Cracking the purchasing cycle code

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While “Marketing in High Definition” was the focus of the Business Marketing Association International's annual conference in Las Vegas last month, I observed firsthand that one important aspect of business marketing remains as fuzzy as a mohair sweater—leveraging the potential of the purchasing cycle. In conjunction with the event, EMA Group B2B sponsored a roundtable of leading business marketers to explore this important topic. And even though the caliber of the marketers at the table was high, agreement on targeting the purchasing cycle couldn't have been lower. The group concurred that a phased process exists for buying virtually every business product or service. Yes, there are more or fewer phases of longer or shorter duration depending upon whether you're buying pens, programmable controllers or a painting line in a plant. There was no disagreement with the notion that targeting value propositions, messaging and offers to the appropriate audience, in the appropriate phase of the cycle, would spark more interest, initiate more conversations and deliver more relationship-building opportunities. But all that revenue and ROMI potential disintegrated when it came to the “doing it” part. The group opined that mapping the cycle is guesswork at best: “Too many people involved.” “Phases can vary by products.” “You can't know exactly when someone's moving from learning to evaluating.” “Only the sales force can really know the cycles so they have to manage them.” “Constant changes in the corporate structure result in consumer intelligence being thrown out the window. “ So does effective buy-cycle targeting go out the double-hung, too? No. Our group reached some consensus. ? A variety of factors determine the nature and extent of the cycle, including type of product and the cost, whether there's a channel involved and if the product or service affects other departments or business systems. The takeaway: While you may be able to “straw-man” the process, plan for flexibility. ? Complete understanding of the cycle and the situations affecting it requires insight. It's not always a matter of how somebody buys something, it's why they buy it that counts. The takeaway: Align more actively personal selling with marketing activities. ? Communicate continually. Listen, and talk and listen again for subtle or blatant clues to changing needs. If you can't do that through personal contact, clone your best sales and customer care activities via contact technologies. The takeaway: Manage and match different messages to different people at different times. The problem is many marketers are still thinking of this in analog terms—still taping TV shows on VHS instead of using DVR. Successful marketers need to unify new digital tools, such as behavior change acceleration and relationship-building smart systems with tried-and true personal selling. John Favalo is managing partner-Group B2B, Eric Mower & Associates and former chairman of the Business Marketing Association International. He can be reached at [email protected]
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