Lately, I spent some time thinking about how the B2B buying cycle has changed in recent years. During my reflection, I realized that one of the most significant changes in how buyers buy today (versus how they bought even five short years ago) lies in the stages of the buying cycle.

Since the dawn of mankind, there’s been a more or less set process that we all go through when making buying decisions – a series of steps, designed to help us go from where we are blissfully unaware that a problem even exists, to investing our hard-earned cash in exchange for a solution.

Regardless of the exact terminology used, a traditional, basic buying cycle looks something like this.

Stage I – Awareness. We become aware of a problem, need or challenge facing us, or an opportunity to get captured. This leads to dissatisfaction, and a desire to take action

Stage II – Outreach. We reach out to others, do research and speak with potential vendors in an effort to understand what potential solutions exist, and which might fit our needs best

Stage III – Selection. During the research phase, we develop a preference for one particular vendor or solution. They become what we call the “emotional favorite”, gradually moving into the position of the winner

Stage IV – Purchase. We purchase the desired product or service, thereby (hopefully) addressing the problem or challenge and meeting our needs

The universe of your average buyer – and their buying cycle – has changed pretty dramatically in recent years. The rise of the Internet as a ubiquitous, on-demand, always-open source of information. The amount of content marketing and thought leadership that is available to anyone with a browser.

The advent of new technologies, making it possible for startups to compete on even ground with long-established businesses. The increased role of risk, meaning much higher stakes when things go wrong. And the rise of Procurement from an administrative function to a strategic player on the corporate stage.

All of this has had a fundamental impact on buyer behavior – and more specifically, on the steps of buyers go through when considering purchasing new products and/or services.

New Buying CycleBuyers do vastly more research.

After the Awareness stage, buyers now take advantage of all the possibilities available to them to conduct deep, extensive early-stage research on vendors and their products and services. According to Sirius Decisions, “67 percent of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally. (Our) research shows that online searches are executives’ first course of action (just like everyone else).“

The research stage is probably the most important, “new” stage in the buying cycle. It’s not that buyers were not doing their homework before – it is simply that they have taken things to an entirely new level.

If you are in sales, one of your main priorities should be to identify, connect with and support buyers who are currently researching the types of products and services that you are offering. And I don’t mean this is a job for the marketing team either: every seller today should personally act as a mini-marketer, providing helpful, relevant and high-quality thought leadership and content to prospects and potential buyers in the research stage.

Buyers expect collaboration.

I’m sure you’ve heard the old joke. “How do you know a salesperson is lying ?” Answer: “His lips are moving.”

Unfortunately, the sales profession has gotten a bad rep over the years, with “salesperson” being synonymous with words like manipulative, self-serving, short-term focused and “winner takes all”.

Buyers today are tired of being sold to – they have seen all the tricks, read all the books and are acutely aware of when sellers are trying to manipulate them.

But that doesn’t mean that buyers don’t want to interact with sellers – in fact, far from it. In high-end, complex B2B sales, the role of the individual seller in helping sophisticated buyers make purchasing decisions has become more important than ever.

In RAIN Group’s research on “What Sales Winners Do Differently”, we uncovered that the #2 factor that makes buyers decide to work with one firm versus another is  because “(the seller) collaborated with me”.

Buyers still (very much) value savvy, well-educated and well-informed sellers who act more like high-end management consultants than the traditional stereotypical “salesperson”. They want to interact with peers, we can help to explore new opportunities, develop scenarios and gradually develop to a solution that fits for them and their firm – but they want to do it together.

Buyers will negotiate. On everything.

Welcome to the new reality: everything is negotiable.

In the past, negotiation revolve mostly on price. Procurement came in, usually during the final stages of the buying cycle, to help secure a deal that was advantageous to the buyers firm (whilst, of course, retaining a reasonable margin for the seller).

In today’s world, everything is up for grabs. Payment terms. Project scope. Buy-it-from-you versus build-it-for-me. Knowledge transfer. Intellectual property.

Not only will buyers negotiate on more aspects of the deal, but they will often negotiate with several vendors simultaneously. Meaning negotiations take longer to complete, and have become an integral part of the buying cycle – far from an afterthought.

In recent years the buying cycle has undergone tremendous, profound changes. It’s not so much that before, buyers were not doing any research, did not collaborate and didn’t negotiate. It’s that today, these aspects have taken up a much more important, front-and-center role in the buying process.

Savvy sellers understand that in today’s world, buyers hold more power than before – but like experienced martial artists, they also understand that understanding how to work with that power can yield tremendous benefits.

And here is the real silver lining: sellers who are able to educate their buyers with new ideas and perspectives, collaborate with buyers and help them see how the overall value they offer is superior to other options not only win the deal today – but build strong, mutually rewarding relationships for the future.