What’s the difference between a B2B and a B2C customer? We already discussed this topic in our articles about the perfect customer communication but today I want to talk a little bit about one crucial difference: the buying center.
Buying Center: B2B customers decide together
The “buying center” describes a group of people within a company that are part of the buying decision. Depending on the product and the company’s structure these are not always the same people.
For example, a new software might involve the IT department but also someone from the team that would actually use the software. This might be – depending on the kind of software – someone from the marketing, sales or HR team.
But to cater properly to a buying center, it’s not enough to know who will be involved in the decision but also at which point throughout the buying cycle. And that’s the part that gets difficult with the customer’s newfound freedom of information.
According to Google, 81% of so called “non-c-suiters” (employees without any decision power) are involved in the buying decision throughout the first steps (for example through research and in creating a longlist). In this case, the vendor would need to create content that doesn’t address higher management or even experts.
On the other hand, there also needs to be content that addresses the decision makers that get involved in the process later on. This content needs to be differently planned whether it’s for the IT, marketing, HR, etc.
In short: the vendor needs to be capable to convince every single person involved in the buying center with content that is individually created for each person’s interests and needs but still paints a coherent picture of the product.
Before trying to address a buying center, you therefore should ask yourself the following questions:
- who is involved?
- which contact is involved during which buying phase?
- which information does each individual contact during which buying phase need?
- through which communication channels can you address each individual contact?
One of the first steps in answering these questions should be to create buyer personas for each involved contact. Buyer personas are fictitious customer profiles that act as surrogates for the perfect customer. Besides typical target group properties like company size, industry or position within the company, a buyer persona also involves identifying the needs and goals of different customers.
This information should be gathered in a workshop together with colleagues that are in direct contact with customers (preferably sales but also customer service). Additionally, customer interviews and real-life feedback can enrich the persona and create a fully-fledged surrogate customer to work with.
Tips for addressing a buying center
The influence of each contact can change depending on the company
You will find a few concepts for working with a buying center that only differentiate contacts by users and decision makers. The problem with this differentiation is simple:
- There’s no way to define the type of information that each contact needs to reach a decision. A decision maker can be an expert in IT, marketing, finances, etc.
- The role of each decision maker can differ for each company and can even change within the same company throughout different buying phases. It always depends on the product/service they want to buy.
I recommend to create personas according to the position and goals and only – if you can identify this easily – additionally the level of decision making.
Consider individual vs. company interests
No matter how often we talk about the differences between B2B and B2C customers, at the end of the day you will deal with a human being and not with a position in a company. Therefore, your personas need to include the needs and goals of the role your contact has within the company but also the individual needs and goals they might have. Again, you can identify those by using real life encounters with your customers (interviews, feedback, social media interactions, etc.).
You also need to make sure that different persona’s needs don’t cancel each other out. If a CIO needs to stay in budget and a simple implementation but the marketing manager wants all functionalities and add-ons, you need to make sure that your communication addresses both needs and doesn’t pitch them against each other.
Self Service vs. Nurture
As much as B2B companies praise their customer relationships because of the direct contact with each and every customer, you shouldn’t ignore that the digital transformation has changed the way we inform ourselves drastically.
The modern customer still prefers personal contact when it comes to issues and expert knowledge but he also loves being able to do research in the beginning stages of a buying cycle on their own. Forcing the customer to pick up the phone might deter especially non-c-suiters who usually are interns or junior positions and not used to direct conversations.
Providing information that doesn’t necessitate direct contact via email, chat or the phone can therefore help in the first phase of the decision process (even without you knowing about it).
An intuitive homepage, downloadable material, landing pages or videos that offer detailed information of the product can help generating interest.
According to a study by Accenture (PDF), 94% of all customers will do an online research of a product before they buy it. Google speaks of 90%. The conclusion therefore should be: don’t hide your best material and expect the customer to ask for it. Provide it immediately and wait till the customer decides (with or without your active input) to contact you.
As Reinhard Janning writes in his book about lead management: customers call all the shots.
To effectively work with a buying center, your marketing and sales teams need to be aligned. Find out more how to achieve an efficient alignment that helps putting your customer’s needs first.