When it comes to accelerating the buying process, B2B marketing and sales resemble the sport of curling. Curling is a little like shuffleboard, but it's played on ice and involves sliding a large polished granite stone toward a target painted on the ice. The playing surface is prepared by spraying water droplets (called "pebble") on the ice. Because of the friction between the stone and the pebble, the moving stone will turn or "curl" to one side or the other.
After one team member "throws" the stone toward the target, two other team members accompany the stone as it moves down the ice and guide it toward the target. The catch is, these players aren't
allowed to actually touch the moving stone. Instead, they use brooms to sweep the ice in front of the stone. Sweeping temporarily melts the pebble and reduces the friction between the stone and the ice, and this changes both the speed and the direction of the stone. Therefore, sweepers affect where the stone stops, but they do so indirectly.
In B2B demand generation terms, friction is anything that slows a potential buyer's progression through the buying process. Like the sweepers in a curling match, one your primary jobs as a marketer or a salesperson is to reduce friction. You would like to be able to directly lead your prospects through the buying process, but in today's B2B buying environment, attempting to push prospects through the buying process on your schedule just doesn't work - at least not very often.
The friction gremlins live everywhere in the buying process, and some of the causes of friction are beyond your control. For example, a change in the prospect's business or financial condition, or a change in the composition of the prospect's senior management team can delay or stall the buying process.
The good news is, you can address many causes of friction with the right marketing content and selling skills. Most causes of friction fall into one of two categories - friction that relates directly to your solution or the problem or challenge it addresses, or friction that accompanies any significant organizational change.
Friction Related to Your Solution
This type of friction usually results from a lack of information. To keep moving through the buying process, potential buyers need the right information at the right time, and if they don't get that information, the buying process can stall. For example, a potential buyer's progression can be slowed or stopped if he or she:
- Doesn't understand or appreciate the costs or negative ramifications of the status quo
- Doesn't fully understand how your solution will improve the status quo
- Perceives that the purchase of your solution will entail substantial risks
- Doesn't have an accurate picture of the ROI that your solution will produce
Change-related friction is usually caused by internal prospect issues, and most of those issues have little to do with the selling company or its products or services. Every prospect organization will have a unique mix of change management issues, but there are four causes of change-related friction that arise in most organizations. The buying process is likely to stall if the principal buyer:
- Doesn't understand how the proposed change will affect the existing organizational "system" (people, processes, and technology)
- Hasn't identified who must be involved in the decision to change
- Believes (or other stakeholders believe) that the problem or need driving the consideration of change can be addressed using internal resources
- Hasn't identified the issues or concerns that must be addressed to get buy-in from all necessary stakeholders
Both marketing and sales are responsible for reducing friction in the buying process, but marketing's share of the job has grown because of changes in buyer behavior. With business buyers delaying interactions with salespeople until later in the buying process, marketing content must be a primary tool for reducing solution-related friction. In fact, marketing content is often the only effective tool for dealing with the solution-related friction that arises in the early stages of the buying process.
Because change-related friction is unique to each prospect, sales must assume a large part of the responsibility for reducing it. Even here, however, marketing content can play an important role. For example, a white paper or ebook that describes how to build a business case for your type of solution can help your potential buyer identify all of the stakeholders who must be involved in the decision to change. A white paper or ebook can also be used to discuss why an internal "home-grown" solution isn't the best alternative for most companies.
You can't completely eliminate friction from the buying process, but the best way to speed up buying decisions is to kill as many friction gremlins as possible.
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