I recently ran into a friend at a funeral who was a colleague on the Media Growth Executive Peer Group with me for many years. Several years my senior, Tim Fixmer is among the leaders I most admire in business-to-business (B2B) marketing. He runs a successful business in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, named CCI Media LLC. Incidentally, he “cut his teeth” on Farm Equipment (1975-1978), that is now part of Lessiter Media’s portfolio.
As we discussed the many changes in capital equipment marketing over the last 3 decades, he reminded me of the “considered purchase” concept, and the role of the B2B magazine in impacting decision-making units (DMUs).
While a lot of things have changed in the makeup of both of the industries we cover (number of players, sizes of players, manufacturing systems and technology to name a few), Fixmer maintains that it’s the process that matters nowadays. “What hasn’t changed,” he says, “is the complexity of the sales environment for machinery, software, systems, and support to these customers and prospects.”
At that funeral luncheon, we traded notes which eventually led to another look a concept that equipment buyers are again “buying into,” including a story from one who “learned a hard lesson.” Here is a recap of that discussion, mostly in Fixmer’s own words.
The Considered Purchase
The system of buying and using machinery, equipment and supplies includes all 7 characteristics of a “considered purchase” that act together. Sales teams must be engineered with an understanding of this concept and supplied with the resources to fund the time and activities to address all the issues, he says.
A considered purchase is a complex buying decision of financial impact: risk and reward. This process requires meaningful investigation and comparison by key decision-makers and influencers prior to a transaction.
“A considered purchase typically has a long purchase cycle and significant consequences…”
All purchase decisions fall along a spectrum of complexity and consequence depending on the variables and relevant information involved. Unlike an online impulse buy, a considered purchase typically has a long purchase cycle and significant consequences. Considered purchase decisions exist in both the consumer and commercial realms involving both products and services.
They share 7 defining characteristics:
- It’s Not a Shiny Object. These are not “packaged goods” buying decisions. The considered purchase is almost never an impulse buy or a snap decision. Much thought and preparation go into the purchase decision.
- High Emotional Content. The considered purchase is often highly visible — typically made in a business setting. One’s personal or professional judgment, foresight or expertise may be called into question by the outcome. It’s a “big deal.”
- High-Ticket = High Expectations. More so than most buying decisions, the considered purchase represents a financially significant commitment. Thus, the purchasing process itself becomes a major event. Serious dollars make for seriously involved buyers.
- Information Intensive. Serious buyers spending serious money want lots of product information. They want it in a form they can use to weigh and compare alternatives — so as to reach an informed buying decision. How buyers feel about their decision can be as important as how they feel about the actual product or service being decided on.
- Not Self-Service. There is always a salesperson, a dealer, a distributor, or a value-added reseller, consultant, agent or other key intermediary involved. These people often exert a tremendous influence over the purchase decision and need to be supported with product data and qualified leads. Their success can be essential to yours.
- Timing is Critical. Considered purchases are usually time critical. Buyers start with a definite budget and timetable of completion in mind. Very little “recreational” shopping is involved. While the time between purchase cycles may be relatively long, the actual decision-making period is often short. And then, to further complicate matters, there may be an agonizing time lag between the buyer’s interest/decision point and the final budget approval. All these factors must be taken into account in planning and scheduling any communications for “considered purchase” prospects.
- Price sophistication. Considered purchasers are not naïve. Many are “top-end” businesspeople or professionals, and many are affluent. Most appreciate the relationship between price and value, especially with “big ticket” products, and that the relationship has multiple components which extend well beyond the initial cost. They recognize quality and are willing to pay for it — particularly if they can justify a higher up-front investment on the basis of better service, reliability, or more reasonable or predictable lifecycle costs that come with a higher quality purchase. Addressing this characteristic is a key factor in helping companies establish their brand leadership.
To view this as an infographic, click here.
The Decision-Making Unit (DMU)
Rarely does a single individual make a “considered purchase” alone. Analysis and input from others in the same and different departments and disciplines within and outside the company is almost always involved in the buying process. A purchase is a “big deal”, and thoughtfully supported decisions are best made by a team with varied and complementary experiences.
Identifying the members of the DMU can be difficult and getting the right introductions to people who are not only hard to find, but once identified, difficult to get to — are the cause of many lost sales. Many sales are missed because the selling team has overlooked an important member of the DMU. (If you want some real world – and spirited examples – read Rural Lifestyle Dealer for the number of times the wife killed a deal because the salesperson ignored her influence).
“How buyers feel about their decision can be as important as how they feel about the actual product or service being decided on.…”
In today’s farm equipment business, the DUM may go well the two you see at the kitchen table or at your desk. It may include agronomists, consultants, investors and the next generation kids or voting trusts.
Further, the best, most successful professional salespeople know how to correctly identify a DMU. They also know how to backtrack and cultivate anyone they’ve ignored. Even top-notch sales teams don’t always accomplish the DMU penetration as well needed by individual situations. In many situations, decisions were made behind the scenes by members of the DMU who were never contacted by the sales team and who consequently made decisions with the information available.
Several scholars have identified a template for a generic DMU:
- User — the people who operate or use with the purchased goods or service. They exert influence on the specifications., and both customers and employees may take on this role.
- Influencer — can exert influence on the purchasing process by setting pre-conditions. They are found at all levels of the organization.
- Buyer — does the actual negotiations with the supplier. The buyer negotiates contract terms and eventually places the order. The buyer takes up one of the most important roles within the DMU.
- Initiator — is the player who recognizes a problem and tries to find a solution. This is the most important person in the DMU.
- Decider — is ultimately responsible for choosing the supplier and therefore is an important member of the DMU.
- Gatekeeper — is responsible for access and information flow to the DMU and therefore is a powerful member of the decision-making team.
This is what the most sales teams are up against day in and day out in a competitive landscape that is constantly getting tougher. A salesperson can only do so much; he/she can only make so many calls each day, only be in one spot at a time, etc. And, most important, a salesperson can never control what happens at the customer’s site or within a prospect’s company. That is why it is essential to use media that works behind the scenes, reaching and influencing members of the DMU who have not been identified, and cannot be reached.
This last part of the page has to deal with Fixmer’s and my business and how what we do relate to considered purchases and DMUs. He shared with me a number of equipment buyers who found significant success collecting new wholegoods purchases, including one major company who saw market share plummet after an abandonment of traditional marketing during Covid. The return to Fixmer’s print offering has stabilized their loss of sales, and its once-strong brand awareness, and share, is returning to prior levels again.
Print, says Fixmer, has long been the standard for brand building. His explanations go beyond habit and tradition.
- Credibility — Print brands have credibility that go deeper than most brands of the individual advertiser. Equipment buyers and prospects look to their trusted media voices to provide solutions to problems they face every day.
- Penetration of the DMU — Because of the aforementioned credibility, print magazines have the unique ability to penetrate the DMU like no other medium can. When a CEO or any other member of the DMU engages with a brand appearing in the customer’s trusted print media, it has impact because it can credibly influence their opinions.
- Cost Efficiency — There is no channel that can deliver as many targeted and qualified readers as most print media can. This trusted media brand is there when your sales team cannot be. It is influencing people your team has not yet identified and cannot reach, and does so cost effectively.
- Requested — The demand for print in mature industries continues to rise. Professionals must request it and/or purchase a subscription in order to receive it; postal regulations require it. These professionals don’t request magazines for fun, they do so because of its professional value. If customer and DMU members want it, why would you companies seeking their business abandon branding and educating them in their preferred source?
Final Point — I can attest that much of this is true with the behaviors and preferences of the farm equipment industry, too. While we have healthy and growing number of website visitors, the U.S. and Canadian farm equipment professionals who personally apply to receive Farm Equipment still are more than twice those consuming their must-read content via e-newsletters. And the Venn diagrams clearly show that companies wanting your business will ignore a significant part of the market if only choosing digital products, because it's largely different audiences.
The conversation with Fixmer also spurred a 2-part article for our company’s Lessiter Marketing Minute, an every-Friday blog summarizing some of the trends, tests and observations of our Marketing & Client Services team. To sign up for the free weekly newsletter, click here.