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Understanding and Overcoming Buyer Stagnation Through Procurement

Published March 18, 2020

Written by: Peter Mullen
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Peter Mullen

Peter Mullen is the Vice President of Marketing at VXI Global Solutions. Based in Silicon Valley, Peter is a senior marketing and communications leader with more than 20 years of success accelerating global corporate growth from startup to enterprise at companies such as Comcast, Netflix, PowerCloud, Arc Capital Development and multiple successful startups. He is a book author, a frequent industry speaker, startup advisor and nonprofit board member.

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Today, more than ever, filling the top of the funnel is proving to be extremely difficult. Speak with any salesperson and you’re likely to hear just how hard selling has become. And while yes, this is true, it’s nothing compared to being the person on the other end – you guessed it, I’m talking about the buyer.

According to a study by Gartner, 77% of B2B buyers found their latest purchase to be very complex or difficult – here’s why it has become such an issue.

Multiple people of influence are involved in standard B2B purchases, with each buyer in the decision-making unit having their own agenda; complex or bigger sales decisions can require input from as many as 16 people. Coupled with the ever-expanding number of solutions available, it’s no wonder the buyer process has become so intricate.

What’s more, over 60% of RFPs result in buyers sticking with the status quo – all that time, resource and sheer grunt work just to remain with an existing supplier more than half of the time.

Let’s be crystal clear:  it’s not strategic to commit to the status quo just because consensus can’t be reached. In fact, the only time when the status quo is acceptable is when there is an accord that it really is the best solution for the business. But all too often, that’s not the case. This quote from Anthony Iannarino perfectly captures what I mean:

Sometimes when reasonable people disagree, they decide to do nothing, even when it is the wrong thing to do, even when it doesn’t serve them, and even when it puts their future at risk.

We call it buyer’s stagnation – it will kill your chances at a competitive advantage, drain both your time and resources, and drive contention within your business. One client of ours described the problem as “akin to herding cats.” Sound familiar?

There’s no silver bullet when it comes to trying to herd cats – but in my experience, here are a few learnings when it comes to getting consensus in purchasing decisions.

Begin With a Clear Idea of the Most Important Criteria

Although decisions are cross-functional, it’s important to enter the buying process with a common aim. What exactly are you looking for in this RFP and do you all agree on the most important outcome?

A customer who hasn’t reached consensus about the problem and whether or not it justifies disrupting the status quo, is not ready to discuss solutions, and certainly is not ready to discuss your offerings.” – George Brontén.

It is pointless to start looking for a new solution if you haven’t yet reached an internal consensus. For this reason, it is vital to employ consensus building in the early stages. Here are a few questions George Brontén suggests you ask as a group to kick things off:

  • Is there a problem? What is it?
  • Is the problem important enough to invest in? Is it a current priority?
  • What kind of solution is appropriate?

Use Insights to Drive Common Understanding

As mentioned above, buying groups may come from different backgrounds, areas of the business and can often be driven by a decentralization of organizational structures with completely different priorities. It’s important to ensure mutual understanding between individuals and this needs to be backed up with fact-based insights to enlighten the group as to why something takes precedence. Come to the initial conversation prepared and be clear on what you want to communicate and why. Equally, you need to be ready to listen just as much as you speak.

Start Small to Prove Assumptions

When all else fails, where possible, consider starting small with one or two solutions to prove (or disprove) the assumptions of different decision-makers. This way you can keep multiple decision-makers happy, ensuring that you are removing any pre-associated bias, and the best solution should be the eventual outcome. Just make sure you all agree on what’s being measured from the outset, and what success looks like.

At the end of the day the biggest loser in a no-consensus buying decision is your business. While it might feel safer (and easier) to stick with the status quo, there’s one thing for sure: today’s business isn’t standing still, and if you’re not changing with your customers, you’re ultimately creating a serious competitive disadvantage for yourself in the long run.

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