Getting appointments with prospective buyers is more challenging than ever AND it’s getting costlier. The B2B buying process has changed. The traditional and more direct approach to selling whether knocking on doors or cold-calling, are failing. For many CEOs and VP of Sales, the statement, “what got you here; won’t get you there” is quickly coming to mind as sales cycles are extending, more cold calls are producing fewer qualified sales leads and the overall effort to close business is escalating.
Sales Efforts are Increasing Yet Fewer Deals are Closing
Ovation Sales Group found the average sales person conducts 6.25 hours of prospecting to set one appointment and only 6% of these (as an average across industries) will convert into opportunities. Considering a 40-hour work week, the average sales person cold-calling will spend an entire week generating between 6-7 leads. It will take 80 hours (two weeks) to generate one opportunity! According to another study by Terminus, a marketing technology vendor, “0.75% of leads generated become closed revenue.” These are dismal numbers!
In another study, Leap Job found that only 2% of cold calls result in an appointment. In a recent conversation with a Director of Sales for an enterprise SaaS company, he expressed how his experience supported these findings. He related his challenges with spending a full week (among his other responsibilities) contacting 100 businesses to generate a dismal two qualified opportunities.
How has the B2B Buying Process Changed?
B2B buying has changed in multiple ways and collectively is wreaking havoc on traditional sales processes. Here are five ways in which the B2B buying process has changed.
B2B Buyers are More Informed BEFORE Talking to a Salesperson
Prior to the massive flood of information available free on the Web, buyers leveraged their relationships with a salesperson to gather market, competitive offering and product information. The salesperson was the gateway to knowledge. Today, a Google search will uncover reams of information about the buyer’s problem, possible solutions and their associated brands, competitive comparisons and products pros and cons. A post to a social media network can further uncover vendor risks, pricing and intangibles like reputation, customer-friendliness, and problem-solving.
Buyers come to the first contact with a salesperson with a wealth of knowledge. According to an Accenture study, 94% of B2B buyers conduct online research at some point in the buying process. A Google study stated that buyers conduct as many as “12 searches when researching.” Further and most crucial for salespeople, according to Forrester, 59% of buyers prefer to do research online instead of interacting with a sales rep because the rep pushes a sales agenda rather than helps solve a problem.
B2B Buyers Seeks Diverse Sources of Interaction
B2B buyers, on average, tend to use six different sales and marketing channels throughout their buying journey. Think about your own buying behavior…if you come across an article when researching something you are interested in and see a company’s name you don’t recognize – what do you do? I bet you Google it or go directly to their website OR if you are actively looking for a solution to a problem – you Google the problem.
Although we like to consider the B2B buying process as linear, the truth is it’s not. B2B buying is a NON-LINEAR process – you quickly evaluate the search results, check out the company’s website, see if there are articles to inform you more about the topic or check out reviews about the company. Then you might not do anything else for a period of time or you might engage in additional research – could be online or offline. Maybe you wait…then a few weeks later the issue is brought up again. So, you do more research. You go back to the website. You start reading the company’s blog. You download an infographic that speaks directly to your challenge. This will help you explain the problem to others and help educate them to get their POV. You watch a video on YouTube that you send to your boss. She now goes to the website, searches for more info, etc. She agrees – “we need to fix this and that solution seems like a good one”. ONLY now do you contact the company to learn more.
B2B Buyers Leverage Their Peers
Business peers have gained greater influence, as buyers look for assistance from their associates, professional networks, and social media connections for advice in making a buying decision. In fact, an IDC study found that 3 out of 4 B2B buyers rely on social media to engage with peers about buying decisions, and Influitive data asserts that word-of-mouth recommendations from peers influence over 90% of all B2B buying decisions.
B2B Buyers Have More Anxiety from Greater Choice
The number of choices to solve a problem have grown substantially especially within certain industries. In marketing technology alone, the number of choices have grown exponentially. In 2011, there were 150 marketing technology solutions. Today there are more than 4,000 marketing technology vendors – a 2,000% increase!
Multiple research studies have shown that prospects often second-guess themselves over making the right choices or are afraid to commit on potentially missing out on a better vendor. B2B buyers are also increasingly seeking out ways to identify and reduce risk factors, including damage to professional credibility, reduction in job security, inability of the software to technically perform as promised, and loss of monetary investments. Interestingly, 60% of B2B buyers are considering only 1-2 brands in their consideration stage thus filtering out others in order to narrow the decision-making challenges.
Choice is creating greater anxiety and the antidote is frequently more research, more assurances and greater reliance on committee-based decision making.
B2B Buying Process is Performed Among Larger Committees
B2B buying is being performed by an increasing number of individuals in the decision-making process, where less importance is placed on connecting with individuals and more emphasis is placed on helping the group effectively reach a decision. These buying teams, ranging from 7 to 20 people, represent a wide variety of jobs, functions, and geographies. As the number of people involved in a buying decision increases, the likelihood of actually buying decreases. More so, it takes 5 to 6 prospects to agree for a sale to even progress. Also there is an increasing level of involvement from a procurement function to help apply a more formal cost saving process across company-wide buying.
How Do You Adapt to the Changing B2B Buying Landscape?
“Selling has always been more about the buyer than the seller, so any effective sales model must adapt to changing buying protocols,” stated Frank Cespedes, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, and Tiffani Bova, research vice president at Gartner in a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article. Some CEOs and VP of Sales are not only recognizing the changing B2B buyer landscape but also taking action to adapt how their teams sell.
Feeding the Buyer’s Early Research Needs
B2B buyers are now relying on content to guide them through the complex and challenging buying process, from research to decision. B2B buyers review an average of 10.4 sources in any buying situation; the more costly or complex the sale, the more content viewed. And a 2014 DemandGen report found that almost 70% of buyers have increased the amount of content used to research and evaluate their purchases.
Marketing and Sales Are Finding Alignment
On average, buyers will have six interaction across marketing channels before contacting a salesperson. However, almost 65 percent of those prospective buyers will come away from the interaction frustrated by inconsistent experiences.
An effective sales process aligns marketing and sales to ensure consistent brand communications across all marketing channels. A buyer doesn’t differentiate a conversation with a business’ salesperson different than reading a white paper – it is all an extension of the same brand. Developing and documenting a message platform which includes personas, value proposition, core messaging, and points of difference ensures consistency across the B2B buying process. The reward for alignment is great. According to Hubspot, “Companies with aligned sales and marketing teams are 67% better at closing deals and generate 208% more revenue from marketing efforts.”
Sales Teams are Becoming Trusted Consultants with Marketing Enabling Thought Leadership
Buyers want to feel confident that they made the right decision. In today’s market, businesses that win have a broader view of the buyer’s situation, and can act as external, independent consultants to balance the buyer’s own views. Although buyers can search online and quickly find information such as reviews, pricing, product information, and competitive comparisons, they still need the salesperson to guide them through the increasingly complex sales process, build the business case, and offer value-add insights. Sales and marketing should work together to create the right materials, interactions and message platform to position sales as thought leaders. This requires a clear content strategy and distribution plan that owns the space in which the buyer resides and the business’ value proposition supports.
As a trusted consultant with the right mix of content, messaging and distribution, salespeople can help buyers move through risks with assurance and knowledge. If your salespeople can demonstrate how you are able to reduce the amount of risk in a buying decision, you not only have successfully differentiaB2B ted yourself from the competition, but you may stand out as a solid example of a professional, reputable, and trustworthy business.
Adapt or Slowly Diminish
Change is tough. Cultural shifts away from traditional sales processes to a new way of marketing and selling are tougher. “Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organization is transformed – the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day.” [quote from – Frances Hesselbein] However, doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. And hoping the situation will change is not a strategy either.
Step back and do your research. Talk to deals you have lost, to new prospects and recently won customers. Ask them about their buying process. Once you gain the knowledge then act by driving change through your organization. The B2B buying process has changed. Now it’s your turn to adapt to it or slowly diminish.
Looking to get more customers? Kevin Gold, of Next Leap Strategy, helps business owners, marketers and sales leaders develop and execute effective marketing growth strategies to generate more sales leads and profitable customers. Marketing for revenue growth. He is also co-founder of FindYourNextCustomers.com, a Customer Acquisition Accelerator Bootcamp which guides B2B businesses how to adapt to the changing B2B buying process. Get started by contacting Kevin at 513.601.8893 or visit www.NextLeapStrategy.com.