B2B sales are notoriously difficult to close. I’m not talking about the buy-monthly SaaS products you can expense on a corporate credit card — but rather "strategic purchases" such as buying an enterprise application requiring deep integration, or investing in a turnkey piece of manufacturing equipment, or switching your auditors.
These kinds of purchases are gnarly and complex. They carry with them endemic risk to operations and reputations. Put simply, they can go horribly wrong.
High Pressure of B2B Sales
In these kinds of sales, the stakes are high. Costs typically run into five or six figures, and switching suppliers or deploying a new product is always disruptive (however hard the vendor works to smooth the transition).
This upheaval can have knock-on effects on the person pushing through the sale — their job security and livelihood can quite literally be at stake — and on day-to-day operations, which has a financial impact on the business, too.
Then there are the gatekeepers. In high-ticket B2B sales, there are many people standing in the way of success. This is why we don’t talk in the singular about a customer; there are always multiple buyers. Who these buyers are depends on the company, but they all fall into two distinct categories.
Related Article: Why B2B Marketing's a Long Game, Not a Hit-and-Run SaaS Play
The 'Yes' and 'No' of B2B Buying Cycles
In any B2B buying situation, you have the people who can say "yes" and the people who can say "no."
The people who can say "yes" tend to be the sponsors and do more (and more in-depth) research around the purchase. Even so, they won't do as much research as you might think or would like. Many shortlists simply feature the three largest brands in the market and one or two others. Forget procurement. It’s these sponsors that will often be the ones to add an outlier to the shortlist — a solution that isn’t the market leader but that looks just as good, if not better, but that isn’t well known.
The people who can say "no" tend to be more senior. They’re probably a CEO, COO or CFO. They don't have the time or inclination to do in-depth research. Faced with a shortlist featuring companies they've never heard of, they'll ask "who?" and unless the sponsor is very convincing and/or is willing to put their reputation on the line, will tend to say "no."
Related Article: Today's B2B Customers Don't Want to Talk to You. Is That OK?
What Marketers Are Up Against
This is why gaining agreement is far from straightforward. And the problem isn’t going away, in fact it’s getting worse: 52% of buyers have reported that, since the pandemic, B2B sales in their companies are now taking longer than ever. Over half (56%) of in-house buyers in the same survey by B2B marketing agency Considered Content told us that it is now more difficult to gain agreement across multiple decision-makers.
Part of this is down to the challenge of achieving consensus between multiple stakeholders with differing agendas. It’s likely magnified by the problem of getting people together when many are working remotely.
But that’s not the whole picture. The majority (55%) of buyers are also considering more vendors for each purchase. This will inevitably add more time to the process as suppliers and products are assessed.
Think Long-Term, Build Content Hub
So if your job is to flip the naysayers and gain consensus in an already tough sales climate market (not to mention with a recession looming) what can you do?
- Think long-term and invest in building a strong, memorable brand. Aim to be famous in your category. I like to illustrate this with a hypothetical choice of which CRM to buy. You want to put Salesforce on the list? Of course. You want to put Variable Soft CRM on the list. Who? No. It doesn't matter if Variable Soft CRM is a far superior product. For further reading check out this piece of research by the LinkedIn B2B Institute. And, remember, when there’s an established and dominant market leader, there’s always room for an outlier (but you cannot afford to simply look, sound and feel like everyone else, that’s commercial suicide).
- Build a content hub with bite-sized content that sponsors can share with the time-poor C-Suite. Focus on what matters to business leaders and influencers (not what you’d like to matter or even what your technical buyers care about). Include real world case studies and testimonials that speak to that company’s pain points and show how you’ve helped someone just like them. With the right approach, even the most cynical of gatekeepers can begin to consider vendors beyond just the usual suspects.