If your B2B sales process is anything like ours, your account development reps set a call with the first qualified contact they reach at a prospect company, that individual learns about and falls in love with your service and then signs up for it straight away—without involving anyone else.
(Okay. You can stop the rueful laugh now.) But wouldn’t it be great if B2B sales were that streamlined?
Unfortunately, B2B purchasing has become a team sport. Individuals rarely make unilateral buying decisions any more. So: why the change? What’s driving this group buying mentality? Three key factors are contributing to this new dynamic.
1) Collaborative Leadership Styles
Customer attitudes about how they should make important buying decisions have changed significantly over the past 20 years. Most people have grown to dislike authoritarian, unilateral decision-making in government, at home and at work. This cultural shift has dramatically changed how purchasing decisions are made in the workplace. Buyers today prefer a far more democratic and egalitarian process for building buy-in and approval during the problem definition and solution selection process.
Gone are the days when a lone hierarchical leader boldly makes top-down decisions with subordinates dutifully following behind. Now the culture has shifted to a consensus-driven approach with groups of leaders converging on a shared set of problems and solutions together—and then implementing the agreed-upon strategy as a collective team. As progressive sales professionals, we need to respond to this trend and understand its impact on the B2B selling and buying process.
2) Increased Accountability
One of the legacies of the Great Recession is an increased focus on holding providers accountable for delivering results. Now more than ever, companies compare actual outcomes with what vendors promised. This frugal mindset carries over into today’s purchasing environment.
Another change is that buyers are more aware of and committed to evaluate the post-sale implementation experience and their ongoing customer success. Buyers have been through enough buying cycles to know that implementing solutions requires a big commitment on their part. When the initial contact at a prospect company (also known as the “mobilizer”) builds consensus among his peers before making a purchase, the implementation tends to go smoothly because all of the stakeholders understand the potential value of the solution and are willing to support it with the resources required to make it successful.
3) Minimizing Personal Risk
When an implementation goes well and the stakeholders have collectively received good value from it, they give the mobilizer personal kudos, which elevates her professional reputation and prestige. On the other hand, when implementations stall or fail outright, the reputation of the mobilizer obviously takes a hit—or worse.
Based on discussions with their customers and their recent buying group survey, CEB reports that one of the reasons for consensus-based buying is that mobilizers perceive it as being a less risky approach for them in terms of the respect and credibility their peers have for them: some even reported feeling that their jobs would be at stake if they made an ill-fated recommendation.
Buyers would rather accept the short-term pain of having to build consensus among their fellow stakeholders because, in exchange, they receive the long-term benefits of up-front buy-in by having a higher chance for successful implementations and delivering better value to their company.
Buying Groups Are Here to Stay
The data from multiple sources back up the idea that buying groups are here to stay. DemandGen’s B2B Buyer Behavior Survey (2014) revealed that 34% of buyers say their buying groups increased in size compared to the year before. And Corporate Executive Board’s recent (2013) study on group buying behavior shows that 75% of buyers report that a wide variety of roles, teams, and locations were involved in the purchase.
The bottom line is that consensus-based decision-making is on the rise because, in most cases, it’s in the interest of companies and individual buyers to make group purchase decisions. The group buying mindset is here to stay. The Age of Consensus has arrived.