Sales Training Article: Are They Buyers – or Researchers?

By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company

Recent studies would have you believe as much as 80% of buying activities are complete before salespeople are involved. For complex B2B transactions I struggle to accept this statistic and wanted to suggest two (2) separate and distinct activities that must be completed before B2B buying decisions are made:

  • Product/offering research and evaluation
  • Cost vs. benefit or ROI analyses to justify potential expenditures

For complex B2B offerings, research is done mostly by non-Key Players wanting to learn about offerings without sellers influencing their requirements. They devour information posted on vendor websites. If they get serious about offerings, they solicit feedback from people about experiences with vendors and offerings by leveraging social networking. This can provide validation because vendors control website information.

Cost vs. benefits or ROI’s are created to determine if potential expenditures are likely to provide adequate payback (reduce costs, increase revenues, increase profits, etc.) to warrant expenditures. Input from Key Players is needed to create enterprise views to quantify the potential improvement in business metrics for stakeholders.

The sequence in which these 2 activities occur goes a long way toward determining how likely it is that buying cycles end in buying decisions. I’d like to discuss how sellers initiate opportunities and then revisit inbound inquiries from researchers.

The Good
Buying cycles initiated proactively by competent sellers start at Key Player levels. Calls are focused more on business outcomes than offerings. Early on it is determined whether the potential benefits justify the time needed to evaluate offerings. If it does, sellers call on lower levels to have more detailed product discussions, understand how business is conducted without the offering, determine how it could be implemented and do a cost vs. benefit analysis. If there’s a fit proposals are presented to Key Players who decide whether or not to buy.

The Bad
Less competent sellers take bottom up approaches. Entry points at lower levels learn about products. If traction is gained, sellers try to access other levels. They talk with many people that can’t say yes (buy) but can say no. If sellers can’t reach higher levels, Key Players’ first exposure to their offerings will likely be in proposals. In these cases, sellers rely upon lower levels to do internal selling with Key Players.

Bottom-up selling makes long sell cycles and lower win rates more likely. A Sales Benchmark Index study concluded 52% of sales cycles result in “no decision” meaning that no vendor is awarded the business. This statistic causes me to wonder what percentage of “buying cycles” initiated by researchers result in no decision.

4 Qualifiers for Handling Researchers
Inbound inquiries from prospects that have done extensive research more closely resemble bottom-up vs. top-down selling approaches. Best practice selling would target higher levels as entry points. This allows early qualification (or disqualification) of opportunities.

Here are questions to consider if and when knowledgeable researchers ask sellers to get involved:

  1. Are Key Players in the organization aware research has been done?
  2. What business goals have been identified?
  3. Has budget been allocated?
  4. Has a cost vs. benefit sanity check been done?

I agree that it’s possible for product evaluations to be 80% complete before sellers are involved. However if the 4 questions above cannot be answered affirmatively, how can 80% of buying activities be complete?

Take a look at the sales training workshops available to you.