The way people buy and sell in today’s B2B market segment is significantly different than the way things were done 10+ years ago. Even though it has been that long, both buyers and sellers continue to struggle with the change… If you’ve been part of the process for longer than 10 years, then you remember the times when someone would commit to a signature, and later that day, a signature would show up on the fax machine. Setting the stage, ten years ago, budgets were assigned to business units and there really was no scrutinization on the way those funds were spent. Meaning, if a CIO wanted to authorize a purchase for new software or hardware, they had the authorization to make that purchase as long as it fit within the budget. Department heads also had their own budget that would fit within their own signature authority, typically requiring little to no oversight for their budget spend. This all translated to one-on-one relationships that could seamlessly conduct purchasing transactions in lightning fast timing… Buying and selling was literally easier back then.
Fast forward to today—the process is drastically different and slower… and the larger the business, the more complex and painful the process has become. No longer do business unit or department heads have the ability to sign off on their own budgets; there are now several new processes and approvals that have been put into place in order to execute a purchase. As an example, budget approval has now shifted from the head of a business unit or department, to the office of the CFO. This means that every purchase not only has to be approved by a business unit or department head, but someone within the office of the CFO must also approve that budget spend. However, the changes haven’t stopped there… Remembering back to times of yesteryear, when a business unit or department head wanted to sign a contract for a purchase, they were usually the ones reviewing agreements for possible legal ramifications. Not surprisingly, receiving redline edits was fairly rare, and in some cases, almost nonexistent back then. Again, fast forwarding to today, essentially 100% of all agreements must now be reviewed and approved by someone within the legal team before execution… Finally, executives that were never part of a decision-making process unless it was of significant size, are also now part of the overview review and decision-making process.
Adding to the new challenge of having multiple people as part of the decision-making process, there are two major issues that come into play: knowledge and timing… Typically, most people within the approval process know little to nothing about what is being purchased. Take for an example a purchase for new marketing software by a CMO within an organization. Now, the CMO knows exactly why they are buying this software and the impact to their business unit, but the reviewers with the CFO, legal, and executive oversight committees most likely no nothing about the software or impact to the business. In a way, they really do not care. The financial reviewer is trying to find out how this purchase fits within the overall budgeting plan for the organization, what the overall ROI /& TCO is, and whether they got the best competitive bid for the solution. Legal wants to understand what type of corporate liabilities live within the use of the software and agreement, and executive oversight is working to juggle this decision with the dozens of others that fall on their plate at any given time… and each one of these oversight committees needs their own time within the process review that can typically take “weeks” per reviewer…
Here is what a typical purchase process looks like today:
- Manager / Director level initiates buy process
- Timing: within a few days
- Head of Line of Business, conditionally approves purchase
- Timing: few days to a week
- Finance department reviews and approves purchase
- Timing: a week to two weeks
- Legal then reviews / redlines agreement and eventually approves
- Timing: a few weeks
- Executive sponsors reviews and approves purchase
- Timing: a few weeks
- Timing: few days to weeks
It is easy to see how a process that once took hours, now has translated into weeks or months… Fundamentally, this is still not fully understood on both the buyer and seller side of the process, creating significant frustration in the buying process for both. Furthermore, each of the individual approvers can and will stop a buying process if they feel like there is a need. As an example, we had been working with an HCM organization that was selling a solution to a major grocer and a verbal agreement for $350,000+ had been made by the head of HR within this grocer. As the agreement made its way through the process, it finally made its way to the CFO… The CFO had no true understanding of this HCM Software, its capabilities and impact to the business, and all they truly wanted to understand was whether they received any competitive bids. In short, the answer was no, and the CFO demanded for additional vendors to be brought in on the process. They had no cares on the prior processes, relationships, and why the organization needed this solution and stopped the approval process dead in its tracks.
This new approval process is the number one reason why a majority of contracts never receive final signature and die… How does one combat this new elongated process and get a purchase approved? First, there needs to be acceptance that the process has changed, and one must do their homework prior to submitting a purchase. Again, it is important to remember that each reviewer in the process has their own criteria they are looking to review. With this is in mind, it is essential to understand what the approval process is, who is part of it, and what criteria they will be reviewing to build a business case addressing each approver. A business case is essentially a collection of information that directly addresses specific criteria each department will be reviewing as part of their approval process. For example, a financial reviewer is going to want to understand things like whether there was a competitive bid, if the price is the lowest available, and what the ROI / TCO is. In short, there needs to be a clear business case that addresses questions such as:
- Why is this solution needed?
- What departments are affected by the purchase?
- How much more efficient will these departments be?
- What other vendors were considered?
- What are the legal ramifications? (data ownership, insurance, etc)
- What is the total TCO / ROI?
- With regards to ROI, is there an investment payback period?
Continuing with the major grocer example from above, neither the buyer nor seller had created a business case for the purchase, which ended up not giving the CFO the confidence to move forward and causing a stop of purchase… However, there was a clear business case for the solution, but it just had not been properly communicated up the approval chain. In this case, the buyer brought us into the opportunity as an independent nonbiased 3rd party to speak with the CFO… During our discussions, we were able to properly articulate the business case for the solution along with the overall organizational and financial impact to the business (relating directly to the CFO’s concerns)… Because we spoke the language of the CFO and gave a clear-cut understanding of the value in a language they knew, it allowed them to fully approve the purchase without a need for a competitive bid…
Organizations can continue to struggle through these new organizational approval processes, or they can accept these changes. A strong business case is now required in order for a purchase to move more swiftly through the process and to ensure someone in the approval process cannot kill it… Again, this important for both the buy and sell side, as both parties have something to gain by a smoother approval process.
On a side note, it is also important for sales leadership and executives to understand that the days of pushing for a signature are long gone. Still to this day, we see sales leadership pushing customers needlessly hard for approvals and signatures thinking it will move the ball forward, when in fact, they’re only pissing off both the employees and buyers. Instead, sales leadership should be focused more on helping their team understand this new purchasing process and how to build a proper business case ensuring there is a bulletproof plan in place… Doing this will not only show the professionalism of your organizations, but ensure your agreements move faster through the system and become more likely to get approved. For better for worse, there is a new buying process, and the more understanding of the process there is, the more likely you are to get approval.