Brent Adamson
July 20, 2018

Why B2B Businesses Need To Put the B2B Buyer First

Guest: Brent Adamson - Principal Executive Advisor, Gartner

A customer’s purchase journey is never an easy process to document and collect data on. Thankfully, Brent Adamson is interviewed on this episode of Renegade Thinkers Unite. As Principal Executive Advisor at Gartner (formerly CEB), Brent works to help B2B companies explain to customers why their solution is the best available.

Throughout part 1 of this conversation, Brent and Drew discuss why putting the customer first should be at the heart of any B2B organization. They also explain the 6 non-linear steps in any purchase journey, and Brent shares his #1 tip for any B2B supplier.

Click here to learn what you need to know about B2B marketing.

What You’ll Learn

Putting the buyer first is the #1 step to create a better purchase journey

B2B companies should be focusing on understanding how buying happens. Learning how your ideal customer views the buying process will give you direction when bridging the gap between marketing and sales departments. Brent explains that unfortunately, few brands in the B2B space are doing this well. To learn how to put the buyer first and reorganize your brand’s purchase journey model, be sure to listen.

The 6 main steps in any B2B purchase journey – they’re not linear!

Contrary to what many professionals believe, a purchase journey within B2B industries isn’t linear. And closing a deal isn’t about progression, it’s about completion. Brent outlines the 6 main steps that must be completed before any buying decision is made.

  1. Problem identification
  2. Solution exploration
  3. Requirements building
  4. Supplier selection
  5. Consensus creation (always happening)
  6. Validation of information (always happening)

These steps are far from being linear, especially when multiple decision-makers are involved. Of all the B2B buyers surveyed by Brent and his team at Gartner, 90% reported having to revisit one of the top 4 steps multiple times throughout their purchase journey.

Marketers should be doing THIS, before anything else, to help buyers choose their solution

Given these 6 steps, what is the ideal job of a B2B marketer? Brent believes it’s simple: marketers need to make buying easier. The first step in doing so is ensuring that problem-solving information is available through multiple channels. The answers given to a buyer over the phone from a sales rep should be consistent with information available online and via social media.

Actively solving a customer’s problems, before they even recognize a problem, is the key to making B2B buying easier. By understanding a buyer’s problems, offering them the best solution, and supporting them through their purchase journey, you’re well on your way to closing more deals in your industry.

Timeline

  • [0:30] Brent’s Renegade Rapid Fire segment, and his unique definition of marketing
  • [7:30] The importance of putting the customer first
  • [12:11] Brent explains the traditional customer purchase journey model
  • [17:42] The 6 main steps to a buying process – they’re NOT linear
  • [25:40] B2B buying is incredibly complex, and it’s through a multi-channel approach
  • [33:27] Here are your need-to-know takeaways from part 1 of this conversation with Brent

Connect With Brent:

Resources & People Mentioned

Connect with Drew

Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Brent Adamson

Drew Neisser: My guest today is Brent Adamson, co-author of “The Challenger Sale,” a book I have read and highly recommend. It’s required reading, by the way, for two of our clients by both the sales and the marketing staff. Now, Brent’s day job is Principal Executive Adviser for the sales and marketing practice at Gartner, formerly CEB.

In that role, he serves as their chief storyteller (so I’m expecting stories) having worked on numerous sales and marketing studies broadly spanning everything from customer loyalty to sales rep performance to organizational productivity. He’s a frequent contributor on sales topics to the Harvard Business Review’s blog, CEB’s blog as well as being published in Bloomberg Businessweek and Selling Power. He’s a sought after speaker—I just watched the speech that he did and I can see that he is awesome. It’s funny because I was with a current client recently who had attended a Gartner conference and he mentioned that Brent was the best speaker there. The bar has been set. Brent, welcome to Renegade Thinkers Unite.

Brent Adamson: Thank you, Drew. I think it just shows you that the bar is actually very low.

Drew Neisser: Well, I’m not going to say anything about your Gartner colleagues.

Brent Adamson: Well, no, I was talking about the world in general but I will do my best to hop over it in some fashion or another across the next 30 minutes.

Drew Neisser: All right, well, we’re going to do Renegade Rapid Fire. For the regular listeners of the show, you know how this works. I just throw a bunch of questions at the guest in a very short period of time and we see how far we can get. So, Brent, are you ready?

Brent Adamson: I am ready. Let’s roll.

Drew Neisser: All right. What’s your definition of marketing?

Brent Adamson: I don’t have one.

Drew Neisser: That is provocative. Why not?

Brent Adamson: Well, it’s actually a really interesting question, but I have come up with—or I’ve attempted at different times to come up with—a definition of marketing, and a couple of things are important to consider. One is the organizational context within which any marketer operates. That’s going to be significantly different. I’ve met, as many of us have on this call today, thousands and thousands of marketers around the world and it’s interesting—there are probably thousands of thousands of definitions of marketing across them as their roles are going to be the product of the context within which they’re operating.

I think at the task level there are lots of different things that marketers are involved in, and some are probably more valuable than others, but I think with any definition of marketing, you’d probably find some exception to it. Now, if you were to ask me: “What is it that marketers should be focused on more than anything else?” That’s the kind of question I could answer: ‘The thing we should be most focused on as marketers more than anything else is figuring out a way to help our customers buy our solution.” If that’s a definition of marketing then I guess you can have that one.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I’ll take that one. Help our customers find a way to buy us. I like that. It’s funny because one of my earlier guests on the show who happens to be the CMO of Norwegian Cruise Lines defined marketing as filling every berth on a ship.

Brent Adamson: Here’s actually something interesting to consider Drew. One of the problems I have with saying “The definition of marketing is helping our customers buy our solution” is that it’s not just the definition of marketing. I’d say that’s the definition of sales, too. Therefore, is it still the definition of marketing? Or is it something else? I’m not sure, but I think that’s the thing we have to consider.

When I get into definitions, I think as this call progresses we’re going to find, I’m really beginning to solve more and more in our research for what do we as a commercial organization need to do and I think in many ways this distinction between sales and marketing is actually getting in our way of making that happen.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. We’ll circle back on that. Can you define a primary role for the chief marketing officer as you see it?

Brent Adamson: Well that’s actually where I think we’re going to have to dig in because if you were to give me the ultimate power to structure an organization, I would have a chief commercial officer or a chief buying officer. Although, that sounds like procurement, so I wouldn’t call it that, but they are the person at the company who oversees the process by which customers buy our solution. That person would own digital and they’d own sales because both of those are channels to our customers. But traditionally, we set up marketing as digital and sales as in-person, or we set up marketing as demand creation and sales as deal execution. I think all of those distinctions, frankly, are going to significantly get in our way going forward of our ability to actually sell and make money.

Drew Neisser: What you’re describing seems like the CRO, the chief revenue officer that I’ve heard and seen when marketing and sales report to each other. I think the one challenge in the word that I haven’t heard you use is “brand,” this ethereal thing that actually makes people want to buy a product for irrational reasons even though, in theory, these are rational choices. I do think that there is a distinction between marketing and sales and I think that distinction comes in a recognition of the power of brand, but that’s just me. We’ll get back to that because I’m interviewing you right now.

Brent Adamson: It’s a good point. In all my ruminations of what marketing is and what a CMO is, that’s interestingly, in my mind, the thing that always pops out as what I don’t have a home for, like where does brand live? Notice what happens logically— I’ve got to find a home for brand and brand creation, brand recognition. I’m right there with you. It’s hugely important with one major caveat. Do you shove that over to communications? That seems like a bad idea. No, we’ll call that marketing and we’ll square off and say “That thing with boundaries around it, that’s marketing.” Well, then, what about helping your customers buy your solution through digital? Is that not marketing? I think the distinction that we tend to create around marketing is brand plus digital buying plus demand generation. That is slicing the pizza in a really weird way that’s completely inconsistent with how customers buy.

Drew Neisser: It is a challenge. An earlier guest, from Egon Zehnder mentioned that it is the most bespoke role in the C-Suite because of that. What are their areas of responsibility? Often, the CEO defines that unless the CMO really knows and says, “These are the three things I’m going to do. Are you good with that?” Usually, those are only the brand vision, creating the structure for demand generation, and then tracking performance. Everything else falls under that.

Brent Adamson: But notice it’s always done within the context of organizational legacy structures and reporting lines and roles. It’s all based within the context of: what does this organization have and not have right now? What are our needs? As much as we spend all of our time in marketing saying the customer comes first and we put the customer at the center of everything we do, we rarely define a marketing function from the customer back, rather we define the marketing functions by what needs to get done inside our current company.

Drew Neisser: All right, I hear you. When you say put the customer first, I think of Jobs and, you know, I’m also annoyed at Apple right now because they’re not putting the customer first. They’re putting their dongles first. When we talk about putting the customer first, are we really saying that we’re looking for them to tell us what the product should be? Looking for them to provide the vision for our brand? Or are we simply putting them first in terms of making sure that they understand in the best possible light how we can help them?

Brent Adamson: That’s a really interesting question that may take us too far. I think it stopped being a lightning round at some point.

Drew Neisser: It did, and that’s fine.

Brent Adamson: The thing that’s interesting here is that you mentioned product, for example, so you’d get into product innovation, product development. Should that be customer-driven? I think to some degree, absolutely. Then again, you have the whole Henry Ford thing where we just all have faster horses today, so maybe not. Is that marketing? Is that part of marketing? Is it something else? At some point, I think the debate almost becomes philosophical.

What I guess I’m advocating for is that there needs to be some part of a B2B organization that is focused on how buying happens. What are the mechanisms of buying? What’s the process of buying? Who’s involved? What are the challenges of buying? How does that whole thing evolve over the course of a purchase journey? And who owns that inside of the organization?

What’s interesting is that, traditionally, we say, “Well, sales owns part of it, marketing owns part of it.” Your customers don’t look at it that way whether or not we have a function for brand, for product development, or for something else like customer service—and probably all of those things are important. However, what I’m now seeing in our research is a significant amount of need for an organization to have some sort of cohesive, coherent function, call it what you will, that is specifically on the hook for understanding the buying process, how buying happens, and influencing that buying process in a material way through all the channels through which we have access to our customers whether they be digital or in-person.

Drew Neisser: And that is what we are going to spend the rest of the show on. We are going to talk about it and really get into what that buying journey is. I’m curious—before we wrap up this part of the segment—are there brands out there that you’re seeing that are doing this really well?

Brent Adamson: Not in the B2B space, no. I think we’re just beginning to see this new reality come over the horizon. What’s interesting is you can find versions on the business-to-consumer side but it’s different at the same time. So, no. I think you see hints of it.

It’s interesting—I did a meeting just last week in London with a bunch of Chief Sales Officers and the head of a CPG company for Europe came up to me after the meeting. He’s the GM or the managing director for Europe for that company. He said something really interesting to me. He said, “Brent, I get the impression that just about everybody in this room is the head of sales” and I said, “Yes that’s right.” He said, “Well, I’m actually not the head of sales, I’m the general manager. Everything you’re talking about today, they seem to be resistant to, but it totally makes sense to me.”

I agreed with him, it’s 100% right and that’s exactly what I’m talking about. It’s not so much companies that get this right versus companies that don’t get this right. I think it’s actually happening at the individual level. There are certain commercial leaders who get this because they have the scope, the breadth of vision, and the perspective to see across what is a traditional, functional boundary of sales and marketing that’s now getting in our way because it’s not how customers think about buying.

Drew Neisser: I think, without even going through the lightning round, the guests have a pretty good idea of where you’re coming from and where the rest of this show is going. We’re going to take a quick break and when we come back, let’s talk about the mistakes or what these folks, whether they’re sales or marketing, are just not seeing. We’ll be right back.

BREAK

Drew Neisser: We’re back. My guest is Brent Adamson of Gartner. We’ve just started to scratch the surface on this thing called the customer journey and why and how buying happens. Maybe you could walk us through the basics as you see it that your customers, the B2B brands, are not getting.

Brent Adamson: Absolutely. For what it’s worth, Drew, this is cutting edge thinking—it sounds self-flattering and I don’t mean it to be—at least cutting edge for us. In other words, we’re right at the boundary right now of our current research and what I mean by that is: we’re learning along with everyone else. Sometimes when we put these really tough or interesting or renegade ideas on the table, people immediately and rightly so want all sorts of really practical answers. Sometimes our answer is “I don’t know. It’s a really good question.”

To the degree that’s worthwhile, I’ll put our perspective on the table. If you think about how we’ve traditionally thought about sales and marketing in a business-to-business space and adapting to customers and helping customers buy, then more often than not, we tend to think of that as a linear progression, that the purchase happens along a purchase journey or a purchase path. For what it’s worth, we’ve done a huge amount of research in our own organization, first at CEB and now Gartner, where we’ve helped our member companies and client companies understand that purchase journey, understand all the different aspects of it.

We spent a lot of time over the last couple of years talking about the fact that it’s not just awareness, consideration, preference, and purchase because ultimately that’s far too limited in scope. After all, it’s awareness of whom? Of us. Consideration of whom? Of us. That’s not the purchase journey, that’s what I like to call the “purchase-from-us” journey. Nonetheless, we’ve expanded the scope to think from the very moment a customer identifies a problem—whether we’re the ones that taught them they have a problem to begin with through what we call “commercial insight” or they’ve identified a problem on their own—but from that moment on through that entire step-by-step journey to the ultimate decision of making a purchase.

We tend to think of that as more or less a linear process. Now, I think there’s always a sort of “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” moment where you say, “Well, it’s not really linear.” We know that, right? But at the same time, we draw it as linear, we think of it as linear, because it’s an abstraction that helps us practically organize around that view of buying.

At some point, if you think about it—what happens early? Early on in that purchase journey, it’s largely marketing’s role, so marketing owns the early part of the funnel. We create demand, we generate demand, we identify demand, we find those leads, we qualify those leads, we nurture the leads, we drip those leads, we feed them little bits of content, and the whole idea for the model on the marketing side is that we’re trying to drive up consumption because if we can drive up consumption of our content, that is a sign that our customers are engaged with whatever we’re doing. If we can drive up content consumption that equals customer engagement and, gosh, if they are engaged with us, that must mean that they’re progressing along that purchase journey until ultimately we can stamp them as qualified for sales.

I think that’s the model that marketers run all over the world. We know this. We talked to them and asked if they’re asking for help on this. How do we drive up content consumption to get more engagement so that we can move them through the funnel so that we can stamp them qualified for sales? What’s really interesting about this model is that it runs that standard linear progression from MQL to SAL—all the things we’ve got to do in marketing through digital to stamp a marketing-qualified lead so we can throw it over the fence, hand it off the sales, and then they can pursue it as a sales-accepted lead. That progression, by the way, for what it’s worth, I call it MQL to SAL to NMP which is marketing-qualified lead to sales-accepted lead to not my problem.

You chuck it over the fence and, by the way, the beautiful thing about marketing is in this world where it’s a linear progression like that, you do your whole digital thing, you get all digitally with it, you get those customers all engaged, you get them all excited, you get them qualified and you hand them over to sales and say, “Not my problem.” At that point, by the way, if sales wipes out and that deal doesn’t ever come in, then as a marketer you say, “Woah, sales, what’s going on over there?” Like, “Man, you guys just didn’t follow up on that.” It just becomes a blame game. Sales says, “Well, you didn’t pass over anything worthwhile.” The whole thing breaks down and everybody’s kind of looking around saying, “How do we fix this thing? How do we fix this funnel? How do we fix this purchase journey? Because right now it’s not actually working.”

Nonetheless, we built this entire infrastructure around a linear progression, and right in the middle is the handoff—the handoff from marketing to sales, the handoff from digital to in-person. That’s what most of us are doing right now and the question we get from marketers and, for that matter, sales leaders as well is: “How do we make that more effective?” What we’ve found in our research—we went out to study that very question—we just found it’s actually just not a very effective way of thinking about how the world works in general.

Drew Neisser: Wow. That is a pretty accurate description of almost every B2B client that either I’ve worked with or seen in action. It’s this, “Let’s get that lead. Let’s score that lead. Let’s get it to enough points where it’s marketing-qualified lead.” Then it gets over to sales and sales says, “Yeah, okay I’ll take this.”

Brent Adamson: Or they won’t.

Drew Neisser: Or they won’t because it’s not enough points and they didn’t discover it. Where’s the breakdown here? Is that lead not qualified? Is it the wrong lead? I mean, what’s going on that’s wrong?

Brent Adamson: The breakdown, Drew, is that that’s not how buying happens.

Drew Neisser: Okay. How does buying happen?

Brent Adamson: That’s where this stuff gets really interesting and this is the latest thinking from us in our research. In our effort to try to understand how to make that system work more effectively, how to progress leads across that linear map and get to the handoff and get past it, we thought, “Alright, let’s make sure that we understand how buying happens to begin with.”

As you’ll be familiar with, perhaps, the approach to buying called “Jobs to be Done”—which is a Clay Christensen and Bob Mesta model that’s become quite popular, or at least well-known the last couple of years—working directly with Bob Mesta as a consultant on the project, we went out and surveyed a series of senior leaders at large B2B corporations all involved in the purchase of some complex solution in their organization, applying this “Jobs to be Done” framework and trying to understand what buying actually looks like. B2B buying. We’re not talking the replenishables or the transactional stuff, we’re talking to the multimillion-dollar complex solutions that take anywhere from six months to a couple of years to buy. The complex stuff.

When you do that, when you study buying from that perspective and try to understand how buying happens, what you find is that effectively there are six jobs that make up a typical B2B purchase. I almost say it’s a purchase process for reasons I’ll get into in a second, but there are six jobs that customers have to complete to their satisfaction in order for them to comfortably make a purchase decision. What’s interesting about these six jobs that we were able to pull out of all of this research and all these qualitative interviews is, in many ways, these six jobs are going to sound incredibly familiar to what we’ve built in the past.

The six jobs are problem identification, solution exploration, requirements building, supplier selection—and by the way, what’s interesting about those four—problem identification, solution exploration, requirements building, supplier selection—it feels like when you hear that, it’s, “No duh, no duh, no duh, and no duh.” It’s hard to imagine any purchase process that doesn’t actually involve the customer successfully doing those things. You have to identify a problem and figure out if it’s a problem worth solving. You’ve got to figure out the right solution to address that problem. What are the requirements we need to build that solution? Who is the best supplier to deliver it?

But at the same time, if you were to ask me a question like, “Okay, so we’re going to line that up, right? We’re going to call it stages 1, 2, 3, and 4, put it in a linear order, and just jam everything in it at some point in the middle as a handoff.” That’s not how buying happens. You get into interesting things, like you ask customers, “So which of those four stages is the consensus creation stage? Where does consensus happen?” The answer is that it happens all over the place. Same as validation, in fact, what we’ve found is that those two jobs—validation, that is the validation of information that’s constantly flowing into a purchase decision, and then consensus creation, making sure that everyone is flowing in and out of that purchase decision is onboard and stays onboard at whatever stage you might theoretically be in—those are two things that have to happen. They’re always on.

At any point across a buying journey, those things have to be addressed and at the end of the day, you can’t comfortably make a purchase decision unless the entire buying group, which by the way, our data tells us now are well over six to eight to nine to ten people—I talked to a guy in sales last week, he said he tried to close a deal and there were 16 people involved on the customer side. These are massive buying groups and if you can’t get everyone on board, it doesn’t matter which quote-unquote “stage” you’re in, you just can’t make that purchase happen.

Drew Neisser: Are 5 and 6 consensus and validation? Or are those just part of everything?

Brent Adamson: Those are 5 and 6. Here’s where this gets interesting. If you’ve got these top four, the four that feel logically linear—problem identification, solution exploration, requirements building, supplier selection—you think, “Of course they flow in a linear order. You start with 1, you move to 2, and then move to 3.” But when we went out, we took those four jobs in particular that feel logically linear and we put them into a large survey that we ran with several thousand individuals all involved in a complex B2B purchase. We asked them just a very straightforward question: “At any point along this purchase journey, did you go back and revisit any one of these jobs as part of the purchase process? Having thought you completed it, did you go back and have to revisit that job?”

What’s interesting is that 90% of those B2B buyers that we surveyed reported having to revisit at least one job. When you look at it by the job, every single job gets revisited at least 76% of the time. We call this “looping.” The reason why looping matters is because it tells us that, at the end of the day, when customers are engaged in a buying journey, that buying journey is not a straight line but it’s a looping journey. It circles back on itself, it starts and it stops, it moves forward. It’s one step forward, two steps back, then two steps forward and one step back.

There are all sorts of things that actually happen in a purchase journey which force the customers to go back and revisit ground that they thought they’d already covered, which, by the way, is so incredibly frustrating for customers too because, just as we as suppliers think it should be a linear process, so do our customers. I mean how hard could it be? Identify a problem, explore the solution, build requirements, and select a supplier.

Yet, the old saying in the military, “No strategy ever survives in engagement with the enemy,” is the same thing in buying which is, “No purchase ever survives engagement with your own organizational reality.” Why? Because procurement gets involved, the capital review board has to come in, the CEO changes over, the end-user community says, “That’s not what we need.” Everything gets revisited and stuck and unstuck and moves forward and then back. What you find is that a purchase process looks anything but linear at the end of the day. It doesn’t look anything like the models that we’ve created.

Ultimately, what customers have to do to make a purchase happen is lock in all six of those jobs simultaneously. It’s kind of like launching a nuclear missile—you’ve got to turn all the keys at once. Or the plate spinning act where you got to get all the plates on the sticks spinning at the same time—you get the first one spinning, then the second one’s spinning, and by the time you get to the third one, the first one is wobbling. A B2B purchase doesn’t happen until all six jobs are completed in the minds of the customer to their satisfaction.

Do you know what that tells us? That tells us ultimately that B2B buying isn’t about progression, it’s about completion. It’s not about moving someone forward from beginning to end across six jobs or six stages, it’s not that you start with job 1 and move them to job 6. It’s about doing whatever we can through whatever channel we can at whatever point we can to give them the help that they need to complete each of those six jobs. When you look at it from that perspective, it turns out it’s not about the handoff at all. We’ll come back to the handoff point, but it’s a very different kind of perspective: completion versus progression.

Drew Neisser: There are so many things in there that I want to respond to, but it’s fascinating to me particularly in marketing technology. If we just take that little segment right there, you could say, “I’m just going to get an ABM solution because I’ve decided I want to do account-based marketing.” Then you say, “Well, I really have a marketing automation solution that I could plug ABM into, do I want a discrete one or do I just want a more robust one? Oh wait, now my CRM is there, so do I go back in Salesforce and look at the whole full suite thing?” I can absolutely see it, because the minute they identify the problem or opportunity, it’s ABM, then they’ve lined up a bunch of solutions and they go, “Well, maybe not. Maybe it’s not about that.” I see that loop happening but now it begs the question—and I think I saw in some of your research a lot of this is happening— it’s the problem, the solution, the requirements, the supplier selection without the supplier being involved. It’s like 80% plus of this activity is happening before they even engage.

Brent Adamson: Well, without the supplier sales rep being involved.

Drew Neisser: Meaning they’ve seen marketing, they’ve been to the website, they’ve checked it out, they’ve watched demos, they’ve done some of those things?

Brent Adamson: Well, they’ve at least tried, which is one of the things that’s so interesting about this data. Again, you take the six jobs and you bake them into your quantitative models and you put them in front of customers and ask them other questions. For example, we gave them channel choice in one question. We said, “To what degree did you use the following channels to complete this job?” We gave them all six jobs, from problem identification all the way through validation and consensus creation, and asked them, “To what degree did you use a supplier sales rep to help you complete this job? And to what degree did you use the supplier website to complete this job?”

What’s interesting is that every one of those bars, whether it’s a supplier rep or a supplier website, is about 80% or higher. In other words, customers are actively and frequently going to both your reps and your digital channels for every job across a purchase process. Now that’s irrespective timing, so the sales reps might be later and the digital might be earlier but it doesn’t matter because, if I’m looping, at the end the day I’ve got to solve not for progression, I’ve got to solve for completion. Right now your customers are engaged in multichannel buying in a way that we are not set up to deliver.

At the end of the day, what this really becomes is a story of how we can help our customers buy. Another thing which we haven’t even touched on yet in this call today is that the number one thing we know about B2B buying is that it’s incredibly difficult. There are so many people involved and there are so many different options and there’s so much information. The scenario that you just laid out about buying a new ABM solution—you didn’t even scratch the surface because as soon as you decide that you want an ABM that plugs into the CRM system, you don’t get to decide. At least not alone, right? What about the IT Team? They’re going want to have a say in this. What about procurement? That’s expensive. What about the head of sales saying, “Do you know how many feet on the street I can hire for that same amount of money?”

This is purchase-by-committee, and every single one of those individuals is going to have a different set of priorities that they’re trying to solve for. By the way, we also know now that every one of them is going to have done their own independent, individual research prior to ever coming to the table where you guys sit down to try and figure out and hammer out that decision. At the end of the day, if you ask customers, “What does it feel like to go on that journey?” They’ll tell you it’s awful.

B2B buying is horrible. It’s a frustrating, time consuming, maddening experience that just makes customers really frustrated. Ultimately, what they do is they say, “Alright, fine. What’s the smallest thing we can do? The least disruptive thing?” We call this lowest-common-denominator buying where they just kind of settle. They buy the smaller solution at the lower price, at the lower margin—the exact opposite of the kinds of deals that we’re all looking to do. What we found in our research is that the number one thing that suppliers can do in order to drive bigger deals, what we call high-quality deals, with less regret attached to them is simply make buying easier.

Help your customers understand what’s hard about buying. Help them understand or anticipate the obstacles to buying. If you think about who’s better able to understand how to buy your solutions, you or your customer, the answer is always you. Your customer is probably buying it for the first time whereas you’re the supplier, you’re selling it multiple times, so hopefully, all the time, you know what can go wrong, you know what can go right. You know what’s going to go off the rails, so helping your customers anticipate those obstacles in ways that they haven’t turns out to be really important. In fact, they’re coming to you for that help right now and they are agnostic as to whether they get that help through digital channels or in-person channels.

Yes, to some degree perhaps they are delaying engaging with a rep, but only because they’re trying to understand what it is that they’re looking to do. But they will ask reps that too and they’re frankly not getting very much help because we also asked customers, “To what degree do you find either one of those channels actually impactful or very impact on your ability to get those jobs done?” Those scores, instead of being 80%, were all in the low 30s.

Drew Neisser: Oh my gosh. I’m going to tell you a story about a buying decision that I had and I want to know if this is what we’re talking about. I was on the co-op board of obviously, my co-op, and we had to renovate the hallways. Nobody on the board, the seven of us, had ever done a hallway renovation, so we interviewed. We got our managing agent to bring in three good construction companies that do this. We interviewed the first one. We said, “What do you guys do?” They said, “Well, we do some restaurants, we do some buildings, we do this thing.” We said, “Okay, great. What’s your process?” “Well, you know, we start at the bottom and work our way to the top.” And we said, “Oh, okay, great.” Next guy pretty much said the same thing.

Then, we interview the third company and we said, “What do you guys do?” He said, “Well, we only do hallways for co-ops and condos.” I said, “Really? Only that?” And he said, “And by the way, you always start at the top and work your way down because gravity is your friend and here are the 10 e-mails that you’re going to need to send to all of your co-op members for the issues that come up. By the way, we put 10% of our budget into cleanup, so every day we vacuum the halls because the biggest complaint is dust.” They hand us those e-mails. It was the easiest buying decision I or any of us ever made because every single problem that we might have encountered as a co-op board in doing this renovation was solved and they were ready for us. Is that what we’re talking about?

Brent Adamson: That’s part of what we’re talking about. It’s absolutely in the ballpark of what we’re talking about. Yes, it is what we’re talking about in terms of how they made it so much easier for you. They helped you anticipate problems you didn’t even know you should be concerned about and they did it in a very convincing way. What we’re finding in the world of B2B buying, in these large complex solutions, is that you run into a version of that problem not just in the implementation. What they were talking about is, arguably, and to use a metaphor, more the implementation side—the actual redecorating of the hallways.

But in the B2B space, what’s equally hard is just coming to a decision to buy that thing in the first place. You think about GDPR, for example, the new data requirements coming out of Europe. “Well, I want to buy this solution and I’m 18 months into the buying decision. We get all the committees lined up, and all of a sudden here comes new regulations. Now we’ve got three different things they’ve got to answer and I can’t even buy the thing because they’ve got regulations that are brand new. Here comes the legal team. They’re going to blow things up. Oh, by the way, procurement just got involved. They’re asking questions I didn’t even know I was supposed to answer. I can’t even buy the thing because I’ve got all these different parts of my own company.”

Everybody is convinced, by the way, that their own company is the most dysfunctional company in the world; in fact, we’re all about the same. It’s because everybody is engaged in risk mitigation, savings, there are all sorts of different drivers of this, but there are all sorts of different ways in which companies will make it hard for themselves to collectively make a decision. Imagine that scenario that you just laid out but one step earlier in time where, maybe before you can even pick a vendor, you’ve got to talk to the home association, maybe you’ve got to get permission from the city, maybe there’s a set of permits that you’ve got to pull to even get permission to do this thing in the first place. It would be that kind of help that they would provide as well, like, “Let me just take you by the hand to become your buying sherpa, your buying coach. We’re going to coach you step-by-step through the process of buying because we can help you make these decisions in ways you haven’t fully anticipated.”

Drew Neisser: Give us a couple of little nuggets that the CMOs and other marketers listening to the show can take away from this, focus on, and bring to their programs.

Brent Adamson: A couple of nuggets for marketers. I think the first one, top of mind for me at the moment right now is, when you ask customers where they go for information, where they go for help to get these six buying jobs done, it turns out they are agnostic as to whether they seek or find help from sales reps or a website. But one thing they’re not agnostic about is the degree to which they find consistent information across those channels, so nugget number one is: to what degree does your website offer the buying support to your customers that is consistent with the support that they might get directly from a sales rep?

If I go to a sales rep and I hear a certain kind of information—maybe they’ve given me a calculator to work through or they’ve provided me data or a customer testimonial—and I think, “Before I just take that individual sales rep’s word for it—I don’t just buy from people, I buy from companies. It’s trust but verified,” I’m going go to your website and get verification and if I get your website and all I find is the history of your company, you know, “We were founded in 1850 in the back of a pickup truck,”  I don’t care. I find the map of the world with all your facilities, I find the list of all your capabilities and all your solutions. No, show me the specific information I need, that helps me complete my jobs, that is consistent with what I’m hearing from my sales reps.

We live in a world now in B2B of multi-channel buying. It’s old news for B2C but is absolutely our reality for B2B. If we’re not consistent with the information and the help that we provide across digital and in-person channels, we are at a serious disadvantage in the eyes of our customers.

I think that would be the first one. The second one is what we talked about already: to the degree that we have built a marketing engine specifically designed to progress leads to that handoff, we live in a world today where your customers don’t think about it in terms of a handoff. We’ve got to think about not building so much what I call the “cereal commercial engine,” where it’s first marketing, then sales; first digital, then in-person, but the “parallel commercial engine.” It’s effectively the same idea that, with the consistency across channels, we as marketers own the opportunity to the very end just like sales does. That’s a different kind of partnership.

Drew Neisser: This is the first part of the show but we’re going to do a little quick close on this part of the show. Thanks again, Brent, for being on it. And for the listeners, stay tuned. We’re going to have a second part—part two of this show will be coming out in a couple of days, so keep your eyes on that. Brent, thanks. And there’s more in part two.

Quotes from Brent Adamson

If we can drive up content consumption that equals customer engagement and if they're engaged with us that means they're progressing along the purchase journey.
If we're not consistent with the information and the help that we provide across digital and in-person channels, we are at a serious disadvantage in the eyes of our customer.
In B2B you must successfully do two things: You have to identify a problem, and figure out if it's a problem worth solving.

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