B2B buying has changed dramatically in recent years, developing a far more digitally dominated buying behavior. It seems that innovative buyers have left behind B2B sales and marketing teams, which usually, and unfortunately still, work together in a linear process, meaning marketing first, then sales.
But first things first: the following data from a survey conducted by Gartner of 750 B2B customers involved in buying complex "products and solutions" in their companies is relevant. Namely, they indicated that they spend only of their total purchasing time:
17% interacting directly with supplier sales teams, 45% with independent learning (mostly online), 23% building consensus with a variety of internal and partner stakeholders
Importantly, however, the 17% of buying activity that is spent interacting with suppliers (both virtually and in person) is not for any one supplier, but for all of them. So, if three suppliers are competing for the same opportunity, it's reasonable to assume that customers will split that time roughly evenly among all three, leaving a given sales team only a vanishingly small window of time to interact directly with the customer - perhaps 5% or 6% of total buying time, if they're lucky.
For many sales managers, this small window of direct, traditional interaction is the biggest challenge, leaving suppliers' sales teams very little time to actually sell and have opportunities to significantly influence buying decisions and steer customer preference toward their company's unique offering.
B2B buyers are online and increasingly aligning themselves more closely with B2C buying behavior
Instead, today's B2B buyers rely heavily on digital information to support their entire buying process, using digital channels to gather facts and figures needed to complete a range of buying tasks and supplier selection. Thanks to Google, they have become largely independent of where they find the data, they need to make purchasing decisions.
And with all these new, digital possibilities, the purchasing behavior of B2B buyers is changing and increasingly aligning with B2C behavior. We're finding that they don't want access to the salesperson anymore, and a generational shift (Millennials and GenZers) in preferences is already making itself felt here. The new buyers are not seeking sales conversations for the sake of the conversation itself, but purely as a practical means to get the information needed to complete specific buying tasks.
B2B Sales Has Become a Technology Game
So, what do we learn: helping today's B2B buyers buy is not so much a sales challenge as it is a digital transformation task? In one of our articles, we also write that B2B sales is becoming a technology game: it's mostly about Data, Digital Technology, and Data-driven Prospecting.
To help your customers, you need to find a way to get through to them with the right message (Message-Market-Fit) at the right time and through the right channels. And all of this is best done with as much of a customer shopping experience as possible.
But this is only happening if the coordination between sales and marketing works, and seamless transitions are ensured. Technically and culturally: simply without silos. Everyone pulling in the same direction.
Companies need to adapt to changing buying habits and make the shift from a traditional to a modern sales force quickly. That also means they should be investing a lot of the growth investment now in a modern Sales Technology Stack that enables data-driven prospecting and non-linear buyer enablement. And as mentioned earlier, this must involve sales, marketing, and customer support being well aligned, with visibility and transparency into customer engagement.
Now, it can be argued that the complex products and solutions in B2B require human interaction and salespeople are essential. I'm sure most would agree, and it's also the case that current B2B digital buying solutions are nowhere near robust or advanced enough to support customers who prefer to buy entirely on their own.
But just because today's customers can't buy complex solutions without sales rep involvement doesn't mean they wouldn't prefer to do so if it were possible.
And it will be possible in the future, and this is granted. So, listen to B2B buyers (as the title of this article says) and start thinking forward. It's never too early to take a game-changing approach to addressing seminal issues.
As always, we're happy to support you and show how to align an old sales engine with a whole new world of B2B buying.
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Thanks for reading.