Buying is difficult in B2B – not selling

Selling is often perceived as difficult, particularly the sales of solutions to B2B buyers. But a recent Gartner study tells us bluntly otherwise.

Selling is often perceived as difficult, particularly the sales of solutions to B2B buyers. Failure on the part of sellers to communicate enough value is often considered the main culprit here. But a recent Gartner study tells us bluntly otherwise: it is the difficulty buyers experience when purchasing solutions that poses most of the problems in the process.

Online reduced sellers’ access to customers

As sales have gone increasingly online in B2B, buyers have a lot more information in their hands on solutions to solve their problems.  

At the same time, buyers find it attractive to gather information independently. After all, salesmen are still seen as providing potentially biased opinions, so interference from them is often avoided early on.  

This comes at the expense of the time buyers have for direct discussions with sellers. Gartner finds that these days, B2B buyers spend only 17% of their time meeting with potential suppliers when considering a purchase. When there are multiple suppliers competing‚ the amount of time can drop to only 5% or 6% per supplier. 

More information, more solutions – and bigger buying teams  

Depending on the purpose of the solution, there is usually an increasing number of alternatives for buyers to choose from as new technologies, products, suppliers and services emerge. According to Gartner, the buying group for a complex B2B solution now involves typically six to 10 decision-makers (or close to six participants in average, says another study buy G2 and PandaDoc).  

Each participant brings on the table personal opinions based on information gathered individually. Reaching consensus can carry a heavy toll: more than three-quarters of the customers Gartner surveyed described their purchase process as very complex or difficult. 

Buying: a series of jobs to do 

The abundance of information online has changed the buying journey radically. Customers do it much less as a linear process.  

Instead, customers go through several overlapping tasks or “buying jobs” in the buying process. According to Gartner, these are:  

  • Problem identification. “We need to do something.” 
  • Solution exploration. “What’s out there to solve our problem?” 
  • Requirements building. “What exactly do we need the purchase to do?” 
  • Supplier selection. “Does this do what we want it to do?” 
  • Validation. “We think we know the right answer, but we need to be sure.” 
  • Consensus creation. “We need to get everyone on board.” 

Customer journey – or a buying maze? 

Throughout the entire buying process, customers simultaneously address validation and consensus creation. Even phases through problem identification, solution exploration, requirements building and supplier selection are likely to often overlap, although they may at first look sequential.  

For example, requirements building may reveal new needs, which then triggers additional exploration of solutions. Solution exploration, then, can even initiate the need for better identification of the problem.  

Indeed, Gartner illustrates the B2B buying journey rather as a search through a maze:

Flowchart from a Gartner research showing the B2B buying journey

The B2B buying journey is a search through a maze, says a Gartner study.

Sales and marketing must operate in parallel, not serially 

Sales and marketing teams are typically organized in serial fashion around a funnel. Marketing generates demand, then nurtures it with care, usually through digital channels. Finally, the most qualified of opportunities are handed to sales for in-person pursuit.  

For customers, however, the linear funnel does not exist. Rather, they use both digital and in-person channels to complete each of the buying jobs simultaneously. 

In today’s world of B2B buying, there is no handoff from digital to in-person. A serial process has given way to a few parallel ones.

From sales rep to buying guide 

How to win in this B2B buying environment? Gartner says that the answer is in “buyer enablement” — the provisioning of information to customers in a way that enables them complete each buying job. To do this:  

  • Guide your customer through the buying journey. Warn about possible mistakes and areas of confusion based on your earlier experience. If possible, help define the buying process and the participants in advance. 
  • Give the information your customer needs right when they need it. Ensure that it is easy to find and pass on at any moment from your CRM to documents and channels. 
  • Record, redline and keep track of every detail and change during the process. Make it easy using an online collaborative platform and the standard sales documents: request for information/proposal (RFI/RFP), offer/proposal and above all, the final contract. 

Learn more about solutions to bring your sales approach up to date. 

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