Young salespeople are often taught that you should always target the ultimate decision-maker. All else equal, this is a decent default option as you’re wise never to waste time on someone who cannot purchase your product or service. However, business processes got more complicated, corporate decision-making changed, while buying organizations got more diverse and democratic than ever before.
The concept of the sole decision-maker may not even be relevant anymore. Can you recall the last B2B sale single-sourced by a lone individual—no input from anyone else in the organization? Neither can we.
How can you even identify key decision-makers in the company? When now, not only are the B2B decision-makers the primal targets but the influencers as well. Let’s find out how.
B2B Decision-Making Process
We know how it works in B2C: two people are responsible for the purchase, a buyer and a customer. B2B is much more complicated than that, and a decision-making process may include dozens of employees, each specializing in a different field.
The concept of targeting only one decision-maker may not be the most accurate construct at all. More common these days is group buying. So is finding the first right person with whom you should address your sales pitch.
You’ll need to quickly establish which person is in the line of sight for using, recommending, as well as purchasing your type of products. And next have the correct person to make the pitch when contacting an organization for the first time. You’ll then want to prepare for alignment discussions across the prospect organization—all of which are appropriate account-based sales strategies.
The Decision-Making Pyramid
To help you find the right target, let’s dig into how decision-making happens using the decision-making pyramid.
Stage 1. Need recognition
The process starts with recognizing that the company has a need that can be fulfilled by purchasing a service or a product. Usually, the initiators of this stage are everyday users.
For instance, your web team discovers that the number of requests for landing page production has risen dramatically. Since hiring new team members will take more time and resources, the web team lead sees the need for automating the process. The idea for migrating to a more advanced CRM is born.
Stage 2. Research
Once the need is acknowledged and a possible solution is offered, the search for information starts.
What types of CRM automate the production of landing pages? What other benefits does the CRM bring to the rest of the users (sales, marketing, etc.)? How much will it cost? What will be the timeline for migrating?
At this stage, you should already be on your potential buyer’s radar. Your most effective tool here is content in every shape and form—website, blog, social media, and ads. Anything that a potential customer can stumble upon while looking for the services you provide.
At this point, decision-influencers may already be presenting options to the decision-maker.
Stage 3. Hunt for a deal
Now, the customer will be looking into options.
Who can offer the best deal and package for the services provided? Who has the best reviews? Why are you better than your competitors?
Here is when your value proposition shines: Show your benefits, and show how invested you are in their needs.
If you want to know more about how to reach B2B decision-makers and influencers, check out our article on what channels should be a part of your next outbound campaign.
Stage 4. Pre-purchasing evaluation
If you’ve made it to the finals of this competition, you are just a few steps from landing a new customer.
Now is the time for the potential customer to negotiate discounts, terms of your cooperation, date of start, and other contractual obligations.
Stage 5. Purchasing
Finally, the actual signing of a contract between you and the decision-maker occurs.
Stage 6. Post-purchasing evaluation
After the start of cooperation, the customer needs to understand whether it was the right decision to go with your services.
A customer might run a survey between the active users of a CRM, request to see the statistics on the production of landing pages and assess the ROI.
An impeccable delivery will assure you with fruitful cooperation and +100 points to your reputation.
As you can tell, the times when a C-level decision-maker participates in the purchasing process are far less than the amount of time we see decision-influencers in action.
To Target or Not to Target? Decision-Makers
Given the realities of targeting mythical decision-makers at the top of an organization who may not have the time, interest, or responsibility to research new products or services, it often makes sense to target the middle of most organizations and work up.
Finding those tasked with researching new products in your area is gold—it is the person you want to focus on—the person who will make recommendations across an organization. In the best-case scenario, this will be what product or service to purchase.
By reaching out to the decision influencer, you can spend more time with someone who has less on their plate. You can build rapport and figure out exactly what the problem is with someone closer to it. Work with your team and make sure that knowing both the ultimate decision-maker and the person you should be pitching to.
If you assume a relatively democratic buying process, getting to the referrer/recommender first, often before they are tasked with research, is extremely valuable. The first vendor into any deal can often set the meeting agenda for all others to follow.
Getting an influencer on your side, giving the enthusiasm and information necessary to pitch internally, can be a worthy goal because you may never have a chance to target decision-makers of a C-level status in the first place. You also have an opportunity to understand, then shape the direction of features and benefits (nice to have vs. need to have) of the product under consideration.
Using that first person to communicate to others on the buying side should be your salesman’s goal because they may never have a chance to talk to key decision-makers on the inside.
3 Common don’ts in the targeting process
- Don’t be surprised when the individuals in one company are dissimilar, disjointed, and even distant from one another.
Believe it or not, buying these days is actually harder than selling in companies of any reasonable size.
- Don’t assume that just because there is a "C” in the title that this individual is the target decision-maker.
While CEOs may have the final say—or even veto power over any deal—they will likely delegate the research, process, and tasks of figuring out which products to purchase to other members of their team.
- Don’t always shoot high in prospecting. Though not necessarily axiomatic, the higher the title, the busier the person.
At the very least, the higher in the organization, the more visible that person is, which likely means they are being prospected more frequently; the more a decision-maker is targeted, the more guarded they become. And the better they get at fending off any type of sales outreach. This fact is often overlooked yet affects most outbound sales campaigns.
Honing the B2B Decision-Making Process
It’s never easy to land any meetings with targeted accounts—let alone ones where the target decision-makers wear a large title, are frequently busy, and may not even be responsible for vendor evaluation. A more thoughtful approach to targeting those most likely to accept appointments, drive purchase initiatives forward into their own organization, and ultimately close business is worth considering.
To locate these prospects, then land precisely these types of meetings for your business and sales team, contact CIENCE today.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in July 2017 and has been completely updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.