What Sales Should Know About Modern B2B Buyers

Forget what you thought you knew about B2B buyers — see six things that characterize the B2B buyer of 2020.

In a world of information overload, overwhelmed B2B buyers face a crisis of confidence as they struggle to make large-scale purchase decisions. 

“With more information, options and people involved in a buying process, buyers are paralyzed when trying to move forward,” says Brent Adamson, Distinguished Vice President, Advisory, Gartner. “Sales teams must affirm customers’ confidence in their decisions to drive account growth.”

While motivation is necessary to overcome organizational complexity, it’s also no longer sufficient to follow through

Adamson shares six key buying realities for sales leaders to anticipate and respond to customer.

Customer satisfaction doesn’t drive growth

The approach to provide “above and beyond” service doesn’t pay. Gartner research finds that customer satisfaction with service impacts isn’t statistically significant in driving account growth. The vast majority of customers are already satisfied with their current suppliers, so suppliers can reduce their focus on driving satisfaction — at least to drive account growth.

Customer satisfaction doubles the likelihood of a repurchase, but deciding to purchase something again represents the status quo — a continuation of past decisions. A growth decision — deciding to buy additional or expanded solutions — represents organizational change, often requiring new capabilities, different processes, a new set of stakeholders and unanticipated complexity.

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Complexity can quash a customer’s motivation to change

As individuals, we commonly avoid things that seem difficult, unknown, risky or disruptive. Organizations are no different. The 2019 Gartner Account Growth Buyer Survey finds that B2B customers are 70% more likely to say a growth purchase requires significant organizational change compared to a repurchase decision. And even those who are motivated face an uphill battle.

“While motivation is necessary to overcome organizational complexity, it’s also no longer sufficient to follow through,” says Adamson. 

Customers’ confidence in their own decisions drives growth

Gartner analyzed 1,100 B2B customers to understand what drives continuing or expanding customer relationships with an existing supplier. The strongest driver of account growth turns out to be the confidence customers have in themselves and their ability to make good buying decisions. Customer decision confidence drives 2.6 times the likelihood of a high-quality account growth purchase. 

Decision confidence can be defined by the customer’s ability to feel confident that they:

  • Anticipate necessary changes
  • Determine the right questions to consider
  • Make the right choice

Thought leadership is not the differentiator it once was

Increased access to information — from product reviews to pricing comparisons — has overwhelmed buyers. Customers have access to reliable, high-quality and trustworthy, but often conflicting, information. As a result, the average buying group spends 15% of the buying cycle time reconciling and prioritizing that conflicting information.

When buyers feel overwhelmed, they are more likely to regret their purchase or fail to reach a decision. Both negatively affect their relationship with the supplier.

Customer perceptions of a rep are critical

Customers are inherently skeptical of a sales rep trying to sell them something. This skepticism results in customers being almost half as likely to buy when they feel the rep didn’t disclose all relevant information or they are skeptical of the rep’s claims. Sales reps need a new strategy to engage customers, one that focuses less on the brand and more on how the customer perceives the sales rep in helping them make a confident decision.

“When customers overcome their inherent skepticism of sellers and feel more confident in the information they encounter, they are more likely to make the deal all sellers aspire to — a high-quality, low-regret deal,” says Adamson. 

Customers’ perceptions of themselves are paramount

Customer confidence in information has the strongest impact on closing a high-quality, low-regret deal. Transition from thinking about your brand to thinking about the customer’s buying situation. “They might trust you, but they must trust themselves,” says Adamson.Customers feel confident when they:

  • Determine the right questions to consider
  • Identify which information matters most
  • Identify consistent patterns or themes in the information encountered during the purchase

Having made a purchase, a customer’s satisfaction and likelihood of growth centers around the fact that they believe they made a good decision. Help customers feel confident by taking a Sense Making approach and providing resources intended to simplify buying.

This article has been updated from the original, published on March 22, 2018, to reflect new events, conditions or research.

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Gartner for Sales Leaders clients can learn more by watching the Adjusting Selling to Today’s Buying: 5 Realities of B2B Buying in 2018 webinar hosted by Brent Adamson.

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