The 3 Types Of Buying Scenarios Every B2B CMO Must Know

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Tony Zambito

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The complexities of the evolving and robust global digital economy are introducing new sets of goals and problems for B2B organizations.  Long-tenured B2B companies are seeking ways to adapt and to remain sustainable.  While nimble and digital technology savvy firms are either grabbing larger chunks of market share at a faster rate or are creating new business models shaking the very foundation of established markets.

It is no wonder, then, that CEOs are making understanding buyers and buying behaviors top priorities for many B2B organizations.

The Deeper Understanding Needed

In attempts to gain deeper understanding of buyers and their behaviors today, B2B organizations are getting tripped up by immediately gravitating to the “who” and rational based paint-by-numbers profiling of buyers.  While it is helpful to know more about “who” your buyers are, this form of tunnel-vision leaves a canyon-size gap in true deeper understanding.

True deeper understanding comes from the melding narrative of who, what, how, why, where, and when of buyer stories and their goal-directed behaviors.  As mentioned, new complexities are being introduced due to a robust digital economy and B2B organizations are faced with new mountains to climb as a result.  The imperative for B2B CMOs today is to gain insight into these complex stories and new forms of human interactions taking place.

Only having insight into the “who” of this melding narrative will be a very shortsighted outcome of efforts to understand buyers and buying behaviors.

What Exactly Is A Buying Scenario?

For nearly fifteen years, I have used the term buying scenario in describing one of the critical components of buyer insights research and buyer persona development.   A buying scenario is the modeled melding narrative I speak about and provides much-needed context and in-depth understanding into the complexities confronted by buyers.  More importantly, it dispels the myth of belief in one generalized recurring buying process or buyer’s journey.

Persona-based scenario development and planning has been at the heart of personas since their origins.  This includes buying scenarios planning specifically for buyer persona development.  It is important for B2B firms to understand the true meaning of the term buying scenario and not confuse with rational-based buying attributes.  Nor should they to be confused with traditional day-in-the-life scenarios, which also has application in both user and buyer persona development.

With buying scenarios planning, the focus is not on predicting the future, as we have seen with Big Data.  The focus is on exploring the context of the future. In other word, what will be the likely buying situations and stories, in which we can be prepared for.  Another important note is the purposes of scenarios are to serve as informing, planning, and decision support perspectives for CMOs engaged in formulating current and future marketing strategies.

The three essential types of buying scenarios needed by B2B CMOs today are:

  1. Contextual Buying Scenario: This scenario is an attempt to bring deep understanding of the context surrounding the situational problems confronting buyers.  We get a sense of how problems and goals are driving certain buying activities and interactions with others.  In any given customer and buyer environment, there may be multiple contextual scenarios happening simultaneously.  For instance, three Fortune 100 organizations I helped with goal-directed buyer persona research and development, each uncovered four to five contextual buying scenarios they needed to plan for.
  2. Key Buying Path Scenario: In this scenario, we attempt to determine the buying path-to-decision by which buyers are attempting to fulfill important goals, as well as, address situational problems.  This includes their human interactions with internal as well as external sources.  These are more structured views of how certain paths map back to specific situational problems and goals.  It also reflects on the multiple goals and decisions buyers engage in along a specific buying path.  This offers a much richer and deeper view of how buyers actually buy than generalized views of a buyer’s journey.  As an example, in a recent buyer persona research study in healthcare information technology (I conducted on behalf of a Fortune 50 company), a new influential senior-level role was uncovered.  This new role, which had distinct goals, stayed engaged throughout more than sixty percent of the entire time in evaluations and decisions related to healthcare information technology.
  3. Future Buying Scenario: In this type of scenario, it requires envisioning skills and techniques to bring context to how goals can be fulfilled and situational problems can be resolved.   Specifically, prototypical marketing, sales, and services capabilities are introduced to envision how customers and buyers get their goals fulfilled and problems resolved.  This type of scenario also serves as a validation point of whether what you have prototyped or designed can be capable of helping customers and buyers to fulfill goals.

Critical Components Of Overall Goal-Directed Customer Engagement

These three types of buying scenarios, which are qualitative research-based, should be viewed as important components towards the overall strategizing and design of customer engagement.  Together, they shed light on how customers and buyers engage in fulfilling goals and resolving problems.  Taking the guesswork out of attaining deep understanding of the goal-directed buying behaviors and activities buyers are most likely to act upon as they pursue a path towards a decision.  The type of insights needed to design and assemble the right level of customer engagement.

Buying scenarios planning also allows for a perspective in which no amount of Big Data or marketing automation can provide.  Which is, a proactive means of deeply understanding the context of scenarios customers and buyers are most likely to find themselves in.  Accompanied by the ability to envision how and why these scenarios can change when your organization provides the right capabilities.  As opposed to relying solely on the historical-based and reactive nature of data crunched from CRM and marketing automation.

Buying scenarios, defined and researched adequately, can also change another important scenario.  That is, it can change the scenario of how marketing can plan, as well as, be more effective at connecting with customers and buyers.

(What follows is a short video on how one organization, Shell, has actively used scenario planning for nearly forty years.  This includes having a dedicated Shell Scenarios Team.  For B2B CMOs today, it may well be worth considering having a dedicated Buying Scenarios Team engaging in buying scenarios planning.  I welcome B2B or B2C CMOs to contact me about this for a spirited  conversation on this topic.)