How was it for you?

B2B marketing and sales departments are usually well up to speed with why customers buy their products, but are often less clued-up about how they buy them. So how do sales to new customers happen? By what process does a prospective customer move from a state of knowing nothing about your products or services to you becoming a valued long term supplier? And is there a pattern to that process?

There is a pattern

One of the best ways to reveal the pattern is to consider what happened the last time that you bought a significant item for your company. The first thing that comes to your attention is the need, something needs fixing, maybe a current supplier let you down. And what’s the first thing you look for? Information! Inevitably you google and call the suppliers you know and trust for more information. But how do you know who these suppliers are? You know them because they are the ones with the best reputation and the strongest brand presence in the marketplace.

What happens next?

A period of show and tell while the precise need for a product or service is defined and matched to the performance and specs of the suppliers. Some suppliers will be dropped as unsuitable. Some may have strengths in one area while others have strengths in another. From this comes the Long List. Almost inevitably, in our hyper competitive business environment there is not much to choose between the supplier offers.

So two ‘soft’ factors enter the discussion. One is the quality of the relationship between the buyers and the sellers. Nobody wants to buy from someone they dislike. And the other is the degree to which the sellers can be trusted. Here case studies, endorsements, visits to the suppliers’ existing customers, trials and demonstrations will influence the decision about who appears on the short list.

Now the gloves come off and finance almost invariably dominates the final furlong in the race to the finish. Yet the final decision will often hang on something much less tangible. Such as, “We just like the idea of doing business with them”.

What does all this mean for communicating?

1. Selling companies can rarely create the need for their products.
2.’Being around’ when the need arises is key to even being considered.
3. Promoting brand, reputation and existing customer satisfaction is important, especially at the beginning and at the end of the selling process.
4. Recognising that this is a linear process and providing the right materials to support each stage in that process is the most efficient way to communicate to create sales.
5. Communicate useful industry information to keep your company on potential customers’ radars.

This process is timeless. Of course the media used, to support the underlying process, is constantly evolving. Today online business media offer all sorts of new ways to communicate with customers and to build the relationships that win business. But the fundamental process is the same as ever.

That’s why understanding how you buy from others can help you understand how others buy from you.


William Parker, Strategy Partner at Engage is the former Group Creative Director of McCann Erickson Worldwide with more than 30 years’ experience. A keen strategist, William has worked with many of the world’s leading brands during an illustrious agency career.