Yes, Sales Reps Still Matter to B2B Buyers: 6 Takeaways from #SDSummit 2015

Did you know that one of the most frequently cited statistics in sales – that 70% of the buyer’s journey happens before an interaction with a salesperson – is inaccurate?

The original statistic, which came from global B2B research and advisory firm SiriusDecisions, actually said nothing about interactions with salespeople. Their research simply showed that “67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally.”

Even so, it’s easy to see how people made the leap to assume that B2B buyers were ready to cut salespeople out of the equation. But SiriusDecisions heard themselves misquoted so frequently that they conducted another study to dig into the implications of their original research.

At the SiriusDecisions Summit last week, analysts Jennifer Ross and Marisa Kopec discussed results from the firm’s new survey, which reflected responses from 1,000 B2B executives who were involved in a significant B2B purchase decision within the past six months. The data represents an estimated half-billion dollars in B2B purchases across North America and Europe.

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Yes, Sales Reps Still Matter

The research challenges the assumption that today’s sales reps have little influence over the B2B buyer’s journey – despite the fact that buyers are unquestionably researching and buying B2B offerings online. In fact, Ross and Kopec revealed that salespeople were involved at every stage of the buying cycle. In addition, deals required an almost equal number of both digital and human touches to move the buyer along.

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Further, the level of seller engagement depended largely on price point and buying scenario. The bigger the deal was, the bigger the buying committee, and the more necessary it was to involve a sales rep.

The research reframes how we’ve come to think about the buying process in the years since the original statistic got misinterpreted. It also helps categorize the frequency and types of interactions – from human engagement to digital asset consumption – that turn a prospect into a customer.

6 Takeaways from SiriusDecisions Summit 2015

While there’s no magic formula for winning a customer, the research illustrated the strength of a multi-touch, highly varied approach. For example, consider some of the more interesting takeaways and data points from Ross and Kopec.

Takeaway #1: While the buying process, from awareness to purchase is “linear,” the consumption of content and research is “episodic.” For example, a buyer might use search, attend a conference and then watch a video. Such activities do not reliably correlate to a specific buying stage.

Takeaway #2: A single buyer’s journey does not exist. There are actually three distinct buying scenarios. Each is defined largely by purchase price.

  • The committee buying scenario is phased, hierarchical and tiered. It typically involves a six-month sales cycle for deals greater than $500K.
  • The consensus buying scenario is team-based or cross-functional. The purchase cycle takes less than six months and involves deals of anywhere from $50 to $500K.
  • The independent buying scenario does not rely on a committee and occurs in a matter of weeks. These scenarios are typical for transactional deals that cost around $50K or less.

Takeaway #3: The price point of the product offering affects whether the interaction is non-human (digital) or human-to-human (salespeople). As price increases, human interactions increase.

Takeaway #4: The top 5 “most impactful content types” during the sales cycle include the following.

  1. Sales presentations
  2. Analyst reports (no surprise there)
  3. Case studies
  4. Articles/publications
  5. Static brochures

Takeaway #5: Marketers can feel confident about their investment in multi-touch and nurture campaigns; B2B marketers typically facilitate 11 to 17 distinct buyer interactions to enable the purchase of an offering.

Takeaway #6: There is no competition between non-human digital sales versus salespeople. Companies should focus on how digital interactions work together with salespeople. Pay attention to how digital sales functions and salespeople facilitate the interactions that help move buyers through each stage, from education to purchase.

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Kopec and Ross closed with this advice.

  • Marketing, you need to know your personas and understand their interactions. That is the role of digital in the buying process.
  • Sales, your process should align with the buying scenario. The bigger the price point, the earlier you should be engaging with various members of the buying committee.

Are Your Digital and Human Interactions Aligned?

At 6sense, we’ve found that most companies aren’t yet aware of how well their digital and human interactions are aligned. Consider these facts and questions based on our case studies.

  • 90% of your website visitors remain anonymous and won’t complete your forms. So how much do know about who’s on that buying committee? Who is influencing the purchase decision?
  • You might know that certain companies are reading your blog or signing up for your webinars. But where else are they getting information about you? What are they searching for? Which products are they looking at and why? What’s their pain?
  • How are you able to tie together all your prospects’ interactions to better inform your buyer personas? Are you able to get a clear picture of when your prospects are likely to buy so you can optimize your content design and get higher ROI from your campaigns?
  • Does your sales team have all the intelligence it needs to engage with prospects early and speak to their needs?

If you’re struggling with responses to any or all of these questions, you need to demystify your own marketing and sales processes. This can be accomplished more easily than you might think, as long as you have the right predictive tools to help you.

How so? During their research phase, buyers leave a rich digital footprint of what they want and need. By tying billions of rows of customer data together with time-based, structured and unstructured intent data from search engines, trade publications, blogs, forums and communities, we can predict which customers are highly likely to buy; who is in the buying committee; what products they want and need; and when they are likely to buy.

Find out how 6sense helps companies like Cisco, NetApp, VMware, Lenovo use data to engage with buyers early and get ahead of their competition. Contact us to learn more.

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