The Renaissance of B2B Sales Engagement Earlier in the Buyer’s Journey
Conventional wisdom notes the internet shifted power to buyers. Where buyers were once highly reliant on sales for the information they needed to make purchases, the free flow of information on the web allowed them to research products independently.
“Although it varies with product complexity and market maturity, today’s buyers might be anywhere from two-thirds to 90% of the way through their journey before they reach out for a salesperson.”
That meant content was king in the beginning and middle of the buying process. This pushed the opportunities for B2B sales engagement toward the end of the buyer’s journey. It left the sales team with very little runway to influence a decision.
There were compounding factors at play too. Principle among them was the fact the B2B sales cycle has grown longer, involves more decision-makers and requires more touches than ever.
Consider the following:
- A survey of B2B decision-makers published in late 2020, about six months into the pandemic, by the Demand Gen Report found that 68% of respondents said the sales cycle has increased compared to a year ago.
- A report by Korn Ferry polled B2B buyers responsible for purchase decisions of $10,000+ and found that 52% said the buying cycle was longer for new vendors. It also revealed the average number of decision-makers in B2B deals was 6.2 people. One in five respondents (20%) said this number had grown.
- A study of B2B technology decision-makers by Spiceworks Ziff Davis discovered about half (47%) consume 11 or more pieces of content over a year. Thirteen percent said they consumed 20 or more pieces of content, while another 13% consumed an astronomical 50 or more pieces of content.
These findings aren’t isolated. There are many studies by analysts, research firms and vendors that all draw consistently similar conclusions. Moreover, the effect on sales is the same: By the time salespeople had a chance to engage a prospect, those would-be customers had already developed strong convictions about their product and the competition.
The content deluge leads to buyer’s remorse
Yet buying behaviours are shifting again. This may be prompting a “renaissance” of sales engagement earlier in the buying process, as David Lavenda observed in an analysis he wrote for CMSWire. He says there are two primary drivers.
First, B2B buyers are drowning in information. The volume of content that solution providers are generating has exploded. Couple this with longer sales cycles, which allows time for greater content consumption, and decision-makers become overwhelmed.
This has a paralysing effect on decision-making. As Mr. Lavenda wrote, when “the amount of information increases, paradoxically, it becomes more difficult for buyers to make a buying decision – a psychological condition known as the ‘paradox of choice.’"
Second, he notes much of this content is largely “undifferentiated.” Indeed, a study by Gartner found, “64% of B2B buyers cannot differentiate between one B2B brand’s digital experience and another’s.” Brent Adamson, the analyst that conducted the survey noted that buyers are “swimming in a sea of sameness.”
This means, in Mr. Lavenda’s assessment, “without the intervention of salespeople…buyers struggle to make sense of all the information.” As a result, he says citing another study by Gartner, those customers are 23% more likely to experience buyer’s remorse.
Sherpas for the Buyer’s Journey
Solution providers generate a flood of content to help educate customers and prospects. Much of it looks and feels the same. As a B2B technology community, we’ve reached a tipping point where it may hamper decisions and freeze deals. They need sales to step in and guide them sooner – like a sherpa for the buyer’s journey.
“This is the opportunity for tomorrow’s salespeople; to intercede in the buying process by providing advice that can only be perceived by human intellect,” concludes Mr. Lavenda. “But those human interactions need to occur at strategic points during the sales process, exactly at those points where potential buyers need help making sense of all the information they have collected.”
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