Most companies think about marketing in a general way and they don't align their activities with their prospects’ buying process. But the reality for business to business marketing is that the more tightly marketing activities are aligned to the buying process, the better the results will be.
The most reliable way to understand buying behavior is to talk to the target market about their actual purchasing experiences. The latter point is very important – business people will tell you many wonderful things about how they buy, and it will all sound very logical and well structured. But get them to tell you about an actual purchase and the story will often differ dramatically.
It’s important to discuss the purchase process for similar products or services as yours. The way a company chooses a stationery supplier is different than how they buy legal services. There are differences in product vs. service purchasing and also deal sizes – make sure to focus your discussions on the purchases that are relevant given what you offer.
To get this kind of information from business people, you have to be in research mode, not sales mode. If an individual has even the slightest sensation that you are going to try and sell them something they won’t give you any time. It generally works best if you have a third party do this – they have no vested interest and won’t take offense at anything the interviewee says. If you get an experienced third party to do the research, they’ll know how to run a conversation so that they get the insight you need and will record it in a way that you can do something with it.
The next best way to understand prospects’ buying behavior is to talk to your great sales reps. The reps you talk to must be the successful ones - a salesperson who isn’t selling means they themselves don’t understand customers’ buying process. But a rep who is experienced and successful will have a good handle on customers’ actual purchase process, who gets involved and when, and what your company needs to do in order to get to the next stage in the sales process.
Those two sources, in my experience, can provide a wealth of information for marketers and managers – as long as they ask. You’ll be amazed by what you learn if only you ask, and write down the answers in a systematic way.