Insights / Sales / Article

What to Do When Your Sales Pipeline Lies to You

February 13, 2019

Contributor: Brent Adamson

Sales funnels today arent suited to the true journey of the B2B buyer. Sales leaders must rethink the problem to find the right solution.

Sales and marketing leaders have a problem. Despite years of sustained economic strength, they still struggle to sell large, complex solutions — at least with enough speed, predictability or margin to justify the significant investments to make those solutions possible in the first place.

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Most sales organizations organize activity around a linear pipeline, seeking to move opportunities from one stage to the next until deal closure. This view of deal progression misrepresents the underlying buying reality — which is that the buying process follows anything but a straight line.

Gartner depicts the B2B Buying Process as a long, hard slog in which sales leaders must help customers through.

For example, when a deal appears stuck between “solution exploration” and “requirements building,” this may have nothing to do specifically with that phase. But because today’s purchasing reality is misaligned with the sales model, sales reps may be trying to address issues that don’t exist in that phase — while failing to solve a problem that does exist but which they would, in the linear pipeline, relate to a totally different stage.

The access problem

No sales rep can be in every conversation all the time. The situation is made worse as customers increasingly try to shut sales reps out of their purchases altogether, leading sales executives to try improve the quantity and quality of the limited interactions they do get with customers. Sales leaders attempt to do this by bringing in expensive subject matter experts to supplement, or even overcome, the perceived shortcomings of individual sales reps. But this approach ultimately solves for the wrong problem. It’s trying to influence the selling process, but it’s the buying that is stalled.

By envisaging sales as the complex, arduous journey it really is, leaders can better appreciate just how poorly positioned they currently are to sell effectively. Buyer enablement offers a better approach — for a number of reasons.

Better information beats better individuals

In today’s world of complex buying, Individual sellers are hopelessly outgunned due to the impossibility of being present at every moment of buying difficulty at exactly the right time for every single deal. This is especially hard when most buying activity happens behind closed doors.

Customers don’t value a specific supplier capability or an individual sales rep conversation. Rather, what they want is information specifically designed to simplify their progress through the long, hard slog of the purchasing process. Information now plays a vitally critical role in driving sales effectiveness, independent of individual sales rep ability. In fact, it’s the single biggest tactic we’ve found in all of our research to increase the likelihood of winning a high-quality, low-regret deal.

Gartner research identifies a hugely important — but potentially mind-bending — opportunity for sales leaders to recalibrate their thinking away from individuals as the most effective resource for influencing customer buying behavior in favor of a closer focus on the information their organization provides through both in-person and online channels.   

Sales reps are just one — not the only — channel to customers

Customers are largely channel-agnostic when it comes to preference to complete buying jobs. At the end of the day, customers are looking for helpful information across multiple channels. And right now, no channel is performing particularly well when it comes to buyer enablement.

“ Customers use both digital and in-person channels with near-equal frequency”

This presents an opportunity for suppliers to not only deploy far more and better buyer enablement, but to significantly differentiate themselves from the competition in the process. To do that, commercial leaders must create a supplier organization just as impartial to agnostic to channel of information delivery as customers are to channel of information consumption. 

The “handoff” from marketing to sales is no longer relevant

Sales and marketing teams are typically organized in a serial fashion: Marketing is charged with generating and nurturing demand early through digital channels and then handing off the most qualified opportunities to sales for follow-on, in-person pursuit.

Gartner research clearly indicates that customers simply don’t buy this way. Because customers use both digital and in-person channels with near-equal frequency as they complete each of the six B2B buying jobs, there is no “handoff.” As a result, suppliers’ legacy organizational structures and day-to-day workflow have virtually nothing in common with how buyers actually buy.

Brent Adamson, Distinguished Vice President, Advisory, serves heads of B2B and B2C sales and marketing.

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