How B2B Sales Reps Maximize Customer Interactions

Sellers must serve as a guide for buyers to simplify the buying journey.

Have you planned a vacation lately? If so, you probably trawled through thousands of online reviews and travel guides — and ended up being overwhelmed, especially if you were planning to visit a remote or unusual destination, or had a long and complex list of things to see and do. It’s tempting to try and arrange a trip yourself, but you can only make so many decisions without help, and it’s often smart to use a tour guide or a travel agent to make sense of the options.

Sales leaders must understand how customers proceed through the buying process — and how different it is today from in the past

Similar dynamics exist in B2B selling and buying, but with huge implications for both organizational success and sales rep behavior. Customers give sales reps little access, partly because they can now learn so much online. Sales leaders have to find a way to equip sellers to make the most of the interactions reps do have with customers — leading high-value conversations that differentiate their offering from competitors and cutting through the plethora of information gathered online. These quality conversations enable reps to influence customer decisions and lead to bigger, better deals.

“Sales leaders must understand how customers proceed through the buying process — and how different it is today from in the past,” says Brent Adamson, principal executive advisor at Gartner. “That understanding allows them to equip sellers to deliver the value customers seek.”

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The B2B buying journey

Gartner surveyed 750 B2B buyers involved in complex purchases to understand how they proportionately spend their time. We found buyers are researching, learning and meeting with peers independently from suppliers about two-thirds of the time. They spend just 17% of their time meeting with suppliers — so if there are three potential suppliers, each gets only about 5% of a customer’s time.

Given the limited interaction time, sales leaders must understand how buyers move through the buying process. Our research found that virtually every B2B purchase spans six distinct “jobs” that buyers must complete to their satisfaction to successfully complete a complex transaction:

  • Problem identification
  • Solution exploration
  • Requirements building
  • Supplier selection
  • Validation
  • Consensus creation

Although these six jobs occur in each interaction, the way in which customers progress from the starting point to a purchase is unpredictable, inconsistent and sometimes repetitive. “Ninety percent of all buyers reported revisiting, or looping back, to at least one job as part of their overall purchasing process,” says Adamson.

Information to ease the buying journey

As the buying process becomes more complex, the ability to connect customers to the right information becomes increasingly important. Sales leaders must focus on buyer enablement — that is, they must provide information to customers in a way that enables them to complete critical buying jobs.

“Information now plays a role in driving sales effectiveness,” says Adamson. “In a world where information can move far more freely, access more people and be available across channels, information can do things today that individuals cannot.”

Sales reps must serve as guides to connect and make sense of information for buyers, who must navigate a long and difficult journey. By doing so, sales reps simplify the buying process to increase the chances that buyers will make a higher-value purchase — and reduce the chances they’ll regret the purchase.

Are you sales reps positioned to play travel agent to your customers?

Gartner for Sales Leaders client can read more in Elevating the Value of Sales Interactions.