The new landscape of collaborative purchasing decision-making

The process when it comes to businesses making purchasing decisions is becoming increasingly complex. Will Brookes, CEO of Raconteur, explains why, and how to reach the new stakeholders for B2B sales

It’s never been easy to get the attention of B2B decision-makers.

But with digital transformation, the economic climate and growing pressures on businesses, navigating the path to purchase is more complicated than ever. The solo C-suite decision-maker has been replaced by a buying committee and that committee is expanding and becoming more complex.

In 2014, research by CEB found that on average five people were involved in a B2B purchase decision.

In 2022, a survey by Raconteur of 1,100 UK senior business leaders found that, in 94% of cases, more than six people are involved in the decision-making process, with one in five (21%) business leaders reporting that more than 16 people are involved in business investment decisions. Interdepartmental influence is also increasing, with departments such as finance, HR, IT, operations, marketing and sales influencing areas outside their assumed expertise.

There are more people with a say in each buying decision and this has ramifications on all aspects of the B2B environment. Since it is no longer purely the C-suite who make every purchase decision, the strategy of targeting this one department of the business has been superseded. The decision-making process now needs to be viewed through a wide lens to consider a new complicated buying matrix of multiple departments and cross-sectional executives at varying levels of seniority. The landscape for B2B purchasing decision-making has changed.

For marketers, the familiar strategy of targeting a senior executive role no longer works because it doesn’t reflect how decisions are made in business today.

According to Raconteur’s research, 76% of business leaders agree that they rarely make decisions without consulting stakeholders and departments in their organisation. And 86% of business leaders agree that they value regular communication, insights and/or updates from different functions for decision-making.

But why?

Because businesses are becoming interconnected. Technology has transformed how we work and communicate. Companies prefer to run the same software company-wide, which means that decisions about that software also run company-wide. Disciplines that 15 years ago weren’t viewed as instrumental are now integrated parts of the business. Data, for instance, is a key strategic business asset and that means data strategists have become part of the decision-making process. With the need for cybersecurity ramped up, that department also has a strong influence on the decision-making process. Increased regulation has heightened the need for legal teams, so their voices are heard too in decision-making discussions. And this is mirrored across myriad departments.

Added to this is the fact that purchase-making decisions can be career-changing and the cost of getting them wrong could be career-ending. Sharing the load among multiple decision-makers lessens the chance of a major career blow.

So, what does this mean for marketers?

Since decision-makers now range in expertise and seniority, marketing campaigns need to be relevant for experts and novices. Also, marketers need to target campaigns to many functions, not just the most obvious ones. And ultimately, the B2B marketing technique of distributing a white paper is now a waste of time.

True B2B marketing excellence is not just about how to reach this new cross-sectional audience. It’s also about what to use to reach them.

Instead of taking the time to get to know their audience and find out what will attract them, marketers often move too quickly to develop campaigns to achieve commercial goals and meet the bottom line. Understandable, considering the economic climate and scrutiny on budgets. But to work in this way often produces content that doesn’t pique the audience’s interest or keep them reading. All it does is harm the success of the campaign and relationships with potential buyers in the long run.

Content must be interesting, engaging, clear and relevant for each stakeholder, across different disciplines and levels of seniority. And the nature of B2B purchase behaviour means that marketers often have a narrow window of opportunity to get their content in front of the right person, at the right time. Don’t fall into the trap of wasting that opportunity by pushing generic research which doesn’t have real insights. It takes time, energy and money to craft a campaign that will land with this new era of decision-makers – but an authentic, challenging piece of content is worth a thousand white papers.

There is an art to decision-making. And there is a skill to targeting the decision-maker. Only when we understand the complexity of the audience can we get to the crux of what they are looking for.

This article was originally published on WARC.