The Times, They Are a Changin’: Expanding Buying Groups

Today, we have a guest post from one of Revegy’s sales leaders, Chris Cameron!

Over the past decade, there has been a significant shift in the way that organizations buy and their buying groups. 

Gartner tells us that the average buying group is anywhere from 6-10 individuals (I’ve personally seen as many as 15 or 16 involved in a single decision) which is almost double what we’ve historically seen in enterprise sales just a decade ago.  

The other major change that we’re seeing is that buyers are significantly further along in their buying journey by the time they’re ready to speak with a salesperson.  In fact, Gartner tells us that buyers will only spend 17% of their evaluation time meeting with potential vendors while spending 27% of their time doing independent research online.

 

The Implications

What does this mean for salespeople? Our jobs are not getting easier, but we didn’t get into sales because we thought it was going to be easy did we? Did we??? Because we were very young and naive.

The increase in stakeholders and the increase in time each individual spends doing their own independent research poses a few challenges.

Competing Priorities 

I sell enterprise software to sales organizations, but the EVP of Sales or CRO is not my only stakeholder. In fact, I may not speak with them until very late in the process, usually, once the rest of the team has come to a consensus on the one or two solutions that they want to present to the executive sponsor. Usually, I’ll have these initial conversations with mid-level sales leaders, along with Sales/Revenue Operations, Marketing, and Sales Enablement. 

Each of these groups wants to see an increase in the bottom line, but their KPIs are often vastly different.  What matters most to someone in Sales Enablement isn’t always perfectly aligned with someone in Marketing.  So, from the customer perspective, the evaluation is happening from multiple (sometimes competing) lenses. 

When we come away from a customer call or a demo frustrated because the conversation got derailed, think about the internal conversations that the customer is having.  In order to come to a decision on what (or if) to buy, they need to align various groups with different visions of success. 

Longer Buying Cycles

We’re just not involved in a large part of the process.  In a recent webinar, Forrester’s Principal Analyst, Seth Marrs, shared that the average enterprise SALES cycle was only four months. The buying or evaluation cycle is much longer – somewhere between 12-18 months. 

During the initial evaluation cycle, we may start to see intent signals such as media downloads, demo requests, and live chat inquiries (think, all the usual channels where we’d traditionally see MQLs filter through), but this is often attributed to individuals doing their own research. The challenge for salespeople is understanding what stage of the process the buyer (or at this stage, the researcher/evaluator) is in and how best to support them in their journey toward a formal buying cycle. 

Another challenge that this poses – and a topic for another conversation – is being able to identify when that switch is flipped.  When is the buying group ready to engage in a formal buying cycle?  And of course, what’s on the top of every sales executive’s mind – how do we forecast it?

Once we are involved and we’ve identified that we are in a formal buying cycle, we need to make the most of the time we have with the buying group to help them reach the best decision for their business.  The buyer is typically further along in their decision-making process than we expect and they’re more educated about potential solutions.  With well-armed buyers possessing diverse needs across potentially multiple business units within their organization, how do we provide additional value and progress toward a positive outcome (ICYMI: that outcome is closed-won)? 

The Great Resignation

Larger buying groups (i.e., more variables) mean that there are more chances for things to go wrong.  Churn, especially at the VP and C-levels has affected a handful of my sales cycles in the past few months – and although this isn’t the reason for larger buying groups, it seems as though the larger the buying group, the higher the probability for turnover. 

I don’t want to belabor the point, but it’s even more reason to be hyperfocused on being multi-threaded in every deal.

What should we do about it? 

Control the controllable.  Some of you may be familiar with Jocko Willink.  As a retired Lieutenant Commander of the US Navy and member of SEAL Team 3, Jocko is as disciplined as they come.  

One of the mantras that guide his life is the idea of ‘Extreme Ownership.’  By controlling everything within your purview and confronting (potential) issues head-on, you have the best chance for success.  If you haven’t read any of his work or listened to him speak, when you’re done with this blog post, take 14 minutes and watch Jocko’s TedX video here.

Military principles have proven successful in business, and this idea of controlling any variable can absolutely be applied to sales – we just need to know where to look. 

There are dozens of sales methodologies out there that talk about militaristic adherence to their process.  Having implemented (and been a victim of) various sales processes and methodologies, I can say one thing for certain – it doesn’t matter which one you’re working with.  The core tenets of each of those methodologies are all the same, and they all include the following:

Map Your Contacts
This isn’t groundbreaking – it is table stakes.  As buying groups become more complex, we need to identify what we know, and equally as important, what we do not know.  Those blind spots will ultimately come back to bite us during the sales process.  We need to understand who we’ve interacted with during the sales process and who we haven’t but would expect to meet.

Luckily for us sellers, our Marketing counterparts are generally well aware of the various personas that we might encounter during the sales process.  It’s worthwhile to work with Marketing to create a template map of the personas you expect to see during the sales process.  As you fill it in, you’ll clearly see those personas you haven’t yet met, thus exposing your blind spots and highlighting some key talking points for your next conversation with your champion. 

Not only should we understand that reporting structure, but we should also seek to understand the influence structure within the organization.  One of the more common ‘influences’ that I bump into is the CFO.  This key persona will absolutely exert power/influence over the sales leader. Understanding their dynamic exposes how critical it is for me to empower my prospects to build a business case that they can use to sell internally to other stakeholders who exert influence over buying decisions.  Specifically incorporating metrics and outcomes that the CFO cares about helps your champion sell your solution.

Understand their unique motivations
With so many different stakeholders and personas participating in a buying decision, it is critical to understand what outcomes each role is directly responsible for, and how it fits into the larger organizational strategy.  

I start out by doing research on the company – looking at investor relationship materials, press releases, and company posts on Linkedin – and organize these thoughts into a map (in the Revegy platform, these are our Strategy Maps). Then, I combine that with all of the discovery notes that I’ve taken in my discussions with the buying group.

Strategy Map

One way to organize your thoughts into a logical hierarchy is:

  • What goal or goals is the organization trying to achieve? 
  • What is getting in the way of achieving those goals, and what does it cost to do nothing? 
  • What tactical actions are they taking to alleviate those roadblocks?
  • What products, features, or services does your company offer to remedy each of these issues?

And then finally: 

Who specifically cares about each of the items that you have mapped out?  

By completing this exercise, you’re able to easily understand and articulate value to each of the key stakeholders in terms of what it means to them. 

Build a Mutual Plan
At this point, we know who we’re talking to, and we know what they care about.  Now we need a plan to engage.  You’ve probably heard the terms ‘mutual close plan,’ or ‘joint evaluation plan.’  The key is that this is a collaborative effort with your stakeholders and champion.  

What do you need to do together to get the deal done? 

This is a great qualification exercise.  Are they willing to work with you on putting a plan in place?  If not, they’re probably not a qualified buyer.  If they are, this is an opportunity to share what your process looks like (perhaps you require a scoping call so that you can write a statement of work).  Even more importantly, you understand what steps the customer needs to go through and how involved each of those may be.

As one of the more pessimistic salespeople, you’ll ever meet (if I had it my way, my commit number going into the beginning of every quarter would be $0), I also like to look at what could go wrong.  Plan for the worst and hope for the best!

Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Rick Nichols from TechCXO.  He has a formal process for evaluating risks, barriers, and limitations, and using that as an internal coaching and feedback tool. I take it a step further and share those perceived risks with the project champion to find a mutually agreeable solution (and then, of course – add that solution to the Joint Evaluation Plan).  If you’re going to be working together, why not set the stage for mutual transparency right out of the gate, expose potential issues early on, and really live up to that mantra of ‘Extreme Ownership’ as a team? 

Summary

Buying groups are changing.  They’re larger, they’re more complex, and the needs of the group vary wildly as we introduce more stakeholders from a variety of areas within the business.  The salespeople that will be successful in this new era of buying will be those that take the Jocko Willink approach – owning the variables and addressing the new challenges head-on.   

Who do I need to talk to?
What do they care about?
What is my plan to engage with them so we can get the deal done together?

Now, go sell something!


Interested in learning more about navigating these ever-growing buying groups? Check out Chris’ recent webinar where he and Blackhawk Network’s Rev Ops Director, Jessica Stephens, some practical advice for untangling the web!

Join Our Newsletter

Like what you’re reading? Want more?
Get the latest updates in your inbox.

Opt-in*
By checking this box, you agree to receive occasional communication from Revegy.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

RELATED CONTENT

Share This