“We are witnessing a seismic change in consumer behavior. That change is being brought about by technology and the access people have to information.” — Howard Schultz, businessman and former CEO of Starbucks
To drive your evolving sales strategy, it’s important to understand what factors most influence the buying behaviors of your prospects. That way, you can adapt.
Common Factors Influencing Consumer Behavior
While aiming to uncover the complexities of B2B buying behavior, just some of the variables which influence decision-making include:
- Psychological factors — i.e. learning, motivation, attitudes, beliefs, and perception
- Social — i.e. family, roles and status, reference groups
- Personal — i.e. occupation, age, lifestyle, personality, and economic circumstances
- Cultural factors — i.e. social class system, culture, and subculture influences
While the above factors most certainly influence core decisions, particularly in regard to the B2C buying journey, it is not always that black and white when focusing on B2B buying behavior. Each decision a prospect makes is based on a combination of factors that interplay with one another. That is why it’s so important to understand who your customers are and what they need, as well as who your competitors are. The more you know, the more you sell.
1. Social and professional influences
Research shows that the average number of customer stakeholders involved in a typical high-value B2B buying decision has steadily risen. In 2014, the average number of stakeholders involved was 5.4, increasing to 6.8 just eighteen months later. Today, the average reported number of people involved in buying decisions ranges from 7 to 10.
The more decision-makers there are, the less likely it is that the group will reach a consensus. As reported in The Challenger Customer, when a single individual is involved, there is an 80 percent success rate. However, when there are six or more people involved, the average success rate falls below 30 percent.
In sales, your objective is to identify and target a prospect within the group that will push for consensus in order to push the decision-making process along. After all, the most common outcome of a B2B buying journey is to simply do nothing at all. The most common cause of this result? A lack of consensus for change.
In contrast, within a B2C sales environment, the same effect often occurs in response to family influence. Families have a significant impact on a prospect’s attitudes and behaviors — the same is true in regard to reference groups.
2. The concept of loss aversion
With roots in cognitive psychology and behavioral economics, loss aversion refers to an individual’s tendency to avoid losses over equivalent gains. For example, if someone were to be presented with a scenario where they would lose $200 or gain $200, it is more likely that they would take action in response to the threat of loss. This is interesting because salespeople, particularly those who are less experienced, tend to focus more on a prospect’s opportunity for gain.
“Loss aversion is a powerful conservative force that favors minimal changes from the status quo.” — Daniel Kahneman, psychologist and economist
You need to leverage the concept of loss aversion while challenging the prospect’s status quo. Basically, you want to help your prospect recognize any current threats to their business or life.
3. The status quo bias
“Maintaining the status quo is a gift to your competitors.” — Shawn Karol Sandy, Sales Manager and Chief Revenue Officer of The Selling Agency
Change is generally perceived as risky, so unless your prospect has a compelling reason to act and purchase something new, they will likely stick to the comfort of the status quo. As a salesperson, your goal is to help them see that their current path isn’t as safe as they perceive. You need to help them acknowledge the cost of inaction.
Assign a cost to doing “nothing” and really drive the importance and value of change.
4. “Buying jobs”
Considering 77 percent of B2B buyers said that their latest purchase was very complex or difficult, it’s important to understand what a customer’s experience is like. Gartner identified six “buying jobs” to help guide salespeoples as customers navigate through a complex purchase. These jobs must be completed to the satisfaction of the buyer to finalize a purchase.
- Problem identification — Acknowledging that they need to do something about…
- Solution exploration — What’s available to solve their problem?
- Requirements building — What exactly do they need from their next purchase?
- Supplier selection — Does the product or service available to the company do what they need it to?
- Validation — While a company may think that they know the best solution, they need to be sure.
- Consensus creation — Everyone needs to get on board.
It’s important to remember that a buyer’s journey is not linear. Remember, each decision-maker will be armed with their own 4-5 pieces of information which directly influences their perception. Times that by four or even ten decision-makers, and you can see how complex the buyer’s journey becomes.
5. Early engagement
As discussed, you’ll want to initially focus on selling a prospect the value of solving a problem, not the value of what you’re personally selling. Since the B2B sales process is rather complicated, if you wait to target a prospect after they have already developed a well-defined project, you already missed the boat. You want to be an early influence on potential buyers. Strive to align yourself with buyers early in the decision-making lifecycle so that you can guide them towards their final solution.
As reported in a Forrester Research study, vendors that did the most to shape a prospect’s vision of a solution won 3 out of 4 subsequent purchase decisions.
How to Adapt Your B2B Sales Strategy
As reported by Gartner, B2B buying has changed. It was said that “Sales leaders often attribute this lack of customer access to a failure on the part of sellers to deliver enough value as part of a typical sales interaction. However, in studying ways to address this access challenge‚ Gartner research found a different reality altogether. The problem is rooted far less in reps’ struggles to sell and far more in customers’ struggles to buy.”
Based on this, a new understanding of the B2B buying process may be required within your organization so that your strategy can adapt.
With the above factors in mind, you can begin to adapt your sales strategy by:
- Whenever possible, engage with all key stakeholders. If one stakeholder is presented as having more purchasing power and is not overly responsive, develop creative ways of influencing other members within the decision group.
- In addition, regardless of the number of stakeholders, it’s important to profile and target those in an organization who most closely match your ideal customer profile. Once you identify who that prospect is, develop a strategy that will allow you to influence them from the earliest possible stage. Your goal should be to shape the prospect’s vision of a solution, not jump into their decision process halfway through. Do this, and you will have a huge competitive advantage.
- While you’ll most certainly want to highlight the benefits of implementing what it is you offer, you should equally focus on the costs of inaction. After all, a prospect may like what you’re selling, but if they decide to stick to the status quo, their most probable decision will be to do nothing at all.
If your sales team is ready to have better conversations and sell more, then it’s time to simplify the sales process with DialSource. Once your team focuses more on the conversations they have and the relationships they build, instead of worrying about updating CRM, the results will speak for themselves.
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