How can sales organizations continue to hit — or exceed — targets while operating as they always have? They can’t. Customer and seller behaviors, expectations and relationships have shifted. “Organizations that don’t understand these new realities will struggle to grow business,” says Brent Adamson, Distinguished VP, Advisory, Gartner. “When expectation doesn’t match reality, problems arise.” Key changes in B2B customer behavior over the past year will have implications for sales organizations in 2019.
Reality No. 1: Millennials are generally skeptical of sales reps
B2B buyers are generally skeptical of seller claims and more and more prefer data-backed evidence. Millennials are increasingly joining buying groups, and as a result, are holding more influence in decisions. They are more than twice as likely as baby boomers to be skeptical of claims. “Perhaps growing up in the era of information abundance makes millennials so comfortable doing their own research that they don’t trust sales reps to help them,” says Adamson. B2B sales leaders must prepare their teams to address millennial concerns and leverage this group to drive consensus.
Reality No. 2: Customers have access to more and higher-quality information than ever before
Today’s customers have access to not only more information, but also to more high-quality, trustworthy information. This is not a relatively new situation, but still presents a challenge, as it delays direct interaction with suppliers.
The buying journey follows anything but a straight line from beginning to end
In fact, 88% of surveyed B2B customers report that the information they encountered during a recent successful purchase decision was high quality. While this might seem to empower customers, it actually overwhelms them. Customers sift through and assess a mountain of seemingly high-quality information, prioritize relevant sources and make sense of data from different sources. This leads to customers spending a full 15% of the buying cycle time deconflicting information.
Watch webinar: Adjusting Selling to 2019's Buying Realities
Complicating the matter further, suppliers sometimes struggle to deliver consistent information across channels. Only 25% of customers who rated the information they received from the supplier to be highly consistent across channels managed to successfully make a high-quality, low-regret purchase. This goes to show that the buying process is hard, but Information consistency matters — those who report consistency are roughly 4.5x more likely to make the purchase.
Reality No. 3: Today’s buying groups are incredibly diverse;
The days of simply winning over a senior decision maker are long over, but it may be surprising how functionally diverse buying groups have become. Buying today is complicated by complex solutions, financial instability and data security concerns. B2B buyers respond by adding more and different types of stakeholders to their buying groups. “When surveyed, 75% of customers agree or strongly agree that their purchase involved people from a wide variety of roles, teams and locations,” says Adamson. Each new stakeholder brings individual diverse concerns, priorities and opinions to the table, making the buying process extremely difficult as they struggle to come to consensus over the solution — or even the problem — that works for everyone.
Read more: What Sales Should Know About Modern B2B Buyers
Reality No. 4: Buying is not linear
The customer buying journey traditionally was illustrated as a linear process in which customers moved forward step by step. Although customers do follow a few discrete steps to reach a buying decision, the buying journey follows anything but a straight line from beginning to end. Gartner research found nearly all B2B purchase tasks tend to group into six distinct “jobs” that buyers have to get done to successfully complete an actual purchase. These six jobs don’t play out in a linear, predictable manner. Customers engage in what we might call “looping” across a typical B2B purchase, revisiting each of those six buying jobs at least once each.
Learn More:The New B2B Buying Journey
Reality No. 5 Customers seek helpful information
Customers are channel-agnostic as they seek the information they need to feel confident that a particular buying job is complete. Customers are equally open to receiving helpful information through either in-person or digital channels. Sales leaders must drive customer value through the creation of information specifically designed to help customers more easily complete their buying tasks — what Gartner calls buyer enablement.