The enterprise buying team: who’s on it and how to communicate with them

  • 16 Feb 2021
Robert Hollier

Robert Hollier

If there is one finding from the latest wave of our CBX™ that has resonated more than any other, it's this: the average size of a buying team for a $3m+ technology investment is 14 people. Find out who is buying and how to communicate with them.

If there is one finding from the latest wave of our Customer Buying Index™ that has resonated more than any other, it is this one: The average size of a buying team for a $3m+ technology investment is 14 people.

And, as we have “road tested” the data from the latest wave of our survey of global enterprise buyers at virtual events and client workshops over the last two months, those on the frontlines of enterprise sales have validated our finding.

The consensus seems to be that the number of people making up a typical buying team has been trending upwards for some time, but the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has generally accelerated this and caused another spike upwards.

It’s not hard to see why. The large-scale shift to remote working has forced even the most reticent of organizations to accelerate their digital transformation projects and a sizeable tech purchase is simply too significant to be left to one individual.

After all, tech purchases are complex, with a lot of moving parts, and our data suggests that buying team size actually increases with the complexity of the purchase. For example, more than 50% of organizations making a Cloud infrastructure purchase would use a buying team that would number greater than 15 people.

Size isn’t everything

But it isn’t just about sheer size. Knowing that a buying team will probably contain more than 14 people is one thing, but you also need to know who those people are on a human level if you want to build a relationship with them in a wholly digital world.

You need to ask: Who are they? What are their interests? What methods of communication do they favour? What is their job title? What are the responsibilities of their role? Why are they on this buying team? What problem are they here to solve?

In order to answer those questions you need to go deep. Basic account intelligence is relatively easy to come by and your account team will be a repository of historic knowledge of the account, but that will only partially answer the questions above.

For a complete picture, you need to engage specialists in account insight who can tell you who you need to talk to, how you must engage with them, and, crucially, what your competitors are saying to that same account.

Know your audience

Once you have identified who’s who, the next step is to tailor your communications accordingly.

Each buying team is unique, of course, but these are the five cohorts you will need to tailor your messaging for:

1) IT

Most major tech purchases will usually be led by the CIO, the CTO, or members of their teams. And if they’re not leading it’s a safe bet that either team will be very prominent in the process.

Your communications to them need to be detail-orientated, focussed on the specifics of your solution, show how your solution is demonstrably better than others on the market and be supported by relevant case studies.

However, as well as the detail, it is important to also keep your messaging focussed on how you can help your customer reach their desired end state. The CIO/CTO team are leading their business toward a digital future and it is your job as a vendor to help them envision what that future can look like and, more crucially, provide the steps that will enable them to get there.

2) Procurement

Most deals don’t run as smoothly as promised. Our latest CBI data revealed that while 54% of buyers planned for their tech purchase to take less than six months, only 7% of those deals were actually completed in that six-month time frame.

Robert Hollier

Most deals don’t run as smoothly as promised. Our latest CBI data revealed that while 54% of buyers planned for their tech purchase to take less than six months, only 7% of those deals were actually completed in that six-month time frame.

That shows there is a disconnect in the process and to avoid causing the frustration that comes with a delayed deal it is crucial to establish a communications line with the procurement representatives on a buying team.

Your communications with them must be open and as helpful as possible, with an emphasis on wanting to understand the processes they must run and providing the data they need to make those processes function as smoothly as possible.

3) Finance

The emphasis of communications to finance representatives on a buying team is always going to be cost-focussed.

You must be able to demonstrate why your solution is better value than the status quo and provide a cost-benefit analysis to clearly illustrate why “doing nothing” is not an option.

It’s a sure bet your customer will be comparing your solutions with those of your competitors and price point is going to be a major factor in the final decision. You must also be able to demonstrate why your solution is better value than others on the market and provide that information in as clear a format as possible.

To help your customer you should provide the data they need to make that immediate cost comparison, but also outline how partnering with you can provide long-term, sustainable return on investment.

4) Legal

Paul Wooding, sales lead at Cloudera, pointed out at our recent CBI Insight Event, ‘Which sales & marketing strategies are winning for cloud vendors’, that: “Legal teams are becoming increasingly involved in the early stages of the enterprise buying process. Over the last six months especially, we have spent more time with legal talking about terms and conditions than we do talking about price.”

This indicates, perhaps, a nervousness on the buying side from organizations that were perhaps rushed into making digital transformation decisions by the pandemic.

But it also shows that your communications need to factor in the legal teams too. Once again, communications here need to focus on detail and provide clarity in your messaging, but there is also a need for consistency in messaging that will reassure and calm nerves on the buying side.

5) Line of Business Head

The final cohort to consider are representatives from whatever functional business teams the technology purchase will impact.

That might mean that any or all of sales, marketing, human resources, product development, customer services, research and design, or delivery could have a seat at the table too in one way or another.

Your communications here must be ultra-focussed on the problem that each of these individuals is trying to solve and your language must be respectful of the fact these members of the buying team may have no background in IT and will almost certainly not know the nuances of your product range.

A focus on business benefit, on increased customer understanding, on improving worker well-being and satisfaction, and driving departmental innovation are all areas that can be teased out in your communications here.

This is only a very brief summary, of course, but it illustrates that buying teams contain very distinct factions and a one-size-fits-all set of account communications just isn’t going to cut it.

To better the communications of your rivals, you are going to need to do the research into the buying team in your account, understand who’s who and what they want, and then tailor your messaging to the particular needs of all them.

For more on tailoring content to your audience, click here.

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Robert Hollier

Robert Hollier