Ray Collis

Today’s Buying Is More Structured Than Ever Before

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Most large organizations, and an increasing number of smaller ones, have a defined buying process. These processes are increasingly structured and indeed sophisticated.

Today's Buying Is More Structured

(a) More Sophisticated Buying

Organizations have never been better, or at least more careful at buying. In particular, when it comes to major purchases they are applying greater rigor and sophistication to how decisions are made.

Indeed they are applying the same level of structure, analysis and planning to major purchases as befits any important strategic business decision.

(b) The New Rules of Buying

Buyers have re-written the rules on how buying decisions are made, with prescribed steps that managers and their departments must follow. The ad hoc approach to buying decisions, has become process-driven.

In the past different managers and their departments had their own way of buying, but that is increasingly converging into a consistent set of policies and procedures organization wide.

(c) More Complex Buying Decisions

Major buying decisions are more complex than ever, involving more stakeholders, outputs and stages.

Decisions made by individual managers have given way to decisions made by cross-functional teams buying units, the involvement of all stakeholders (including end users) and perhaps even ultimately sign off by the senior management team, or indeed even the board.

To gain approval of their project, or purchase managers must follow key steps. These steps may include; gathering requirements, scoping the solution, quantifying the benefits, building the business case, creating budgets, quantifying risks, etc.

Inevitably buying decisions will take longer as a result. From the salesperson’s point of view they are also likely to more unpredictable and difficult to manage.

(d) Decisions: Fewer and Slower, But Better

Organizations are making slower and in many cases that means fewer buying decisions. But these decisions are being more carefully made, with greater consideration and planning than ever before. It seems inevitable that all this will lead to better buying decisions, or at least decisions that reflect more closely organizational priorities and objectives.

The commitment to a major purchase or buying decision is made gradually over many months in a graduated manner as the proposed project, or purchase passes successfully through success stages of the buying process.

For every project that successfully navigates the buying process, many more will not. As increasing rigor is applied at each successive stage of the process, more projects will be ‘killed off’. In an organizational context, it is the application of Darwinian principles only ‘the fittest’ project and purchase proposals will survive.

But the process does not start, or indeed stop at the buying decision. It starts with the business need, or objective and only ends when it is achieved. In this respect it includes implementation, management and review of major purchases and projects.

(e) Buying and Selling Converge

Because the buying process trumps sales process the sales person no longer gets to outline the steps. His, or her notions of an idealized sales process, must flex to meet the needs of the buyer. The salesperson must following the buyers path.

Conversely, the buyers is taking on more of the sales person’s job. As projects and purchases compete for scarce organizational resources, managers must sell their projects internally. In this way the buying process is a kin to an internal sales process. Thus, steps once the preserve of the salesperson are now being undertaken by  buyers in their own organizations, that includes ensuring stakeholders involvement, presenting the business case, etc.

Top 5 Seller Implication:

  1. Sellers must support buyers through their prescribed buying process, even if that does not fit with the sellers idealized sales steps.
  2. Vendors must understand the business decisions behind buying decisions.
  3. Sellers must be careful not to usurp the buying process by attempting to fast tracking access to information, or stakeholders, or by closing prematurely.
  4. Vendors need to reassess the drive for a consistent and repeatable sales process across their sales teams. Trying to corral buyers through the seller’s way of buying is likely to encounter resistance.
  5. The way organizations sell must reflect the stage of the buying process that the buyer is at. In particular it must recognize that the buying process starts earlier and finished later than ever before.
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