21 June, 2023

The Rise of the Strategic Buyer

Enterprise Sales, Sales Strategy, Strategic Relationship Management

Kassidy Bird

Databook recently introduced Strategic Relationship Management (SRM) through a series of live conversations with top executives and industry influencers. Here’s a recap of a discussion I moderated on the needs and behaviors of today’s B2B buyers, featuring Jill Rowley (GTM Advisor and Ecosystem Evangelist), Scott Barghaan (SVP Global Seller Experience, Salesforce) and Kirsten Newbold-Knipp, (GTM Executive, Advisor, and Investor). You can watch the one-hour event in its entirety here.

Between grappling with a pandemic and responding to a faltering economy, today’s strategic buyers don’t approach purchasing decisions the way they did five years ago. So what exactly has changed? And how should sales organizations adapt in response? That’s what I sat down with our event panel to discuss in detail. Here are five key takeaways.


1. Access to online information has elevated buyer skepticism of sellers and their technology.

We know the Internet in general has fueled access to data, but today’s buyers aren’t merely searching for and reading data on branded websites—nor are they just listening to massive brands on mega social networks. Information is everywhere these days, and sellers can’t control it.

One key development, as Kirsten Newbold-Knipp explained, is that many people are now influenced by so-called “dark social media” communities like Slack, where like-minded professionals often share their work experiences informally to help each other make better decisions. And it’s making buyers wary.

When I dug into why, Kristen offered a straightforward answer. “We’re all on Slack channels. At any moment I can go ask, have you used this tool? Do you like it? What do you think? How is their service? Would you buy it again?” This highlights an important distinction from how buyers have previously approached purchasing evaluations, particularly with respect to software sales.

Bottom line: Strategic buyers today no longer see software as a catchall panacea, and they know how to access unbiased reviews on what a tool does and whether it will benefit them. They crave the kind of information only authentic, trusted relationships can deliver.

2. But know, like, and trust isn’t enough to make a buyer buy.

Employees are very conscious of their own career trajectories, as well as the goals of their employers. That’s why, when looking to reduce the potential risk of fallout from a poor decision, employees have often relied on doing business with someone familiar. But as Jill Rowley pointed out, that won’t cut it anymore. Today’s enterprise objectives are squarely focused on concrete business outcomes.

“Know, like, and trust isn’t enough,” she said. “If I know you, I like you, and trust you, but you can’t deliver value, then I’m sorry, there’s someone who can deliver value. Help me understand what the potential pitfalls are. Provide the resources needed. Give me the actual time frame required to see value, and introduce me to experts who have been there and done that. As a buyer with my career on the line, I have to make sure that I’m working with someone who can actually help me achieve value.”

Bottom line: Today’s buyers only form strategic relationships with sellers who can demonstrate value.

As a buyer with my career on the line, I have to make sure that I’m working with someone who can actually help me achieve value.

Jill Rowley

GTM Advisor and Ecosystem Evangelist

3. SRM parallels well with nearbound marketing.

Jill Rowley offered an idea on how some marketers are responding to these changes and bringing buyers back into the fold—and it ties in nicely with seller strategies.

“We all know what outbound marketing is, right?” she said. “It’s interruptive, it’s us going and trying to interrupt our buyer’s work stream with a call, email, or LinkedIn message. We also all know what inbound is. It’s creating content that informs, educates, and attracts buyers to you.” Sales operates along the same lines.

But nearbound, according to Jill, is a little different. “Nearbound says: Where is my customer and how do I surround them? Where is my customer learning? Who’s in their network community? Who do they trust? Where do they hang out? What media sites are they actually consuming? What podcasts are they listening to? Nearbound marketing is really saying that I need to understand who is near to my customer, and I need to be nearer to the people who are nearer to my customer. I need to close that gap between my customer and me, and I can do it through influence.” This nearbound approach aligns well with the tenets of Strategic Relationship Management, and sellers should take note.

Bottom line: If strategic buyers are evolving to pay greater attention to unbiased information about products and services, and if they are only focused on strategic relationships that drive value, then sellers can learn a lot by getting closer to customers and prospects in the spaces where they regularly interact and share.

4. Data is your buyer’s new love language.

So how do you close deals in this new knowledge-based market? How do you convince someone that your product will not only provide value to their company but also be a safe purchase for your champion?

According to Kirsten Newbold-Knipp, you follow the data—so you can better understand your buyer’s needs. “Whether it’s through Databook or somewhere else, there are so many ways for sellers to get access to annual reports, press releases, all kinds of information,” she said. “In all cases, you don’t have to be a Wall Street analyst to read between the lines. Find the top 5 – 10 initiatives that any company has going on, and they’ll give you really clear insight into whether they are spending on growth, trying to cut costs, or whatever else. Ask yourself, what are the key initiatives that matter to the CEO of that business? Because you can rest assured that every single executive down the line has some sort of trickle-down OKR to bring these initiatives forward.”

Scott Barghaan agreed. “At Salesforce, we’re trying to bring together a lot of the respective teams that support the selling process and ensure that we are positioning the people in front of our customers every day with the best insight and support towards that goal,” he explained. “One of the interesting things that I’ve been tunneling into with my data and analytics team is making sure that we can prove what, in many cases, a lot of us as sales leaders know in our gut is the right thing to do, but with data.”

Bottom line: Using data shows buyers you understand their pain and urgency. At the same time, it helps you use a common language when setting a goal.

Ask yourself, what are the key initiatives that matter to the CEO of that business? Because you can rest assured that every single executive down the line has some sort of trickle-down OKR to bring these initiatives forward.

Kirsten Newbold-Knipp

GTM Executive, Advisor, and Investor

5. For strategic buyers, it ain’t over till… well, never.

Towards the end of our discussion, Scott Barghaan also touched on the cultural shift required to truly understand the value your business brings to its clients. “Oftentimes in sales we celebrate the win, but the win is just a step in the customer’s journey,” he explained. “My team now celebrates Launch Day instead of Win Day. That is a cultural shift for our sales organization to bring us in line with our customers’ journey.”

Bottom line: Buyers’ needs will only continue to evolve. Remember: You might be closing a deal, but your strategic relationship with the buyer is only beginning.


Want more insight from our discussion? Click here to view the event recording on LinkedIn, or simply play the video below.