Using the Buying Process to Provide Contextually Relevant Content

On December 14, 2009 Christian Maurer wrote the blog post ‘Using the Buying Process to Provide Contextually Relevant Content’:

“In his post “It is time to think about creating an enterprise context” Matthias Roebel clearly shows that the definition of a stable enterprise context makes information exchange and management more effective. Sharing information is only effective if the shared information can easily be found by others when needed. An enterprise context to me is thus a multidimensional information space, allowing relevant information to be found from various points of view tied to the day in a life scenario of a sales person.

For sales enablement systems, it is of particular importance that the customer view is considered when structuring this information space. As I explained in my last post on this blog (The Need to Understand the Context, B2B Sales People are Operating in) one of the key customer views to be included is the customer’s buying process.

This recommendation is based on the recognition that Buyer/Seller relationships are changing. By staying with the sales process as the structuring element, these important changes might be missed or discovered too late.

Scott Santucci from Forester research in a recent post confirmed this fact of changing relationships. He writes:

“Buyer/Seller relationships are stratifying right before our eyes into a new caste system of strategic, value-added vendors on the one end and undifferentiated, commodity-type suppliers on the other.”

He suggests a

“…new selling model of actually co-creating value with customers and focusing on helping those customers drive business outcome”.

is needed.

In this post, I want to discuss how using steps in the customer’s buying process as one dimension to structure and access content is key to this new selling model.

What are the major steps in a customer’s buying process?

Activities to be carried out by the customers in the buying process might vary according to the size and type of organization. However the fundamental decisions to be made for advancing in the buying process remain the same. Structuring content according to what decision it actually supports, seems therefore a more robust concept. On a high level, there are 3 fundamental decision points:

The buyer:

  1. has to come to the insight that a status quo is no longer tolerable if the business should prosper and a more detailed investigation is needed.
  2. concludes that the ‘cost of the problem’ outweighs the ‘cost of solutions’ than can be bought
  3. decides to buy from the seller offering the best ‘perceived future in use value’ compared to the to be paid ‘cash value’

There are usually minor decision points in between these major milestones. But for the illustration of how to structure content along the customer’s buying process, the granularity of the 3 major milestones appears to be sufficient.

What contents will help the buyer to reach a decision?

Some people might see a deontological problem by the seller “pushing” the buyer over the first decision point. It is however legitimate for the seller to help the buyer already to come to the conclusion that the frustration with the status quo is no longer tolerable; provided it is done with the right mindset: Helping customers to get better outcomes for their business. What kind of content is then needed to help the customer in a non manipulative way to come to this conclusion?

Geoffrey James’ blog post “Neil Rackham: Sales is a Research Job” provides some guidance. In there, he cites Neil Rackham’s second rule for sales research being:

“Prospective customers do not value information about products; instead they value information about the industry and the customer’s competition, providing it is current and up-to-date”.

Standard “Corporate Literature” produced by the seller’s organization will thus hardly be what is needed to reach the first milestone in the customer’s buying process. Imagine yourself in the situation trying to assess the importance of a problem and you do not yet know whether you need a solution and if so, whether it could be bought somewhere. Now ask yourself how you would react to a salesperson rattling down a laundry list of features and if you are lucky maybe even a few benefits You would consider the seller’s pitch as being annoying because it is totally irrelevant to the decision you need to make.

Industry or analyst reports creating awareness about the problem the seller can address are a better suiting tactic. This also means that not all contents in Sales Enablement systems are produced by the seller’s organization. Making such reports available in a Sales Enablement system, linked to this early phase of the buying process, reduces the time sales people spend to research for such content and insures that the best suited content for that phase is used.

After reaching the first milestone, the co-creation of value between seller and buyer takes place. In this phase “educational” content, helping the customer to define the specific cost of the pain (e.g. if I do nothing, my sales continue to lag behind those of my strongest competitor by 1M$ per month) and showing how the seller’s solution can address the problem is to be provided (e.g. canned webinars, white papers etc.) The aim of this content is to help the customer to evaluate whether the cost of the pain outweighs the typical investment in a solution to solve the problem.

Considering this milestone is very relevant. Research shows that 20% of forecasted deals end up with ‘no decision’ (i.e. nothing at all is bought). I consider ignoring this second milestone as a root cause for this phenomenon.

This second milestone also allows for the distinction between value-added vendors and commodity type suppliers. The latter typically start their selling process only when the customer has reached the conclusion that solutions providing a positive return compared to the cost of the problem can be bought on the market.

To help the customer with the final selection of the seller with the highest impact on a business outcome, product literature sometimes helps, success stories and ROI calculations are other content to be used.

Conclusion

Using the customer’s buying process as an additional mean to structure the content to be provided within a Sales Enablement systems can be looked at as one of the “manageable projects” Scott Santucci suggests to address the strategic challenges of being successful in the “new caste system”.

References:

It is time to think about creating an enterprise context (Matthias Roebel)

The Need to Understand the Context, B2B Sales People are Operating in (Christian Maurer)

Its been a while why and what’s going on with sales enablement these days (Scott Santucci)

Neil Rackham: Sales is a Research Job (Geoffrey James)”

 

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