How Buyers Decide When They Don’t Care About Your Competitive Advantage

How Buyers Decide When They Don’t Care About Your Competitive Advantage image CBS Hermes4Columbia Business School

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In today’s emerging digital age, understanding buying behaviors is becoming job one for many B2B organizations. Faced with relentless new demands from customers and buyers, B2B leaders must map out a course of transition. This transition involves being relevant in today’s complex marketplaces by an equally relentless focus on customers and buyers.

End of Sustainable Competitive Advantages

One of the byproducts of the emerging new digital age is the equalizing of competition. One of our brightest thinkers of today is Columbia Business School professor Rita Gunther McGrath. In her just released book, The End of Competitive Advantage: How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast as Your Business, she makes the case for rethinking our perspectives on how we define competition. Competition, as we know it, is changing. Changing so much so, making the idea of sustainable obsolete. The introduction of new market and network dynamics are changing the landscape of competition she argues. (I learned of this book through Dorie Clark’s excellent Forbes article Competitive Advantage is Dead. Here’s What To Do About it.)

Strategy, Operations, and Execution

To stay ahead of competition today calls for a shift. A shift towards being customer and buyer focused. However, not just shifts towards thinking customer and buyer focus. This shift must be achieved in three areas: strategy, operations, and execution. Many B2B organizations are falling short in these areas. I have heard this in answering questions as well as in discussions regarding buyer persona and buyer insight development.

Starting Point

The starting point for achieving buyer and customer-centricity is gaining a deeper understanding of your buyers and buying behaviors. Understanding buying behaviors is tied to deeper buyer insights into the goals, drivers, and choices of your target buyer’s purchase decisions. What every Marketing and Sales leader should be striving for, in the face of relentless competitive pressures, is this:

Developing unique buyer insights about their buyers, operationalizing these insights into the fabric of strategy and execution, and mapping B2B customer experiences, which will set them apart from their competition.

The leap here is not just learning about your customers and buyers, but also using unique insights to map out buyer focused strategies, which make a difference.

Making the Leap

A way to make the leap is to model buyer decisions – based upon unique and profound buyer insights. When we undergo an effort to understand buyers through deeper insights, the important next step is modeling uncovered buying behaviors into meaningful archetypes. This is the basic principle behind a buyer persona – creating an archetypal representation, which can be communicated. In this case, we want to model buyer decisions.

There is an important distinction to be made. It has to do with our common vocabulary around buying process, buyer’s journey, buying cycle, and etc. These all should be considered common frameworks. And, in this fast emerging digital age, even these are presumptuous at best. Modeling buyer decisions means going much deeper.

1 + 1 + 1

When modeling buyer decisions today, we are after a deeper understanding of three key buyer dimensions:

Buyer Thinking: what are the goals and mental models affecting purchase decisions?

Buyer Activity: what are the activities performed in making purchase decisions?

Buyer Values: what are the perceived values, which buyers regard as important?

Infused into this approach, is the qualitative aspects of who, what, where, when, how, and the all-important why. The aim here is to achieve the 1 + 1 + 1 equation of getting to why.

While general framework views of buying process, buyer journey, and etc. are helpful, they only provide surface level views. Underneath is where the deep buyer insights live. Thus, the challenge today for many B2B leaders is to breakout from the norm.

The norm today is like your teenage kid saying why they want to do something – “because everybody is doing it.” Since everybody is using generalized buyer’s journey, buying stages, and the likes – in all shapes and sizes – it is tough to achieve the unique separation we want from competitors.

The bottom line for B2B marketing and sales leaders today is to explore deeper buyer insights through buyer decision modeling. Knowing the critical buying paths of your customers and buyers, at a deep distinct level, allows you to tailor your efforts closer to how and why buyers actually buy. And, closer is always better. Would you not agree?

(Two modeling tools, which can help are the Buyer Persona Canvas™ and the Buyer Insight Map™. Look for the Buyer Decision Model™ in the next article. They are available as a resource for you here: Resource Models. I am available to have helpful further discussions on this important topic. Please share widely – I am sure someone is trying to figure this out today.)

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