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The Single Buyer Model: A Dangerous Road Towards Competitive B2B Marketing

Posted by Tony Zambito on March 9th, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Building A Tribe Of Buyers ©All Rights Reserved Kenny Madden

Many B2B Marketers today are faced with the daunting tasks of connecting with buyers in new ways and using new mediums that are still in infancy. New tactical approaches have been introduced at a rapid rate and some old ideas re-purposed with new labels – all in an effort to find the ever flowing fountain of gaining buyer attention. The shelf-life expectancy of some of the new approaches is yet to be known; making investment and resource decisions for leaders in B2B Marketing a road filled with risks. For many of these new approaches, the foundation of thinking is still directed towards the single buyer model that has been the standard way of thinking for several decades.

Evidence is building that the standardized focus on a single buyer model has major disadvantages: depictions have lacked in the reality of the real world today, they are narrowly focused on messaging to one buyer or role, it is an over simplification of marketing and selling to a buyer, they are created with little research, and are routinely ignored by selling teams today. These disadvantages are overshadowing the higher-cost and dangers of the single buyer model used in ways where missteps are being made in overall buyer strategy. These missteps resulting in significant loss of marketing dollars and waste of valuable yet limited resources.

How Did We Get Here?

The single buyer model had worked well right up to the advent of the Internet and email. That’s when the barriers started falling down like the Berlin Wall at the end of the cold war. Up until then, all the power of information was held in the hands of the supplier. And in most cases, there was a single buyer target that needed the closely held information. Complex buying was an arduous task assigned to one decision-maker and sellers did all they could to target that one most important buyer – including bringing coffee and donuts. Marketing played the role of supplying information in literature form and focused on advertising. Sales role was to target the single buyer. Sales training was all geared to train sellers how to persuade the single buyer and in the 1980’s we started to see models of how to determine the psyche of the single buyer – was he or she an amiable or an analytical?

The single buyer model is still the major face of the buyer in many B2B organizations. Evidence suggests that this singular picture of the buyer is cracking like an old oil painting found in an attic:

    • It made sense for many years. After all we are talking about the buyer and that is the focus of marketing and sales. On the surface, the profiling of a buyer target seems like an easy fix. In this new age of social and newly emerging forms of networks – it is no longer an easy fix.
    • Emerging is buyer networks extending beyond our traditional views of the buyer. New technologies, social and Enterprise 2.0 as examples, have completely erased the barrier to information and allow buyer networks to operate as one and to weigh-in on purchase decisions.
    • Buying has become more complex since a key factor in buyer networks and the ecosystems they support are interdependent. Meaning more parties participating and more validation is occurring in the purchase decision-making.
    • The tools of the single buyer model are no longer effective. Sales in particular at the frontline routinely discard sales enablement tools given to them by marketing according to recent IDC research.

What Are The Dangers?

Continuing a narrow focus on the single buyer model is a dangerous path for B2B Marketing. Evidence points to major disadvantages occurring.

First, with a focus only on the single buyer model, businesses risk finding their organization being excluded from a buyer’s network and not seen as an integral part of the buyer’s ecosystem. This is a heavy price to pay if you are indeed outside of the network and not an ecosystem player.

Second, the use of the single buyer model has proven to be fraught with shortcomings. They can best be characterized as only helpful today but not revealing. Several executives I interviewed in the last six months of 2011 are saying it best:

“What we’ve learned is that buyer personas, building tools for sales, creating lots of content, and etc. don’t meet the mark in today’s competitive market we are in – we need to know more.”

“Our marketing department created marketing material that targeted a specific role in our industry and they rolled out it out with all the fanfare you would expect. Let me just say everybody had a piece a cake and the party was over that quickly.”

“Our sales people barely look at the tools we give them.”

Third, the research connection has been lost in the conversation. While we are seeing a rise in predictive analytics, companies are yet lacking profoundly in qualitative buyer behavior modeling. This is important due to the evidence which suggests that the introduction of new technologies and networks are changing buying behaviors rapidly.

Fourth, companies are experiencing missed opportunities. When marketing and sales operations have a singular focus on one buyer, it is like having horse blinders on. There is much swirling around the buyer and their buyer network. If the company doesn’t seem to “get it” in terms of what is going on from a network standpoint, then they are unlikely to be privy to other opportunities. More from the voice of a senior director of global marketing:

“We did this whole campaign around the CFO. Yes, we even did a buyer persona. Only to find out we could never talk to a CFO and that they were not the right buyer!”

Fifth, the use of a single buyer model has misdirected focus towards targets that have always been there and has even backfired. They are problematic in today’s world as they are fraught with many built-in assumptions that were developed over the years. The risk here is that buyer requirements and the very nature of the buyer have changed. Here’s the voice of a senior level sales executive articulating this point:

“After the first year of joining this company, I began to realize there was a disconnect between sales and our customers. What occurred to me is that our customers have become highly educated folks and were of a different background of let’s say fifteen years ago. The disconnect is that our sales force hasn’t kept pace with this change.”

Is There A Better Way?

For many executives today in B2B leadership positions, there are three constant clouds twirling around their heads: the lack of insight about buyers, they are faced with tremendous uncertainty about the direction to steer their organization, and they lack the ability to predict as well as forecast into the near as well as far future. The better way points towards providing clues to disperse these clouds before the rain extinguishes any hope they had. There are several ways that I believe can give businesses the insight they need to respond to the ever changing buyer of today:

  • Engage in predictive buyer modeling that models the behavioral trends of buyers – a need that aligns with the fast pace of change
  • Connect predictive buyer modeling to predictive analytics to illuminate a 360 degree view of buyers
  • Balance market and buyer research investments to include qualitative research along with quantitative research
  • Develop robust B2B oriented Business Buyergraphics based on purchasing behavior that extend beyond buyer personas, demographics, and firmographics and serves as the triborough bridge between marketing, sales, and strategy
  • Utilize target buyer modeling as a gateway to understand and model fast emerging buyer networks and buyer ecosystem dynamics
  • Develop a renewed focus on descriptive buyer segmentation based on purchase behaviors

The single buyer model no longer works in this new complex world. We are confronted with a world where buyers no longer act independent of others in decision-making and are dependent upon networks and ecosystems. The imperative for senior B2B executives is to adapt to change and make the tough decisions that come with change. Modeling the behaviors, decisions, and buying scenarios of buyers and their networks give leaders what they seem to be asking for: deeper understanding of buyer behavior, how to attract more buyers, know which direction to lead their organization, and keep the ship floating upright while at the same time plugging the leaks.

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2 Responses to “The Single Buyer Model: A Dangerous Road Towards Competitive B2B Marketing”

  1. Ford Kanzler says:

    B2B single-buyer model hasn't worked for quite some time at least for larger ticket sales. A 2007 Marketing Sherpa buyer's survey showed up to 21 different people may be involved in purchase decision of over $25K at companies of over 1,000 employees. (Yes, its an indoor sport!). Analyzing, marketing to and pursuading this "buying circle" and their differing agendas is underrated. Crafting and transmitting messages that are relevant to multiple decision-makers takes significant research and data.

    • Tony Zambito says:

      Hello Ford,

      I welcome your comment! The need for research and analysis is underrated. Many B2B organizations still operate from the single buyer model despite what the buyer reality is. With respect to marketing Sherpa survey, I believe this has changed drastically as well. While internal committee's are important, more and more external influences and partnerships are in play today. This is not accounted for via the single buyer model nor current surveys.

      Thank you!
      Tony Zambito
      Buyerology
      http://www.buyerology.com

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