Helping your clients buy
B2B firms can accelerate organic growth providing their customers the outcomes that they seek. This requires active listening, joint collaboration and demonstrating client value in a buying journey that is innately complex and non-linear.
°Gelst interviews with B2B buying teams reveal that teams have different needs and knowledge gaps all along the purchasing route. Ultimately, the buying team needs to ensure their company’s project is a success, both in terms of implementation and economics. In order to reduce their uncertainties, they are looking for help.
Building relationships with the buying team is critical, whether that’s during collaborative creation of the new vision or the articulation of future collaboration. These relationships allow you to demonstrate at the earliest stages of the procurement that you are a team that listens and works well with the buying group.
Helping buying teams at each of the critical points of the procurement process – by identifying and addressing the uncertainties – is key to ultimate success.
Vignettes: What buying teams tell us they need
'The supplier was the right choice on paper. They knew what needed to done, they had done it elsewhere. We felt that they’d overwhelm our small team creating a negative effect for us internally. Nothing in their proposal addressed and alleviated this concern.'
'We had a large buying team across disciplines, which is more complicated but necessary to get this right. We needed to see the compatibility with the supplier in the RFP process to know that we would get to a new way of working. More importantly, our people needed to feel it.'
'Our buying team had a board overseeing the procurement which included C-level executives. We wanted a supplier who could demonstrate that they’ve done this work before by outlining required steps. Equally important was their confidence to raise difficult points early on so that we could collaboratively identify ways to get beyond them. Not doing so caught us by surprise in the final stage. Only then did one of our key decision factors become clear to us.'
'Our buying team is still immature in terms of selecting and managing an outside firm for large-scale projects. We tend to do these things in-house, and not always with full success. We are developing our procurement policy and its implementation. In addition to a good partner who really gets to know us, we need them to be able to bring in industrialisation and tools/techniques that we lack. This could require two collaborating firms, so we’d need to know how well they work together even before they come to us.'
'Our mood internally was linked to enormous pressure on costs. As a consequence, we took a much bigger risk in terms of shortlisting suppliers. We were trying to select partners who could help with our needed cost reduction whilst avoiding putting all of our outsourced work into one hand. One of the things which we noticed and really irked us was some of the bidding teams pandering to our boss’ boss.'
'Our team is not highly sophisticated in terms of detailing what needed to be done to accomplish our goals, so the scope of our RFP was broad. The supplier we wanted would need to be flexible and transparent in terms of costs. We were more than willing to spend the time required with the bidding teams to collaboratively shape the vision and improve everyone’s understanding of what we are about to undertake. And we appreciated any tools and preparation that helped us internally to sell our decision up the chain. Only one bidder ‘sort of’ brought this.'
'Initially we brought in an analyst firm as a client-side advisor. As the procurement went on, we ended up running the buying team fully in-house. We were really looking for collaborative work during the procurement, especially at the more technical levels, to further refine the scope and methods. Ultimately, we wanted a firm who had ‘done it and been there’ and was willing to take an outcome-based view together with us – not just come in on a time and materials basis.'
Are you focusing on the right people?
°Gelst interviews of hundreds of buying teams across Europe and North America have shown that the size of a buying team depends on three factors: the organization itself, the complexity of the program and the investment required. For large firms planning a digital transformation, for example, buying teams are often split into two levels:
The sponsorship level, which often includes the CIO, CFO, business unit lead or senior VPs, are focused on the what and why. They can tell you how the programme came to be and what it aims to achieve.
The tactical level, consisting of individuals within supply chain, finance, sales, marketing and HR, will be closer to the implementation and change. IT is almost always involved and critical, as they will often be involved in the implementation and running of these programmes. And procurement can’t be overlooked as they increasingly bring sophistication and influence to help reduce risk in these large-investment decisions.
Aligning with the needs of both levels of the buying team is crucial to ensure that your firm is considered for the project. Relationship building at different levels enable the bidding team to build a true understanding with the entire buying group. In our experience, bidding teams that are highly attuned to the needs of the buying team invariably have more success. We’ve cited some examples in our buyer vignettes above.
Excellent credentials and a clear business case coupled with great relationship building can also lead to a sole-source scenario, where the client will be prioritising speed in addition to fair economics.
Are your sales and marketing efforts paying off?
Three core elements make the difference to buyers when it comes to choosing who they will partner with to help deliver a successful project:
Perception: A powerful, well-executed brand goes a long way. Big brand or not, perceptions are based on more personal characteristics that can make or break a deal.
Expertise: Potential clients are looking for more than a specific skill set, years of practice, industry accolades or a winning track record. They are trying to determine if you have what it takes to open their minds to new ways of thinking. To suggest new possibilities for their business. And to guide them to new opportunities.
Relationships: People buy from people. That truism underscores the fact that every business is built on relationships. Relationships are, in fact, at the very heart of client-centred marketing. They also play a major role in winning – or losing – client work.
Your marketing team aims to ensure that your firm is perceived as the preferred option in the market to key industries, a company/group of companies within these, specific functions, and perhaps even individual stakeholders. At the same time, your business development team is connecting with your major client contacts and have their ears to the ground on impending projects and external market drivers.
Are your marketing and business development efforts paying off? Are you making the right investments? What percentage of your efforts are you sure about?
Focusing on individual client accounts and the typical buyer journey is not new. Adding a structured approach to consistently focus marketing and business development activities at the account level – which addresses a multi-stakeholder buying team with different questions and needs at different times – may not be totally new either. But like any large client project, it takes some doing to prepare, implement and run.
If you adopt a customer-centric account approach and it’s underpinned with the three core elements – perception, expertise and relationships – you’ll be on your way to organic growth. The combination will help to bring energy and consistency to your marketing and business development efforts increasing your ability to start discussions with key stakeholders early on, stay connected and expand these connections.
What's in it for your clients?
Clients are becoming more sophisticated when it comes to choosing professional services. For many, that’s because they have brought in-house people who have professional services experience. Gelst's experience confirms that clients' increasing sophistication is really good news for those firms with a well-structured approach to their key clients so that they:
- See you as close and approachable
- Notice your expertise
- Recognise your demonstrated understanding of their business and their needs
- Appreciate your ability to help them, in a collaborative fashion, grow their business