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9 Reasons Why Buying Groups Will Be The Next Big Thing In B2B

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June 4, 2023

13 mins read

9 Reasons Why Buying Groups Will Be The Next Big Thing In B2B

9 Reasons Why Buying Groups Will Be The Next Big Thing In B2B

Buying Groups in Go-to-Market Strategy

Throughout my career, I’ve had the privilege of being part of two revolutions: the advent of demand generation fueled by marketing automation, and the breakthrough of account-based marketing brought to life by ABM platforms.

Now, I’m thrilled to introduce the next game-changer: buying groups. These are the future of go-to-market, and they’re only possible today because of innovations in AI. 

Let’s dive into the 9 compelling reasons why buying groups will be the next big thing in B2B.

1. Lead-based marketing is too narrow

In my book, The Definitive Guide to Smarter GTM™ with Account Intelligence and ABM/ABX, I explain in depth the limitations of the traditional lead-based go-to-market. In summary:

  • It creates a disconnect between marketing and sales. As I like to say, “Salespeople never talk about how many leads they’ve closed. They talk about how many accounts they’ve closed.” 
  • It squanders resources by stuffing the funnel with individuals who may not even be linked to any target account.
  • It struggles to pinpoint real buyers; with leads it’s hard to distinguish between individual browsers and decision makers with purchasing power.
  • It fails to monitor engagement levels across individuals, thereby overlooking crucial buying signals.

A B2B buying committee can involve anywhere from three to 20 people, with six to 10 being most common. So consider a scenario where a typical buying committee has six members, and three members engage with your website or events, becoming leads. Marketing automation platforms can’t make the connection between those individuals, so you’d say you generated three MQLs, not a single potential opportunity. Even worse would be if those three leads got routed to different sales reps to pursue, an all too common occurrence.

Now consider this scenario: one individual from a company downloads 10 pieces of content. This would set off alarms in any lead scoring system, marking it as an MQL — but it might just mean that someone at the account wanted to download some content, and not indicate genuine buying intent. Now, what if 10 individuals from the same company each visit the website anonymously? None would be flagged as an MQL, but there’s clearly something brewing.

This is where ABM steps in, offering a solution to these challenges. 

2. Accounts are too broad

As you read this, you might already be employing an account-based strategy and thinking, “I’ve got this covered.” But ABM isn’t always right either, especially if a prospective account presents multiple selling opportunities. You might sell different products to the same buyers, the same product to different groups, or some combination — each embarking on its own unique journey. 

With ABM, you would say that an account is a customer if they own one of your products. But that same company might be a target prospect for a second product, and perhaps engaged in a sales cycle with a completely different set of people for a third product. Treating everyone at that account as a “customer” risks alienating potential members of prospect buying committees with wrong nurture tracks, disjointed messaging, etc. Simply put, an account-based lens isn’t designed to support multiple selling opportunities at different lifecycle stages.

3. Buying groups are just right

This is where buying groups come in. A B2B buying group refers to a collection of individuals within an organization who are involved in the decision-making process for purchasing a product or service. This group typically includes various roles such as decision-makers, influencers, end-users, and gatekeepers, each contributing to the final purchasing decision in their own unique way.

Buying groups solve the limitations of both lead-based and account-based models by recognizing that B2B purchases are rarely made by individuals acting alone, but rather by groups of stakeholders, and that a single account can represent many potential opportunities and not one monolith. 

As Forrester Research writes in The Emergence of the B2B Marketing Revenue Platform:

B2B marketers have realized leads and accounts are the wrong orientation. Leads-based marketing and ABM were important advancements in B2B marketing practice — but they are outdated and insufficient for today’s B2B marketer. Leads are too narrow. According to Forrester’s Buyers’ Journey Survey, 2022, 60% of purchase influencers participated in consensus or committee buying scenarios. Focusing only on individual leads provides limited insights into what is happening during the buying process. Accounts are too broad and are comprised of organizations and teams all trying to solve unique business challenges. Some teams within the account might be existing customers, whereas other teams might have unknown buying group participants. The “just right” approach for B2B marketing is to focus on opportunities and the buying groups associated with them.

Just like in the classic story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, leads are too narrow, accounts are too broad, but buying groups are “just right”. Companies that adopt buying groups can finally align their go-to-market to the way companies actually buy, unlocking competitive advantage over competitors that do not.

4. You can track buying group journeys

The evolution of demand generation began with the traditional lead-waterfall model: MQLs, SALs, SQLs, and so on. Then, ABM ushered in the concept of account journeys, leveraging AI to pinpoint the stages of target accounts: Target, Engaged, Marketing Qualified Account (MQA), and so forth. Now, with the rise of buying groups, you’ll be able to track the unique journey of actual buying committees and tailor our go-to-market strategies for the best experience.

The secret is in aggregating each interaction with a buying group member across the group as a whole, building a holistic understanding of the group’s intentions. Consider a spectrum of behaviors, from website visits and content downloads to event attendance, meetings, and even email responsiveness. This analysis helps pinpoint where each group is in their buying journey.

A simple buying group journey might look like this:

buying journey image

Crafting the right experience for each buying group, based on their journey stage, is crucial for effective engagement since it provides insights into the tasks the buyers are trying to accomplish at each stage. For example:

  • Qualified: The buying group is a target but is otherwise cold. Your goal is to raise awareness of the problem you can solve. Account-based advertising can be very effective here.
  • Aware: Your aim is to build brand awareness and trust in your brand, leveraging social proof while avoiding aggressive sales tactics.
  • Engaged: These groups are showing early interest but not buying intent. Nurture the budding relationship with thought leadership that educates and reinforces your value.
  • Qualified Buying Group: This stage signifies that the buying group is ready for sales engagement! More on this in the next section.
  • Opportunity: The focus here is on engaging all personas to drive consensus and to validate the decision across the buying group.
  • Customer: Deepen the relationship by expressing your appreciation and promoting product adoption.

By the way, note that there are no cross-sell or up-sell stages in this journey, as those opportunities would be represented by different buying groups. You might consider adding stages for advocacy and success. Some companies may treat renewals as distinct buying groups, while others may incorporate it as a stage of the original journey. (More on this in number 7 below.)

5. QBGs are the new MQLs

Since the early days of demand generation, Marketers have lived (and died) by the Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL). But for years now, pundits have been promoting the death of the MQL, especially since marketing hitting the MQL goal while sales misses pipeline and revenue targets is an all too common unfortunate occurrence.

Now I’m not suggesting you stop generating leads. By all means, create leads — lots of them. But: 1) focus your efforts on generating leads from organizations that are actually potential customers for your products, and 2) recognize when you start seeing engagement from more than one persona at the same organization.

Enter the era of Qualified Buying Groups (QBGs), the new three-letter acronym set to become a staple in our GTM lexicon. While MQLs and MQAs have played their part in identifying potential opportunities and spotting in-market buying groups, QBGs elevate this process. They scan the buying committee, accumulating activity across personas for a more holistic view of the buying process.

With Qualified Buying Groups, companies can pinpoint hot buying groups that are ready to engage, and then sales can reach out to multiple personas in a deeply relevant and helpful manner, supported by marketing air cover (personalized content, ads, direct mail, trials, etc.).

6. Unlike MQAs, buying groups tell you who to sell to

Marketing Qualified Accounts (MQAs) offered an improvement to MQLs, aggregating buying signals across an account. Yet, they still lacked precision, failing to indicate which individuals to focus on or which product might interest those personas. This would lead to wasted efforts and missed opportunities, since without a clear understanding of who to engage and what product to promote, sellers may end up spreading their efforts too thin, or worse, targeting the wrong individuals entirely.

In contrast, Qualified Buying Groups combine the specificity of MQLs with the efficiency of MQAs. They let you know not only which buying groups to focus on, but also which roles, personas, and specific people to go after and who is most likely to be a decision maker for your products or services. They also provide clarity on which specific product to discuss, as each buying group is typically associated with a particular offering.

7. Buying groups enable better net-revenue retention (NRR)

Net-Revenue Retention (NRR) is a critical metric for many companies, serving as a key indicator of business health and growth potential. NRR measures the change in recurring revenue from existing customers, accounting for expansion, downgrades, and churn. It’s a powerful metric because it encapsulates both customer retention and the ability to expand existing customer relationships.

There are four main opportunity types:

  • New customer acquisition: Selling a new offering to a buying group at a new company.
  • Retention: Reselling the same offering to the same buying group.
  • Upsell: Selling more of the same offering to the same buying group.
  • Cross-sell: Selling a new offering to the same group, the same offering to a new group, or a new offering to a new group.

NRR is primarily driven by retention, upsell, and cross-sell. Traditional demand gen and ABM tend to focus on new customer acquisition, but buying groups offer a more comprehensive approach, supporting retention, upsell, and cross-sell as well. This is particularly important because once an account is marked as a customer, it can be challenging to identify potential expansion opportunities for other products within different buying groups. With buying groups, however, you can track exactly where each retention, cross-sell, and upsell opportunity is in its own journey.

8. AI makes it finally possible to operationalize buying groups

Historically, it’s been hard to identify (and engage) all the members of a buying group for a given account — and as a result, companies miss out on engaging with key decision makers that influence their deals. Until now, companies have….

  • Relied on guesswork: Companies have relied on intuition and conjecture to come up with the personas that represent their ideal buying groups (IBG), rather than mining actual historical data. The more groups you have, the harder this becomes.
  • Systematic under-estimated all personas that make up the full committee: When they rely on guesswork, marketers and sellers tend to focus on just a few personas most important to the selection of solutions. They know the economic buyers and the people on the call, but don’t know everyone who influences the decision, often missing out on key group members (such as IT and finance). This “contact blindness” can result in lost or delayed deals.
  • Spent hours on manual processes: Reps must search for contacts that map to their various personas, an inaccurate, manual process that blocks actual competitive advantage.
  • Suffered from missing and inaccurate data: Companies cannot effectively engage the members of the buying group when they are missing accurate data such as current role, email, mobile phone, and social. 

Today, however, cutting-edge, generative AI can sift through millions of data points, leveraging a vast database of B2B contacts, enriched with advertising, intent, and engagement data such as web visits, emails, and meetings. The result? Dynamic B2B buying groups are generated, members are identified, roles and personas are assigned, and new contacts are recommended. This is only possible when you combine accurate contact data with rich engagement data to infer which contacts map to each potential buying group and persona.

This means the days of manually building and importing contact lists to support marketing campaigns and sales outreach are behind us. Not only does this save countless hours of manual research and guesswork, but it also automates the process, enabling companies to operationalize buying groups at scale.

The secret to the AI’s effectiveness lies in the quality of the underlying data. The best AI is driven by the best data. By unlocking this competitive advantage, businesses can truly revolutionize their approach to B2B marketing and sales.

9. Buying groups are the foundation of the next generation tech

Since my time at Engagio, marketing automation platforms (MAPs) and account-based marketing (ABM) platforms have coexisted peacefully, each offering unique capabilities that empower B2B marketing teams to reach their goals. However, the landscape is shifting. The silos that once separated demand and account-based marketing teams are dissolving. Factors such as the explosion of data, stagnation in marketing automation innovation, the rise of AI, and budget constraints are driving these categories towards convergence.

The outcome? The emergence of a new category known as Go-To-Market Platforms, also referred to as B2B Revenue Marketing Platforms. These platforms will merge the lead-based focus of marketing automation with the account-based focus of ABM platforms into a unified solution. But the real game-changer is the incorporation of buying groups at the core, enabling companies to market to specific roles and personas within the context of the company.

This new category will feature several key attributes:

  • A focus on buying groups that goes beyond targeting individual leads and accounts.
  • Multiple engagement channels, including native email, advertising, and web personalization.
  • Built-in AI to enable a self-driving go-to-market approach.
  • A single solution integrating data and workflow.


The future of B2B go-to-market is set to be revolutionized by the emergence of buying groups, powered by advancements in AI. Buying groups provide a more nuanced view of the buying process, focusing on the collective decision-making units within organizations rather than narrow leads or broad accounts. This approach aligns with the reality of B2B buying, which is typically done by groups of stakeholders. 

The advent of Qualified Buying Groups (QBGs) further refines this process, pinpointing hot buying groups ready for engagement, while the emergence of AI technology can identify the full buying committee and automate the process of mapping contacts to buying groups, saving time and resources and enabling companies to operationalize the process at scale. As we move forward, AI-powered buying groups will form the foundation of next-generation Go-To-Market Platforms, merging the best of marketing automation and ABM platforms.

And this is why I’m so excited to announce Demandbase Buying Group AI. With this announcement, Demandbase One™ will be the first and only platform to use cutting edge, generative AI to analyze millions of data points, drawing from our database of nearly 150M B2B contacts, combined with the industry’s deepest advertising, intent, and engagement data, to generate dynamic B2B buying groups, assign roles and personas, and recommend new contacts. It also will aggregate buying signals across the group and streamline engagement, unlocking competitive advantage for businesses ready to embrace this new era of B2B go-to-market.

To learn more about this upcoming release, check out Demandbase Buying Group AI: The Hottest Thing Since ABM.

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Jon Miller

Former CMO, Demandbase

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