Understanding Different Buying Environments – Where Are Your Customers?

Buying office supplies for an SMB organization on a regional level is different from buying office supplies for a global Fortune 500 corporation. There are differences regarding processes, volumes, required signatures, etc. But the well-defined and standardized products remain the same. Do these buyers need to talk to a sales professional? Not necessarily, but it’s more likely in the global scenario.

Buying an application management service, a CRM system or a collaboration platform are, by definition, complex projects, but even more so if scaled from a regional to a global level. It’s the same when buying new robot technology required for a local plant only versus for different regions.
How well informed can a buyer be merely by browsing the Internet? Do these buying teams need to talk to a sales professional? Absolutely.

What does your customers’ buying environment look like? Differentiating between two extremes, a transactional and a complex buying environment, is important before evaluating different opinions that are painting a colorful picture of “Buyer 2.0” as always well informed and self-directed for making a decision. What’s missing is context–the buying environment:

  • In a transactional buying environment, it’s about defined products and services that can be configured and ordered online. The problem to be solved is well defined. The people running those buying processes are category or vendor managers. The number of buying influences is small and their focus is budget optimization and efficiency. The decisions have a tactical rather than a strategic character; their business impact is at most moderate. The buying focus is mostly on budget optimization and efficiency. Exactly – think about the example regarding office supplies, about a private cloud service, about the renewal of a phone contract. These buyers can find functions, features, benefits, services, configurations, comparisons, pricing and an order form all online.
  • In a complex buying environment, it’s different. Complex challenges have many different dimensions that are all connected to each other. How to approach these challenges has to be developed along the customer journey, and the required products and services have to be derived once the solution is defined. These complex challenges may have similar patterns, but their context is always unique. So are the decision criteria and the buying decisions – always different, every time. Buying influences are cross-functional, with different roles, from different levels with different perspectives. They are involved in these teams as part of their day-to-day job because they are all responsible or impacted stakeholders regarding the outcomes to be achieved. Those buying decisions have strategic relevance and a significant business impact and are focused on effectiveness (recall the above examples on business-process outsourcing or new robot technology for a manufacturing plant).

Completely different worlds.

Some of your buyers may live in a transactional environment, and others may live in a complex environment. And most of your customers may live between both extremes. Understanding and applying the implications of your customers’ specific buying environment is key to achieving World-Class Sales Performance. It requires tailoring customer-management and growth strategies. It also requires tailoring your enablement strategy and your enablement services accordingly. Content, messaging and training requirements are different in transactional and in complex buying environments.

Being conscious about where and how to play the game are decisions of strategic relevance. You cannot play football and baseball with the same team at the same time.



  1. Well said!
    Kevin Davis, in his book “Slow Down, Sell Faster” comes to a similar conclusion. He distinguishes between a “Buy-Learning” (=complex) and a “Buy-Knowing” (=transactional) process.
    Eventually it is not so much the product but the knowledge the customer has or can gather without help that decide about the context.

    • Thanks, Christian!
      “Slow down, Sell faster” sounds great – it’s now on my reading list!

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