Sync Sales Pipeline Management to the B2B Buying Journey

Sales leaders must adjust their pipeline management and forecasting to accommodate the B2B buyer’s nonlinear buying journey.

The B2B buyer’s journey is not a linear process, but sales leaders still track deals using discrete stages in a linear sales process. This disconnect compromises pipeline analytics and sales forecasts, leaving sales managers without good information to identify risk in their sellers’ deals. 

Given the complexity of today’s B2B buyer journeys, sales stage offers limited value as a measure of opportunity progress

“Sales leaders must provide sellers with an efficient method for navigating a B2B buyer’s nonlinear buying journey. They must change their pipeline management and forecasting to measure the progress of active opportunities more effectively,” says Steve Rietberg, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner. 

Today’s buyer journey

Gartner research indicates that B2B buyers go through six distinct steps — problem identification, solution exploration, requirements building, supplier selection, validation and consensus creation — to successfully complete a purchase. Often, however, they will revisit these steps at least once before making a purchase, resulting in a buying journey that resembles more of a maze than a linear path.

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“The B2B buyer’s journey defies the traditional sequential progression of sales stages,” says Rietberg. “With easy access to a wealth of quality information, B2B buyers are engaging with sellers less frequently, and they often revisit buying tasks that were traditionally executed chronologically.”

Make pipeline analytics relevant

Currently, sellers determine a deal’s probability to close, close date and work remaining primarily by the internal sales stage, but this approach is flawed given the change in buying behaviors. It leaves sales managers unable to proactively identify stalled deals or seller needs. Additionally, they are unable to prescribe helpful solutions to rescue stalled deals. To overcome this disconnect, sales leaders can do four things:

Shift the primary measure of deal progress from sales stage completion

Given the complexity of today’s B2B buyer journeys, sales stage offers limited value as a measure of opportunity progress. The best way is through tracking customer verifiers — objectively verifiable outcomes — for each job in the buyer’s process. This will increase pipeline quality and give sellers a standard method for scoring their opportunities that is more precise than a sales process with artificially imposed linear sales stages.

Automate opportunity scoring

To align opportunity management more closely with the buyer’s journey, introduce verifier-based opportunity scoring that can coexist with the linear sales process common in existing customer relationship management/sales force automation (CRM/SFA) systems.

A phased rollout of verifier-based pipeline management and analytics enables a selling organization to evolve from a CRM/SFA based on a traditional linear sales process to one that assesses pipelines with consideration for the actual buyer’s journey.

Incorporate opportunity scoring into forecast analytics

Opportunity scoring based on customer verifier completion and buyer job revisits offers a more accurate method for quantifying pipeline value. Add insight to pipeline analytics by weighting opportunity values based on buyer job completion. This approach not only increases the insight of existing pipeline analytics, it also helps lay the foundation for artificial intelligence (AI) forecasting. 

As organizations adopt AI-enabled solutions, predictive analytics can be developed from historical pipelines with customer verifier tracking and opportunity scores. AI-based forecasting can use this data to project revenue for the current period, and the accuracy of that projection will increase as more data is accumulated.

Build analytics based on buyer job progress

Beyond sales forecasting, sales managers rely on pipeline analytics for two important purposes: To assess the health of their pipeline and to diagnose areas where their sellers are challenged to progress their deals. Use these three metrics to provide sales managers with valuable insight in both of these areas:

  • Verifier cycle time: A metric that indicates the average time spent on each verifier.
  • Verifier velocity: A metric used to measure seller effectiveness at the customer verifier level.
  • Verifier status mix: A metric used to assess seller and team pipeline health, and to quantify which verifiers are most commonly underway when deals are lost.

These metrics enable sales organizations to identify opportunity risk and areas of seller need. This, in turn, provides sales teams with the insight they need to improve their efficiency and effectiveness.

This article is based on insights that are part of an in-depth collection of research, tools and advice available to Gartner clients. 

 

Gartner for Sales Leaders clients can learn more about how to navigate today’s nonlinear buying process in the report Pipeline Management and Forecasting in a Nonlinear Buying Process.

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