How To Find, Qualify, & Build Relationships With Economic Buyers
As a B2B startup or small business, you’re looking to cast a wide net for potential clients. Whether you’re selling to medium-sized companies or multinationals, you need proven methods for reaching decision-makers. These may be C-level executives or senior managers, and they’re the ones with the budget and authority to close your deal.
Your sales team probably knows them as economic buyers.
But they can be hard to reach, and the larger the customer, the more layers of employees between you and your economic buyer. How can you be sure you’re talking to someone who will push your project forward, and not a gatekeeper who will delay it?
After negotiating hundreds of agreements between small businesses and large customers, I’ve seen many successful (and less successful) tactics for engaging with economic buyers. Here are some ways to identify your economic buyer and make sure they hear your message:
Step 1: Finding economic buyers
With marketing becoming ever more targeted, smaller companies should employ multiple methods for connecting with economic buyers. The most effective B2B sales teams use a combination of low-touch and high-touch techniques like these:
Invest in (some) content marketing, SEO, and social media.
Much of conventional marketing wisdom focuses on content creation. Coincidentally, this is the approach that generates a steady income stream for marketers.
Grassroots excitement and lots of “likes” can make or break a consumer company. For B2B ventures, though, your economic buyer probably isn’t making spending decisions based on Google searches or a YouTube channel. Maximizing search engine traffic and monetizing followers is certainly desirable, but should be part of a larger strategy.
The advantage of content marketing is the ability to share your expertise with a wide (even global) audience. Publishing white papers and industry articles, and being featured on respected blogs, can keep your company top of mind while you pursue more targeted connections.
Show your company’s value with demos or free services.
Economic buyers look for business partners who can add value right away. Show what’s in it for them with targeted information that speaks directly to their concerns:
- SaaS vendors: Upload a free demo of your software, that prospective buyers can run right from your website.
- Manufacturers: Set up in-person workshops where industry leaders can get hands-on experience with your product. For a lower-cost alternative, consider a series of detailed videos showing your product in action.
- Services companies: Offer a free introductory call to discuss a workaround for one challenge that’s widespread in your potential customer’s industry.
- Similarly, any startup or small business can produce a webinar that describes practical solutions to a problem your economic buyers are facing right now.
These offerings are also useful for generating leads, as would-be buyers opt in to view your content or test your software. At the same time, you can get real-time intelligence on what problems are top of mind for them.
Join an incubator or corporate-sponsored accelerator.
Earlier-stage companies might meet buyers through an incubator, or an accelerator sponsored by a large corporation. Google Launchpad Accelerators, The Disney Accelerator, and Lloyds Lab are just some of the entities created to help large corporations partner with innovative startups. Industry-specific groups like FinTech Innovation Lab, Food Future, and Blueprint Health, among many others, can also help make those connections.
Ask your investors and advisors.
Your investors and advisors are already familiar with your market, including strategies for appealing to economic buyers. Winning business based on these relationships may require a bit of research. Review your investors’ and advisors’ connections and ask for warm introductions. You’ll want to be ready with a pitch targeted to these contacts, showing them the specific value you’ll bring.
Go to conferences — or start your own.
Where do your ideal customers gather every year, either in person or virtually? Getting a speaker slot at their main event provides instant credibility. Even attending as an audience member offers the potential for productive hallway or chatroom conversations.
Once you’ve established yourself with a few anchor customers, consider creating your own conference. This can be as simple and informal as a buyers’ council that meets occasionally to beta-test new features. Or you can create a full-blown event, so your clients can network with each other while hearing your latest updates.
Hire a business development service.
You may be limited by a tight budget, or caught in a time crunch as you scale up. When you don’t have the capital or time to hire a full sales team, business development as a service might be an option. Companies like Sales Focus, MarketStar, or Bizydev can help. Look for a provider with proven results in your industry. In many cases, commission-based arrangements are possible.
Once you’ve gathered leads and made the first introductory calls, you’ll need to qualify your potential buyers.
Step 2: How to qualify the economic buyer
How can you make sure your buyer is authorized to make a deal? And are they ready to buy, or just doing casual market research – maybe even planning to launch their own product in your space?
Asking these questions can help you find out, and plan your next steps accordingly.
Is your contact from a profit center or cost center?
If your contact is from a profit center, their immediate need is to generate revenue for their company. Learn what ROI they expect from your product or service. How much will your solution generate in sales, and how does this compare to other offerings on the market?
What other value does your product or service add? Will it open up new markets? Give your customer a leg up on their main competitors? Position them on the leading edge of technology?
If your contact is from a cost center, they’re most likely looking to save money and provide better support for profit center managers. Bring metrics to show, not just tell, how you can cut costs while boosting efficiency.
To whom does your contact report?
A junior employee reporting to a middle manager may be able to make helpful introductions, but won’t be in a position to push the deal forward if it hits a snag.
Senior managers can close contracts faster, but are harder to approach. They may delegate to their team to figure out whether you’re a good fit – so be prepared to pitch to multiple stakeholders.
Who will sign this contract?
If it’s not your contact, their immediate manager, or (in a very large organization) their immediate manager’s boss, they are most likely not the economic buyer.
How much time and money are they spending on the problem that your company solves?
Do they have a compelling financial reason to work with you? If so, your economic buyer will have a better chance of getting internal support for your project.
Find out why your solution is better than what they’re using now. This is an excellent opportunity to learn more about your potential customer’s pain points and tailor your pitch.
Once you get the answers to these questions, you’ll have a good sense of whether your contact can help you move forward – and if so, how to craft a proposal that speaks directly to their needs.
Step 3: How to strengthen the relationship & move towards a deal
Although the buyer qualification process may seem long, the relationship is just beginning. With larger companies especially, you should expect a long sales cycle: it can take anywhere from 6 to 12 months to even start contract discussions. For deals in the million-dollar range, the actual contract negotiations can take another 3-6 months.
Here are some ways to get the economic buyer on your side, so that they become your advocate within their organization:
Respond quickly to due diligence questions.
Line up your subject matter experts in advance so you can provide turnaround within 1-2 business days whenever possible. SaaS and other tech vendors will need to go through IT security review, which can be especially detailed. If you’re sharing proprietary information, you may be asked to provide a non-disclosure agreement – or, more likely, sign the customer’s NDA.
Share past experiences.
Have some stories ready to show how you’ve gotten results for similar companies. If you‘ve worked with someone in the buyer’s role before, how did you help them grow their area or impress their manager? Well-chosen examples combined with solid evidence can be more memorable than just showing the metrics.
Use your network to help your economic buyer meet their own goals.
As a startup or small business, you have a unique view of your buyer’s industry. You may know others who can help their career, or further their company’s goals. Offer to introduce them to that super-connected investor, that mentor of yours with 30 years in the industry, or the brilliant contractor you know who would be perfect for their next project.
Make the deal process easier for them.
Large customers’ contract processes may seem like they’re designed to make your life difficult. But these procedures can be confusing and time-consuming even for the corporate employees who oversee them. Take the initiative and be your buyer’s ally in navigating the bureaucracy:
- Manage the logistics of scheduling calls, drafting documents, and doing regular check-ins.
- Understand the hierarchy and roles within the buyer’s company. Tweak your pitch to satisfy their various wants and needs.
- Be ready to explain your solution in a way that’s convenient for your buyer. They might prefer to explore your product themselves on a test site, be guided through a demo, or do a deep dive at a Q&A session.
- Invite their feedback regularly – and act on it.
Finally, use this time with your economic buyer to track what works and what doesn’t in your sales operation. This data can be quantitative: How many contacts does it take, on average, to identify the economic buyer? Or it can be qualitative: How do economic buyers react to our customer success stories?
You can also gather statistics about your target customers’ operations, budgets, and business challenges. All of this information will be useful during your contract negotiations and beyond.
Finding and connecting with economic buyers is challenging, but not impossible. For startup and small business CEOs who follow through on these tips, you should be able to build fruitful relationships that improve your products and services along with your bottom line.
This article is my opinion only, and is not legal advice.
As soon as your economic buyer proposes a contract, you’ll want to review the deal terms with an experienced lawyer – one who understands your company’s deals, can identify any red flags quickly, and won’t keep the customer waiting. Contact me to learn more.