The Death of the B2B Decision Maker: A Marketing Autopsy

B2B decision makersIt’s the holy grail of B2B Marketing: Getting the attention of the so-called C-suite. Why are marketers so determined to target C-Level executives? Well, if a professional’s job title has ‘chief’ in it, it means they are the decision maker. Or does it? Today’s view of buyer personas in B2B marketing is shaped by Miller-Heiman’s Strategic Selling framework, which identifies four types of buyers that typically play a role in a complex sale: The economic buyer, the technical buyer, the user buyer and the coach. In this classic model, the economic buyer is identified as the decision maker, as they sign the cheque for the purchase.

Tweet: The Death of the Decision Maker in #B2BMarketing: http://ctt.ec/Hx4o7+ A #Marketing Autopsy by @yasminetweets

But the reality is more complex: With smaller budgets, increased scrutiny of expenditure and risk aversion on the rise, the days of ‘the decision maker’ are numbered. If you target larger and international enterprises, such as Fortune 500 or FTSE 350 companies, you already know that the decision maker can have many different faces. This is particularly true for organizations with matrix organizational structures. In addition, C-level executives in such big enterprises manage large departments and may be less hands-on, delegating the research, vetting and shortlisting tasks to managers within their teams. Now add vendor management officers and formal purchasing processes to the mix: purchase orders above a certain threshold, such as those for enterprise software and consultancy services, typically necessitate a formal request for proposal (RfP) process. In this case, who is the real decision maker? There may not even be a single person making the decision, since a committee or working group has been tasked with selecting the vendor.

All this creates problems for marketers who want to create relationship-building and profile-raising B2B content marketing campaigns targeting the decision maker in the B2B sales process.

The solution? There’s no quick fix, unfortunately. Job titles are not reliable clues: One company’s Head of Marketing is another company’s VP of Marketing or Executive Director for Business Development. The most reliable way of identifying the person(s) calling the shots is the old-fashioned way: Account Mapping. That means sales (or whoever owns the relationship) needs to map who is who in the company, what their roles are, and which process is used to make purchasing decisions. Many companies already use salesforce.com to document this, by making it mandatory to associate a contact with an opportunity, and asking the opportunity owner to identify the role of that contact in moving the deal forward.

So if in doubt, who should marketing target to generate the most value for their organization? To identify the best possible target for marketing campaigns, go to the source: Who sends you most of your inbound enquiries?

Chances are, the majorityof your sales enquiries don’t come from the decision maker or chief x officer, but from someone further down the chain who does the actual work and knows the functional requirements.

If you are selling complex solutions to anything larger than a start up, the person who signs the cheque usually relies on a number of different experts to do the legwork around functionality, IT integration, data migration, hosting options and so on. That means that today, the C in C-Level decision-making stands for Committee rather than Chief, making the B2B sales process even more complicated, and potentially drawn out. Although there’s no marketing quick fix, it provides marketers with the opportunity to create a highly targeted suite of marketing collateral satisfying the needs of the different decision contributors and influencers, from IT to the business owner and the end user.

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