The Users, the Choosers, and the C-suite
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to interview a handful of career procurement professionals from a variety of companies, from startups to Fortune 50. The goal of these interviews was to gain insights into the mind of a B2B buyer, and I have used what I learned from this exercise often as a marketer.
One of the buyers said the most important advice he could give to salespeople is to understand “… what’s in it for the users, the choosers, and the C-suite.” I love this perspective, and I think it is a golden insight for sales and marketing professionals. I often use it as a framework when building personas, mapping out content, or developing a marketing strategy.
The quote comes from the perspective of the buyer — who is typically the person that is placing your company in the consideration pool, doing the research and vetting, and making the final recommendations to the decision-makers. The buyer wants to provide the best overall recommendation — usually a safe choice (like the old campaign, “no one ever got fired for buying IBM”) — and has to please both the users (those who will actually be using the products) and the C-Suite (who expect value and understand how critical these supplier partnerships are to their business).
As a marketer, it’s helpful to look at the pitch you’re providing to the sales team through this lens. Are you clearly explaining the benefits to the end user? Is your product or service easy to use? Will it make their job easier? Is it safer? Will these users want to THANK the buyer for choosing this product, or will they be complaining about their buyers making a cost-based decision and providing them with an inferior tool? While your buyer is definitely focusing on the financial impact, like cost savings and increased productivity, it’s important not to glaze over the “what’s in it for the users?” in your sales materials.
What about the C-suite? Are you addressing the benefits you know to be important to the executive team? Are there sustainability goals or other quotas you know that they are required to meet? Can you demonstrate your ability to partner with executives, provide personalized service, be responsive post-sale, and share case studies and evidence to demonstrate all of this, in addition to quality and cost savings?
B2B is a broad description, and there are infinite variables to consider, but If you’re addressing these two audiences in your sales materials, you’ve already gone a long way toward convincing the buyer. But the buyers themselves are complex animals, so let’s take a deeper look at what makes them tick.
Understanding the Buyer’s Primary Mission
First, it’s important to understand how a buyer’s performance is measured. “Marketing has a spending budget, and we have a saving budget,” explains one buyer, describing his experience with a Fortune 100 company. “Our ultimate measure is YoY savings on total spend.”
They are particularly focused on each year’s “addressable spend,” which is the portion of the spending that is not tied up in long-term contracts and is open to negotiation. “We have a $2 billion annual spend, for example, but only $800 million of that is addressable spend.”
The buyer’s primary goal is to service his internal customers (including the users and the C-suite). “We try to unlock value for the organization through multiple channels — things like payment terms, speed, savings to headcount or resources, and value-added services,” continues the buyer. “At the end of the year, we’re held accountable for a percentage of savings.” Just how much savings seems to depend on the company size. For a large, publicly traded company, 4-6% a year might be expected. For a smaller company (less than $100 million), saving 1-2% a year means you’re a “rock star.”
As a marketer, your pricing is obviously important, but you’re going to need to be clear about the overall value of your product beyond the initial investment — things like total cost of ownership, savings to resources, and “value adds” that equate to other savings for the organization.
Tricks and Tactics a Buyer Will Use Against You
It’s important to know that buyers want you to want their business. “There is a lot of selling involved in my role,” states one buyer. “You really are working to sell the vendor on wanting to work with you. Many folks have come up through sales roles, or through R&D, giving them a great perspective on product development.” It’s interesting to consider that the buyer you’re dealing with may well have come from a sales background, which may give them more empathy for your plight, or make them a harsher judge of your approach.
First and foremost, a good buyer will get multiple quotes and leverage them against each other. With these quotes in hand, it’s not uncommon for them to start working vendors against one another. “When in doubt, always ask for more detail. A good sourcing person will get as much detail as possible … asking suppliers to break out costs and then playing them against each other. You can ethically ‘take cost driver A’ from one vendor and use it to move that specific cost down from another bidder, even if their overall cost was lower.”
These tactics aside, buyers are bound to ethical standards, and most go to great lengths to be fair. “You also don’t want to over-promise … for example, claiming you’ll buy 100 million units next year when you only plan to buy half of that. Sell and cast vision, but establish and manage realistic expectations.”
Resources Buyers Will Use in Decision-Making
Buyers will use trusted publications to stay up to date on trends, referencing such examples as McKinsey Insights, Boston Consulting Group, and Procurement Leaders: Research, Strategy, and Trends in Procurement.
They will vet suppliers on the internet, and also rely on benchmarks and information from colleagues. They use such tools as ISM Institute for Supply Management to pull vendor data, and Custom Status, a subscription service that allows them to find data and financial information about vendors.
As a marketer, it’s important to know that buyers are actively seeking information about your company online, and you can dramatically increase your likelihood of being considered by providing clear, easy-to-find information on your website. This starts with a solid understanding of your customer, knowing what questions they might be asking, and making sure you are addressing these questions (with thorough content) online.
Tips and Advice to Sales and Marketing From Buyers
Buyers are often tough to get in touch with. You are unlikely to have success with cold calling, although it occasionally works. “I typically don’t answer the phone,” more than one buyer claimed, advising salespeople to “leverage your network for an introduction.”
Understand that buyers are very busy, just like you. Try to make it easier for them. “Send me something to establish credibility — references, referrals, or examples of what you’ve done in the past. Who else are you working with? Show me that you’re worth talking to … I don’t want to have to do a ton of research.”
If you do manage to score a call with a buyer, keep this advice in mind: “Too many salespeople just want to talk. They don’t want to ask the right questions and understand your pain points and tailor a solution. What can you do for me? What can you do for us? How can you trade value? We want to grow with the folks that give us solutions.”
Finally, more than one buyer explained the biggest challenge in their role was “executives who undercut or bypassed the sourcing process altogether.” Considering what we have learned about buyers and what drives them, this may be a golden insight for marketers. Getting straight to the C-suite decision-makers might just streamline the process and result in a better overall deal … but be wary, alienating the buyer could have long-term consequences.