Unless you’re talking to one-person companies based in their parents’ basements, chances are pretty good that your b2b branding efforts will need to reach multiple decision makers within every prospective target.
Whether it’s a formal “purchase committee” or an ad-hoc group of key stakeholders, addressing various titles and points-of-view is a challenging fact of life for b2b marketers—one that our consumer branding counterparts don’t often share.
So how do you successfully run the decision gauntlet and get your product or service on the prospect’s short list?
Know the roles
Within every b2b category—from software to manufacturing—you’ll find four basic roles involved in green-lighting major purchases. These include:
The gatekeeper—resistant to change; looks for reasons not to make a decision or embark on the RFP process
The recommender—usually the company’s change agent; sees an opportunity to solve a challenge by bringing in new technologies or service providers
The influencer—the well-respected, seasoned professional whose opinion matters and who can bolster the case of either the gatekeeper or the recommender
The approver—typically the c-level executive or senior manager who will write the check…and hope for the best
Which titles correlate to each role? It depends on the organization, the product or service, and the category, but procurement, IT, operations, engineering, HR, sales/marketing and the c-suite are all fair game somewhere along the purchase cycle.
Know the motivations
With this cast of characters to appease, it’s critical that any b2b marketing communications program offers something for everyone. A single website or all-encompassing sales presentation simply won’t cut it.
Do your homework.
Conduct research across every decision-making function. Know how each role approaches their job. What perceptions do they have of your product or category? How much information do they need to make decisions? Where do they look for this information?
Slice and dice your messaging
Don’t talk to procurement the same way you talk to marketing. Create the right media mix to answer all their questions—from emotive, impactful high-level videos to detailed technical specifications in a catalog or brochure. Each prospective purchaser needs to walk away with information in the format they seek or they won’t believe your brand fits their needs.
Stay on brand
Of course, just because the purchase process means you’re talking easy installation with IT, service agreements with procurement and ROI with the COO doesn’t mean you walk away from your core brand messaging. All of the perception-building done with each role still needs to connect back to your brand. And, as we all know, a strong brand is never all things to all people.
Know the messages
Once you understand that virtually every b2b purchase decision is made by some sort of committee, you can map your messaging to the individuals. Around here, we call it a purchase process matrix: a simple chart that lists title, role, and key message.
In a typical business, key messages will break out like this:
The gatekeeper wants to know about pricing, service agreements, length of contracts and all the functional details that go into the purchase price.
The recommender wants to be assured that his or her decision to promote the product or service within the organization will do two things. First, it will positively impact the business and make life easier/better/more efficient for all concerned. Secondly, it will reflect well on themselves. In other words, they get credit for making the right choice.
The influencer seeks to solidify their status in the organization by backing the right product or service. They will take credit for successes and suffer blame when a brand fails to deliver.
The approver is usually focused on three letters: ROI. As the representative of the c-suite, any major purchase must positively impact the bottom line. So it goes without saying that somewhere in the communications plan are messages about ROI and the ability to impact corporate growth.
While everyone talks about how b2b and b2c worlds are continually converging, one thing will likely stay the same: Business decisions are made by committees. Consumer decisions are made by individuals.
And at my house, that individual is named “the wife.”