Insights / Sales / Article

Why B2B Sellers Need a Sense Making Sales Strategy

November 05, 2019

Contributor: Kelly Blum

Theres no shortage of quality information for customers to use when making a B2B buying decision. The imperative for sales is to help customers make sense of it.

Nine out of 10 B2B buyers report that the information they see while researching a purchase is of high quality. However, the advantages of quality information are wiped out by other attributes, which lower the likelihood that the buyer's journey will end in the purchase of a high-quality, low-regret deal.

“The sheer volume of high-quality information presents a problem for customers: First, there is too much of it and second, customers find that information from different suppliers is often trustworthy but contradictory," says Neha Ahuja, Senior Principal, Research & Advisory, Gartner. 

If customers experience these negative attributes at once, they are 153% less likely to choose a high-quality deal (premium-priced, large-scope solutions) without regretting it later.

So what does improve the chances of closing such a deal? Two customer sentiments play a key role: customer confidence in the information they encounter and customer skepticism of the seller.

Sellers should focus, then, on strategies to address these factors. Enter the Sense Making approach.

Download now: How High-Performing B2B Sales Reps Use Information to Win Deals

Sense Making is one of three seller approaches

B2B customers report that sellers adopt one of three distinctive approaches to sharing information:

  • Giving. These reps take a "more is better" approach, consistent with the belief that more information, especially at the customer’s request, will move a deal forward. Giving involves generously sharing quantitative evidence, product specifications and supplier collateral. 
  • Telling. This is the preferred approach of individual experts on the sales force who rely on personal experience, knowledge and authority to address customers’ needs. From a manager’s perspective, this approach requires the least organizational tools or support, and its practitioners prefer to develop their own spreadsheets or collateral decks.
  • Sense Making. These reps help their customers evaluate information so they can prioritize sources, quantify trade-offs and reconcile conflicting information. 

While giving adds complexity by providing more information, Sense Making simplifies customers’ learning by helping them evaluate and prioritize relevant information. Telling offers customers the information they need to move forward, but Sense Making helps customers arrive at their own understanding.

“Sense Making sales reps are best positioned to bolster customers’ confidence in the information and allay their skepticism about the seller,” says Brent Adamson, Distinguished VP, Advisory, Gartner. "In fact, 80% of the sellers who used the Sense Making approach closed high-quality, low-regret deals."

Approaches to engaging customers with information

The winning behaviors of Sense Making

The primary obstacle to commercial success has become less about sellers’ struggle to sell and more about customers’ inability to buy. This environment makes the commercial impact of Sense Making even more critical. So how do these sellers behave?

Gartner research found that Sense Making secures a commercial advantage through a series of unique, information-related behaviors:

  • Connect to relevant resources. Diagnose customers’ information needs and provide curated sources and tools to help customers feel they know all the relevant information.
  • Clarify information complexity. Reduce the complexity of the information environment by filtering and processing information for customers. 
  • Collaborate on customer learning. Help customers evaluate the quality of information and arrive at their own understanding of difficult issues.

Drive Sense Making across the organization

The good news: Regardless of sales method or model, Sense Making is an effective sales approach. Sense Making can be learned and scaled. Organizations can encourage sellers to be far more aware of and prepared to help customers make sense of the purchase, depending on the “job" the customer is trying to complete during the purchase process. Further, sales can embed buyer enablement to incorporate Sense Making into the tools that customers directly use to support their decision making. 

Your ability to scale Sense Making may depend, in part, on your existing commitment to Challenger. The less committed you already are to Challenger, the more opportunity there is for Sense Making to create an impact. Benchmark the degree to which your sales organization has implemented Challenger (not yet, recently or for some time) so you can assess the opportunity.

This article has been updated from the 2019 original to reflect new events, conditions and research.

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