By Stuart Hartley @anglestuart
I have previously talked through who buys in an organisation and the need for businesses selling to other business to understand who buys. The natural next step then is to try and understand how they purchase. What is the process businesses undertake to purchase products like the ones your business will sell?
A typical process looks like this:
Although the exact nature of the process will very much depend on the buying situation. Typically the more expensive a product is the process will go through more steps and take longer. Perhaps the easiest exception to this is repeat purchase and routine orders as these will usually be taken from an existing supplier or pool of suppliers. The trick here then is to raise awareness of your products sufficiently and by using a variety of marketing media to try and break the circle of repeat purchase with the same supplier.
Step 1 – Recognition of need
Needs are usually recognised either through internal factors, i.e. realisation that stock is particularly low of a particular product in the case of stationery, or through external cues. In the case of internal factors driving the need businesses will need to demonstrate the differential benefits to their products over their competition and the incumbent supplier. This refers back to understanding the required benefits of the whole buying committee made up of different buyer roles previously highlighted.
External factors require the selling business to highlight particular benefits of their product which may stimulate problem recognition, i.e. lower maintenance costs, greater production capability and raised efficiencies – all leading to greater potential profits. Proactive marketing can be used in this situation to great effect.
Step 2 – Determination of specification and quantity of the item needed
At this stage the decision making unit will finalise what it is they exactly require. This is a key point to the marketer. If you as a business can influence at this stage you can perhaps steer the criteria to those that only you can supply, or at the very least the ones that you are better at in comparison to your competitors. This effectively “locks out” the competition.
Step 3 – Search for and qualify potential suppliers
Generally here if the total cost of the potential order is low the subsequent search for potential suppliers will be low. Likewise if the total cost is high the search for potential suppliers will be wider. It’s here that business owners need to ensure their products and services are placed high in the minds of potential buyers. For example if a business is likely to search for your products or services on line try and ensure your web listing is here with the search engines.
Step 4 – Evaluate proposals and select a supplier
From a marketers perspective here the important part of this to remember is that when the decision making unit evaluates the proposals (and this not need be a full written proposal simply a print off from your website) they will be seeking different benefits and have different choice criteria. Its therefore important to try and have an internal advocate in the decision making unit that can represent your product and all of its benefits or you ensure that your making material conveys these different benefits where possible.
Step 6 – Performance feedback and evaluation
This may be formal or simply informal through conversation. This is the opportunity for the supplier to learn from the decision making unit about the product / service and the overall sale. This may subsequently shape future products / services and also serve to gain commitment from the buyer as they will likely become more committed to a supplier that is shaping its products or services based on their feedback.
Every step therefore has an implication to a business’ marketing and sales efforts and should therefore inform your overall marketing strategy. The key is to learn from your existing customers. If they are supportive enough learn about their own buying journey with your business and learn from their process. If you can understand their journey it is likely that this journey will be replicated by many other potential customers. If you understand the journey you can tailor the way that you market to them. Targeting more efficiently the right decision making unit, perhaps even one particular person who will then act as an internal ambassador for you, choosing the most effective marketing medium based on how an organisation will search for potential suppliers and tailoring the language you use in your communication to ensure you address all of the choice criteria within the decision making unit.