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Understanding the Roles of Multiple Stakeholders in B2B Decision Journeys

The value of customer journey mapping is well known. Understanding customers’ needs and emotions at each step in a journey helps brands design experiences that delight. These improved experiences drive growth by increasing customer retention and spending.

B2B decision journeys are complex, in part, because they involve multiple stakeholders with differing needs and points-of-view. According to Gartner, “The typical buying group for a complex B2B solution involves six to 10 decision makers.” 1

Each of the multiple stakeholders is part of the decision process for a reason. B2B brands must understand the role of each to design journeys that meets the needs of each.

Decision Journeys Start with an Individual

Organizations’ decision journeys begin when an individual identifies a need or an opportunity. That person may pursue the decision themselves or they may delegate it. In either case, there’s typically a single decision owner who drives the decision process forward. Even when there’s a decision committee, a committee chairperson or project lead is ultimately responsible for keeping the process moving.

However, the decision doesn’t end with the owner. Others may become involved immediately, if the need or opportunity is uncovered during a conversation or meeting. Or the decision owner may bring them in as the decision process unfolds.

Multiple Stakeholders May Be Impacted

Business functions interact, so a decision made by one function may impact others. The decision owner should seek input from those impacted by their decisions. This means bringing impacted individuals or representatives of impacted groups into the decision process.

Decisions generally have budget impacts. If the decision owner doesn’t have sufficient budget authority, they must involve someone who does. Even if they do have authority, they may run spending decisions by higher ups to maintain goodwill or to get their opinions on trade-offs.

There are other examples of impacts:

  • A business function that needs software might consider the impact on IT to support the software and the impact on HR to coordinate training on how to use the software.
  • A business function that needs external data might consider the impact on legal to ensure regulatory compliance of the data acquisition and use.

Multiple Stakeholders May Provide Expertise

Many business decisions require the expertise of multiple functions. Those functions should also participate in decision making to ensure their knowledge informs the decision. For example:

  • A business function that needs equipment might partner with finance to forecast the ROI the equipment will deliver.
  • A business function that needs raw materials or consumables might leverage supply chain to ensure diverse sources of supply and procurement to negotiate bulk discounts.

In many cases, stakeholders may bring expertise and be impacted. For example, IT might help assess the technical merits of a software solution and be expected to implement and support the software.

Different Stakeholders Have Different Needs

Because multiple stakeholders are brought into the decision process for different reasons, they have different needs and involvement during the decision journey.

The information stakeholders need relates directly to their functional role. Common functions and the broad types of questions they are likely to ask about business decisions include:

  • Upper Management: “How will this advance our strategy?”
  • Operations: “How will our workstream function?”
  • Marketing: “Who is the target? How will we take this to market?”
  • Finance: “How much investment is needed? What is the ROI?”
  • Information Technology: “Do we have the right resources?”
  • Digital: “What data will it generate? How can we monetize that data?”
  • Human Resources: “What skills are necessary?”
  • Customer Experience: “How will customers interact with this?”
  • Research & Development: “How can innovation make this even better?”
  • Supply Chain: “What inputs will we need?”
  • Procurement: “What are the commercial terms? What are the negotiation levers?”
  • Legal: “What are the contractual terms? What are the regulatory implications?”

Thinking through typical business functions can help decision owners determine which types of stakeholders are relevant to the decision at hand and what is likely to be important to each.

Communication Among Stakeholders Can Be Challenging

Since different stakeholders have different expertise, they may not speak the same language. Since they have different priorities, those priorities may conflict. The decision owner may neglect to include all relevant stakeholders in the decision process – or might include them later than they should – because they don’t understand the impacts their decision will have on others, they don’t understand the expertise available to them, or they simply wish to avoid conflict.

Stakeholders may have mistaken views of one another. For example, in a project to understand the role of multiple stakeholders in a software purchase decision process, we learned that:

  • IT saw themselves as bringing technical skills that allow others to do their work, while other stakeholders saw IT as a mere utility or even a barrier due to their firm requirements.
  • Procurement saw themselves as facilitators and shrewd negotiators, while others saw them as bureaucrats imposing too much process and keeping them from buying what they need.
  • Human Resources saw themselves as wise professionals that drive business outcomes, while others saw them as cheerleaders at best and disengaged at worst.

With such significant disconnects, the way stakeholders interact can be fraught and the decision owner’s task can be daunting.

What This Means for B2B Brands

When the decision at hand is whether to buy a brand’s B2B product or service, understanding all the stakeholders involved can help the brand meet the needs of each to drive successful outcomes. Multi-stakeholder journey mapping arms B2B brands with this understanding. Journey mapping can be used to identify which types of stakeholders are involved and determine, for each:

  • Whether they are involved for their expected impacts, their expertise, or both,
  • How they may come in and out of the journey at different steps,
  • The tasks they need to accomplish at each step,
  • The information sources they use and trust,
  • Their decision criteria and priorities, and
  • How their emotions evolve during the journey.

With this understanding, B2B brands can design purchase journeys that deliberately account for each type of stakeholder. Understanding how each assesses value and risk means brands can tailor value proposition messaging, proactively assuage specific concerns, and ensure each stakeholder has the information they need when they need it.

Brands seldom have direct access to all the stakeholders involved in a complex purchase decision process. For stakeholders they don’t have access to, brands can provide relevant information in their sales assets. Brands can also coach decision owners on what information each type of stakeholder will need and what to emphasize. Offering this support can help the decision owner see the brand as an ally that’s trying to make the process as easy as possible and to help them succeed.

Multi-stakeholder journey mapping enables brands to understand the complexities of purchase decision journeys so they can optimize their sales and marketing efforts, boost conversion rates, and ultimately grow sales.

 

Written by Ashley James, Vice President at ENGINE Insights.

 

  1. Gartner, “New B2B Buying Journey & its Implication for Sales,” www.gartner.com/en/sales/insights/b2b-buying-journey, accessed May 2, 2022

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ENGINE is a global, full-service media and marketing services company that unites culture and commerce to move brands forward faster. We are: Driven by data. Fueled by imagination. Powered by technology. Founded in 2005, ENGINE has global headquarters in New York and 16 offices across North America, the UK, Europe and Asia-Pacific. ENGINE empowers clients to outperform in the present and win in the future with its vast range of marketing solutions including – insights, creative, media, data and technology. Find out more at enginegroup.com and follow @engineworldwide.