision (my own anecdotal evidence is much higher).

This research also points to the challenge of aligning the agendas, goals, priorities of each person on the decision-making team.  They each have their own goals, but it’s impossible for them to make a decision until, as a group, they are aligned.  In some sense it’s like those “jury deliberation scenes” you see on TV crime shows.  In those, everyone has a different view of the facts or biases.  Until they all agree they cannot reach a verdict–if they can’t they end up in the “hung jury.”

In complex decision making, while understanding what each individual is trying to achieve, while it’s important to influence them on our solutions, until we are able to deal effectively with the group–helping them align and helping them come to agreement on “Why are we buying,” our ability to win deals is at risk.

It presents a real challenge for how we sell.  Usually we deal with individuals.   Often, our only exposure to the group is when we are making our final presentations.  Clearly, this sets everyone up for failure.

We need to change our engagement process, we need to engage the group much earlier, we need to learn how to facilitate, how to guide the discussion, and how to help the customer team align themselves, knowing why they are buying, the consequences of inaction, and the process they, together, will undertake in reaching a decision.

What are you doing differently to engage the customer buying team?

  1. David, I wasn’t aware of the move to group decision making for buying — interesting. The challenge isn’t just from that, but that humans aren’t good at explaining HOW they make their own individual decisions or any other internal processes.

    So, I’m not sure if we’ll ever be able to understand customer buying behavior any better than we do know, if we are stuck using self-reports.

    • Robert, there’s been a lot of research on this. While the results vary (surprisingly not a whole lot), all show increasing decision making group sizes and increasing difficulty in their reaching a decision. (e.g. Higher propensity to no decision made.)

      There is also growing real and anecdotal data indicating the impact sales people can have in helping facilitate the customer in their buying/decisionmaking process. We’ve seen a lot of it in our work and you will see some very good data from the CEB this fall(I’ve previewed some of it). Stay tuned, we are and can have a huge impact.

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