B2B sales organizations must deliver a seller-assisted digital buying experience to customers in order to succeed in today’s digital-first environment, according to Gartner, Inc. This is because, while 43% of B2B customers prefer to not interact with a sales rep at all, purchase regret for those customers preferring a rep-free experience is 23% higher than for customers who interact with a sales rep.
During today’s opening keynote at the Gartner CSO & Sales Leader Conference, taking place virtually in the Americas May 17-18, 2021, Gartner analysts discussed why B2B sales organizations should be exploring how to engage customers simultaneously through sellers and digital, instead of one or the other.
“The single biggest driver of purchase likelihood in a B2B sale is the degree to which customers feel confident about their own decisions,” said Brent Adamson, distinguished vice president analyst in the Gartner Sales practice. “However, B2B customers in an all-digital world are unwittingly pursuing buying behavior deeply contrary to confidence creation. In other words, digital-only buying actually harms customer confidence.”
A Gartner survey of nearly 1,000 B2B customers in November and December 2020 revealed that those who report a high-level of decision confidence are 10 times more likely to make a high-quality, low-regret purchase. This means those customers purchased the larger, broader, higher-priced solution, with little to no regret following the deal.
Gartner research shows there are three statistically significant drivers of customer confidence – customers’ perceptions of sellers, their perceptions of difference between supplier offerings, and their sense of consensus across the purchase process.
“By choosing to avoid sales reps, customers are forgoing a critical means for distinguishing nuanced differences between suppliers and driving consensus across the buying group,” added Mr. Adamson. “It’s like kicking out one leg of a three-legged confidence stool, leaving customers to find nuance and establish consensus on their own in a digitally dominant environment. Everyone loses in this world.”
Another Gartner survey of more than 1,100 B2B customers in December 2020 showed that customers struggle to distinguish supplier offerings from one another through digital alone. In fact, 64% of surveyed customers cannot tell the difference between one B2B brand’s digital experience and another’s. And 76% of customers report doing nothing different as a result of engaging suppliers’ through digital means (e.g., websites, online tools, digital content).
“In this world where customers would prefer not to talk to sales reps at all, but find little to no value in the online experience, sales leaders have to find a completely new means to give back what neither sellers nor digital can provide on its own,” said Mr. Adamson.
To engage B2B customers in deeper, more valuable seller-led conversations that will deliver on differentiation and consensus, sales organizations need to focus on three core components of selling in today’s digital environment:
Digitally Different Experiences
Sales leaders should ruthlessly evaluate their current digital experience and ask: “How different is our website from our competitors, and what type of experience are we providing to help customers on their buying journey?” B2B customers are starting their journey in digital first, and suppliers’ websites are the first stop in their information gathering. Supplier websites should be armed with tools designed specifically to help customer on their buying journey. This can include diagnostic tools, customized benchmarking data, virtual tours, configurable solutions, three-dimensional solutions modeling, and virtual and augmented reality tools, among others.
Moments of Nuance
Those digitally different experiences must revolve around the small number of critically important nuances that differentiate a supplier from its competitors. This can be in terms of the problem it solves or the capability it delivers. “Help your customers feel confident that their choice isn’t just a coin flip, but that the differences are meaningful,” said Mr. Adamson.
Rep-Mediated Digital Experiences
Sellers must reside “inside” the digital experience as a complement or support to customers’ digital learning, rather than outside of it as a substitute. Sellers must be ready to use the technology – the diagnostic tools, customized benchmarking data and solution configuration guides – to interactively help customers dive deeper into the nuanced differences between one solution and another. Within that digital experience, sellers must be prepared to help customers make sense of all the information they encounter, explaining implications, alternatives and undiscovered opportunities in an understandable and compelling way.
“B2B selling in today’s world must be digital and human. A carefully designed, richly immersive digital experience where sales reps are accompanied by a seller rather than funneled to one,” said Mr. Adamson. “In other words, rather than seeking to engage customers through sellers or digital, the best companies are exploring how to engage customers simultaneously through sellers and digital.”
About the Gartner CSO & Sales Leaders Conference
Sales leaders face unprecedented changes in B2B buying behaviors, customer expectations, technology and the talent needed to drive results. At the Gartner CSO & Sales Leader Conference, taking place virtually on May 17-18, 2021, sales leaders will learn from the latest research and Gartner experts covering sales talent, customer buying behavior, account-based marketing strategies and leveraging digital channels. Follow news and updates from the event on Twitter at #GartnerSales.
About Gartner for Sales Leaders
Gartner for Sales Leaders provides heads of sales and their teams with the insights, advice and tools they need to address mission-critical priorities amid mounting pressures to drive growth through new and existing customers. With extensive qualitative and quantitative research, Gartner for Sales Leaders helps sales teams combat commoditization and price-based purchasing, develop critical manager and seller skills, elevate the value of sales interactions, unlock existing growth potential, and optimize sales force enablement. Follow news and update from the Gartner Sales practice on Twitter and LinkedIn using #GartnerSales.