Gaining Clarity (Sort of) on B2B Buying Groups

8 minutes
Aug 04, 2022
6sense ResearchCompany

Introduction One of the principal differences between marketing and selling to business buyers, as opposed to consumers, is that the business buyer is nearly always a group of individuals working...

Introduction

One of the principal differences between marketing and selling to business buyers, as opposed to consumers, is that the business buyer is nearly always a group of individuals working together to identify and acquire solutions. In consumer purchasing, the decisions are typically made by one or two people. In B2B, the buying group acting on behalf of their organization is typically a more complex decision-making unit. With more individuals involved in the purchase, buying groups comprise a greater diversity of needs and opinions that influence the purchase.

Buying groups do offer one strong advantage to B2B providers, however. That is, when buying groups research solutions, they leave a substantially greater trail of digital behavioral clues (e.g., website visits, keyword searches, clicks on advertising) than would an individual or couple. With more of these behavioral clues to work with, well-equipped B2B organizations can more accurately differentiate organizations that are truly in the market to acquire solutions from those that have a more casual interest but no intention to buy. This, in turn, allows B2B organizations to focus attention and resources on higher propensity buyers.

While there is ample evidence that B2B buyers are indeed groups, there have been conflicting reports of the size and makeup of B2B buying groups. To better understand the nature of buying groups, 6sense Research both conducted primary survey research and analyzed extant reports conducted by other organizations.

Research Methods

6sense Research surveyed 169 individuals from B2B provider organizations to ask them about the buying groups for their solutions. In addition, we reviewed recently published research from other sources. Surveys conducted by two B2B analyst firms, Gartner Research and Forrester Research, were considered. We also analyzed results from research conducted by software provider Clari, which sampled data collected from their customers’ marketing and Salesforce automation systems.

Findings

To begin, 6sense Research asked 169 marketers to tell us how many people were involved in the decision-making process for their solutions. In addition, we asked for the department of the respondent and average sale price of respondent solutions. Across a response set primarily comprising marketing leaders in technology companies, our research found an average buying group size of nine individuals (Source: 6sense Research Buying Signals Survey, May – June, 2022, n = 169). This finding is consistent with some of the prior research by other organizations. For example, in 2021 Gartner Research reported that B2B buyers comprised 6 – 11 individuals, each of whom did some of his or her own research. (Source: Gartner, accessed 06-29-22)

In contrast, software maker Clari assessed buying group sizes by ingesting contact and interaction data directly from customer marketing automation (MAP) and customer relationship management (CRM) systems. Clari also recorded the average selling price for the providers they sampled. Clari’s approach found that buying group sizes ranged from seven for small deals (under $50k) to 19 for large deals (over $250k). In both the Clari data and our own, the ability to distinguish buying group size according to the cost of the solution provides insight into one of the major factors influencing buying group size (see table 1, row 1). In Table 1, we compare Clari’s findings with our own.

Table 1: Deal Size Influence On Buying Group Size

Number of Individuals In Buying Group
Source Type Small (<$50k) Med (51K – $250k) Large (>$250k)
Clari Customer Study Systems 7 10 19
6sense Buying Signals Survey Survey 5 5 8

Both research methods found that buying group sizes increased as the average selling price of solutions increased. However, Clari’s methodology found substantially larger buying groups. Comparing the two findings suggests that when B2B provider personnel think about the buying groups they are attempting to convert to customers, they do not account for everyone in a buying organization who may in some way, however minimal, be involved in the decision-making process.

To better understand why this discrepancy exists, we considered whether the role of the survey respondent in our research impacted how respondents perceived the size of the buying group. Results are presented in Table 2. Clearly, respondents from revenue operations and sales have a vastly different perspective on the size of buying groups from their marketing counterparts, with sales reporting an average of 16 buying group members, while marketing reports just eight.

Table 2: Departmental Influence on Buying Group Perception

Reported Number of Individuals In Buying Group
Source Type Marketing Respondents  RevOps/Sales Respondents 
6sense Buying Signals Survey Survey 8 16

These findings suggest that sales and revenue operations personnel take a more comprehensive view of the buying group than marketing. Our research did not probe why sales would have a more comprehensive view of the buying group, but it is possible to speculate that while marketing focuses on creating content and tactics to influence the most important members of a buying group, sales is more likely to interact with a broader assortment of buying group members who are invited to meetings and copied on messages exchanged between buying and selling organizations. One may also speculate that sales is motivated to account for all of the potential influences on a deal they are attempting to close.

Similar discrepancies are found in a pair of studies reported by Forrester Research. Forrester’s 2021 B2B Buying Survey queried 950 individuals who had recently been involved in a B2B purchase and found 60% of respondents reported being part of buying groups that comprised four or more people. In contrast, revenue operations and sales participants in another 2021 study by Forrester found that buying groups of four or more were present 94% of the time (Source: Forrester, accessed 06-30-22, Note: The author of the current report also authored the blog reporting the Forrester Revenue Operations Study. This latter finding is consistent with the 6sense Buying Signals Survey, in which 97% of 169 respondents from B2B provider organizations reported having buying groups of four or more (Source: 6sense Research, Buying Signals Survey, 2022). See Table 3 below.

Table 3: Buyer vs. Seller Influence On Buying Group Size Perception

Percentage Reporting Buying Groups of Four Or More Individuals
Buyers RevOps/Sales
Forrester Buyer Insights Study Survey 60%
Forrester Revenue Operations Study Survey 94%
<6sense Buyer Signals Study <Survey 97%

 

Summary of Findings

Taken together, these studies provide strong validation of the fact that the majority of B2B buyers are groups. While there are discrepancies in how different studies report buying group sizes, these discrepancies may be understood to result from the methods and sources from which the study data is derived. Source data derived from surveying buyers report the lowest buying groups sizes. This may reflect a bias on the part of buyer respondents to report only the number of individuals that were important to the selection of solutions. Likewise, revenue operations and seller personnel inside B2B provider organizations report substantially larger buying groups than their marketing counterparts. This may reflect marketing’s focus on a small group of key buyer personas and sales’ requirement to account for all of the influences on buyer decisions.

  • Methods
    • 6sense Buyer Signals study queried marketing and sales (primarily marketing) people from provider organizations to ask about buying group sizes.
    • Forrester Research conducted two surveys: one of buying group members, one of B2B provider revenue operations and sales personnel.
    • Gartner surveyed sellers.
    • Clari conducted analysis of customer data collected by their software.
  • Key findings: All sources validate that B2B buyers are groups.
  • Respondents from buying organizations perceive their buying groups to be smaller than provider organizations do, on average.
    • Providers likely have more incentive to think inclusively about how many individuals influence their deals.
  • Inside provider organizations, respondents from sales tend to perceive larger buying groups than do individuals from marketing functions.
    • This may also be a reflection of the differing perspectives. While marketers typically have in mind a prioritized set of buyer personas (e.g., champions, financial decision-makers) to whom marketing content and tactics are directed, sales may take a more inclusive view of buying groups in order to effectively manage all of the potential influences on their deals.
  • Both buying group members and individuals from provider organizations appear to underestimate the number of individuals involved in the purchase of B2B solutions. Data collected directly from provider marketing and sales systems suggest that the number of individuals involved in B2B purchases may be as much as double the size provider personnel report.

Implications of This Research

This research strongly suggests that B2B providers must account for the presence of buying groups. While buying group purchases are more complex than consumer purchases, with as many as 19 individuals involved on average in large deals, the presence of these groups provides a competitive advantage to organizations that are equipped to detect and orchestrate interactions with them effectively. As both Clari’s and our studies have shown, buying group sizes are strongly influenced by the size of deals. Organizations are strongly encouraged to investigate the size of their typical buying groups. Armed with this intelligence, B2B providers can track how many unique individuals from a prospect organization are detected conducting research, which will in turn provide insight into which organizations are truly in buying mode and which are not.

Marketers should also take note that there are likely substantially more people involved in a B2B purchase than are accounted for by typical buyer personas tracked by marketers. While it may not be possible to create content and tactics devoted to all the potential members of the buying group, it is possible to detect signals indicating their presence. Instead of passing only one individual at a time to sales development and sales teams, marketers should look for the presence of multiple individuals who are likely members of the same buying group and pass those individuals to sellers together.

These findings are particularly important to organizations that devote substantial investment to creating demand within a targeted set of accounts. When account-centric tactics are effective, the number of buying group members that respond is likely to increase. Noticing when groups, rather than individuals, are demonstrating interest will improve the yield from these account-centric strategies and improve the quality of opportunities marketing is able to present to sales.