Why every sales leader needs to care about what's changing in the world of B2B buying

Shankar Ganapathy
May 24, 2021
b2b buying blog creative

Sales leaders are used to being judged by how well their team sold and their forecasting accuracy. But today, effective revenue generation needs a more holistic approach. 

So much has changed in sales in the last few years – work from home is the new normal, B2B selling has become virtual-first, sales teams have several tools to improve productivity, effectiveness, and accuracy.

But at the same time, B2B buying has become even more complex. Buying enterprise solutions was never easy, it has only become more difficult in this remote-first environment. In this new reality, connecting with today’s buyers and helping them solve their challenges has become the single biggest priority for sales leaders in their pursuit of new opportunities to drive predictable growth and profitability.

This new change is forcing modern sales leaders to rethink sales methodologies, sales processes, and the customer engagement playbook with their buyers and their priorities at the center.

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The new B2B buying process and the challenges faced by modern-day buyers

We are used to looking at the B2B buyer journey as a set of steps (similar to the sales process) that buyers go through linearly. While it has rarely been simple, rapid digitalization of vendor-related information and satisfaction of solutions has given more power to B2B buyers but in many ways has also made the b2b buying process more complicated and time-consuming.  

Is B2B buying really this simple?

1) Awareness stage – the customer realizes they have a problem

2) Consideration stage – they evaluate various options to solve the problem

3) Decision stage – the customer chooses a solution

4) Value realization stage – the customer has a measurable value from your product or solution

In the digital era, buyers are more empowered than ever before - they conduct online research and talk to their peers before making purchasing decisions. They also expect faster time-to-value and are looking for better alternatives during renewal. Modern buyers have all the power over sellers, at least that is what we have always thought.

Today, buyers face a different kind of struggle. They are constantly overwhelmed with conflicting information that is all backed by data, and they have more options that look alike. They also must deal with an increasing number of stakeholders in the buying team who all come with their own mandate and are forced to constantly justify the purchasing decisions.

“In this new reality, there are no customers. Everyone is a buyer, including your most successful customers. Dealing with the new reality is the single biggest challenge that modern revenue organizations must adapt to.”

Even analyst firms like Gartner, Forrester, Challenger, and others have taken notice

According to Forrester, this trend has now become the norm, with 68% of B2B buyers preferring to research on their own online, up from 53% in 2015. At the consideration stage, the role of a modern seller has to evolve from one who supplies information to one who supplies insights. 

With access to a plethora of information online, buyers can compare vendors and their offerings without interacting with a salesperson. In fact, Gartner has found that B2B buyers spend only 17% of their time meeting with potential suppliers while considering a purchase. And since buyers compare multiple sellers, the amount of time they spend with anyone sales rep may be as low as 5-6%. Another stark reality is that most vendors offer highly similar solutions and it is becoming increasingly difficult for buyers to differentiate them. But the devil is in detail, and that’s where a salesperson’s knowledge of their product (and their competitors) really comes to the fore.  

Peers now also play a large part in a customer’s research process. Research has found that nearly 60% of buyers (especially those in C-suite roles) prefer online peer reviews to all other forms of research. 

The b2b buying cycle is also getting longer and involves more stakeholders than ever before. A survey of B2B buyers shows that more than half (54%) said their buying cycle is getting longer, with almost a quarter (22%) saying it has increased significantly.  And as the size of the deal increases, so does the number of people involved. Buying groups are the new norm and the size varies from seven to 19 stakeholders, depending upon the deal and each stakeholder comes armed with at least four pieces of information they’ve gathered themselves. As the group wades through mountains of research, the entire buying process slows down, and reaching consensus becomes even more challenging. 

But buying is still buying, right?

Well yes and no. While online information and research materials have made researching for information on vendors easier, there is a more fundamental change in the way customers purchase. Their buying journey is no longer linear.

Sales teams’ are used to following a linear sales process with clearly defined actions as defined in the sales methodology. But when you dive deeper into the world of buyers it couldn’t look more different, the process is quite convoluted, even between two tasks. 

Let’s take an example: the buyer asks for product information and receives multiple data sheets and case studies. If the information is not adequate, the buyer may go to your website, then have an internal meeting, and finally schedule a demo with the seller. This is how the seller may think the process works at the buyer’s end. But the reality is that there is so much more happening behind closed doors – like multiple discussions between different stakeholders, a prospective champion who has to handle many questions in real-time, and side conversations in the corridor. This is a big challenge and as per research by Gartner, close to 40% of B2B buying decisions end in no-decision.

Gartner has identified six B2B buying ‘jobs’ that must be completed to successfully finalize a purchase.

Buyers do not move through these ‘jobs’ sequentially; rather 90% of buyers revisit at least one ‘job’ (and often more) as part of their overall purchasing process. You can’t ask your customers to change, so your only option is to help your customers have a better buyer experience with you, regardless of where they are in their process.

Adopting to the new norms of buying experience

With products and solutions getting commoditized, the buyer experience will be the single biggest reason you will win and retain customers. In the future, b2b buying experience will become measurable, controllable, and digital-first.  Here is a framework to think about buying experience: 

      1. Align on ‘what is the value’ with your buyers

Enable your revenue teams and buyers to always be in sync with each other through a structured approach to value discovery and alignment. Focus on consistent alignment with your buyers and empower easy peer-to-peer best practices amongst your buyers.

      2. Collaborate to deliver outcomes

Demonstrate empathy and build trust throughout the buying process by enabling your sellers and buyers to collaborate and create a mutual success plan to get to the ‘what is the value’. Rather than focusing on the sale, focus on their success and the path to get there. This will ensure that you deliver a superior buying experience where you are contextually responsive every single time. 

     3. Enable your buyer

Empower your buyers to operate at their own speed and comfort. The role of the seller needs to evolve from supplier of information to supplier of insights. Enable your buyers to access any and all information about your products and services which are critical to their evaluation, purchase, deployment, and value realization

     4.Analyze your buyer engagement data

You already might have tools like Gong, Chorus, Clari to understand what is happening in the deals, But these tools rely on decluttering insights from existing tools like emails and zoom calls. But by transforming your buyer experience to be digital-first and buyer focussed, you are able to unlock critical insights which have so far never been captured. This will fundamentally transform how you conduct deal reviews, forecasting, win-loss analysis, operationalize sales playbooks, and buyer journey intelligence.

[Reinforcing] One more thing, don’t focus on getting (just) the contract signed

Have these changes in the buyer’s journey impacted you and your sales process? How are you making your sales process (and sellers) more buyer-centric?

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