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Time for Sales (and the Organizations Behind Them) to Step Up

by Hank Barnes  |  September 3, 2013  |  2 Comments

Is the idea of buyers completing a significant part of their journey without contacting a sales person effectively “The Death of the SalesMan”? 

It is likely, if you are in B2B sales and marketing, that you have seen the statistics that talk about buyers completing anywhere from 57% (from Sales Executive Council) to 75% (from varied sources) of their purchase process before engaging with a sales person.  Part of this is driven by the amount of information that is readily available for buyers to find through the Internet and the Social Web.   As a result, buyers don’t need to talk to sales to get useful information on products and services.

From a selling standpoint, this would be wonderful if you are confident that:

  •  the right information about your company, products, and services is available in the places where buyers are looking.
  • the information can be found among the waves of other material competing for attention
  • the information communicated your story in an accurate, compelling way (usually it doesn’t as I described last week).

If this all worked, then your sales cycles would be shorter, easier, and growth would be all but assured.

Fat Chance.

Additionally, this does not mean sales can shift the blame to marketing, claiming they have responsibility for addressing the buyer issues from beginning of the buying process until the 57 to 75% range.  Nor should they should be content to engage when the buyer wants, as Dave Brock so passionately described in this blog post (one of several great posts Dave has written on this topic–just search for the category “Insight Selling” on his site).

The real message in this trend is that avoiding sales for the bulk of the buying cycle is a cry for change – in sales (and for everything that around it).


As I’ve shared before, the buying cycle is not linear.  Buyers work in a series of parallel activity streams with different ones having priority at various points in time (with those priorities changing frequently).

What sales (and marketing) need to do is understand what stream is top of mind for a buyer and  provide, or guide them to, information that addresses the issues in that stream.   If it also, in a supporting way, addresses other streams, great.  But if those other streams are the focus of the information, the buyer will be frustrated and disengage.  For example, when sales calls a buyer to tell them how great their product is, and the buyer is not even exploring ways to solve a need or address an opportunity that the product is a fit for, it is simply an undesired interruptions and a waste of time.

We recently surveyed roughly 500 B2B buyers of information technology and services, across a broad range of IT and business roles.   The number one most influential marketing activity was direct interactions with providers (followed by references).  Furthermore, almost 20% of those people indicated they found these interactions to be extremely important in the early stages of the buying process.   This is particularly true of aggressive technology buyers (something we will be exploring in future research notes).

There is a note of caution here that supports the cry for change.  Most of these buyers did not value interactions with sales people–instead they wanted to interact with industry and technical experts. We explore this in detail in a new note, “Tech Go-to-Market:  Sales Organizations Need to Upgrade Skills and Processes to Meet Buyer Expectations” (subscription/fee required).  This is part of the second wave of research from our Future of IT Sales special report.  More information can be found here.

The reality is buyers want to make good decisions.  And they look for information, and people (in their organization, in peer communities, on social networks, and yes–in vendor sales teams) that can help them down that path–whenever they can get value.

Add value and buyers will welcome engagement early in their buying process.   Rehash information they have already found, pitch products before they are ready, or waste their times in other ways and you’ll be relegated to the late in the cycle engagement–if you get to participate at all.

In the note referenced, we outline a four part action plan that requires cooperation across sales and marketing to adapt to the new environment.  The gist of that plan is to enhance skills to identify where buyers are in their process, engage with then through more comfortable channels (social, etc.) to gain permission for access, and make sure you share information that is relevant to the activity streams that are top of mind.

We’ll be continuing to explore how sales and marketing need to adapt behaviors to attract buyers interest in engaging earlier in their cycles in future blogs and research notes.

Sales is far from dead—it just needs to change.

What do you think?  Are you willing to wait for that late in the cycle call? Or to engage earlier using old techniques that buyers abhor?

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Category: future-of-sales  go-to-market  

Tags: buying-cycle  guide  sales  

Hank Barnes
VP Distinguished Analyst
6+ years at Gartner
30+ years IT Industry

Hank Barnes explores the dynamics, challenges, and frustrations enterprises face when buying technology products and services. Using that customer-centric lens, he advises those responsible for marketing technology products and services, general managers responsible for product portfolios, and startup CEOs on next practices to drive success for their customers and their business. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Time for Sales (and the Organizations Behind Them) to Step Up

  1. Dave Brock says:

    Hank, outstanding post! Clearly, this represents a tremendous opportunity for sales to offer real leadership. In truth, we create the greatest value in the earlier parts of the customer buying process. Helping the customer recognize the need and value to change, helping them analyze, define, and manage their problem resolution and buying processes.

    In a time when it’s difficult to sustain product differentiation, the differentiation we create in the buying process is that which is most unique and most valued by customers.

    Thanks for a great post, thanks for the “shout out” on my post. Regards, Dave

  2. […] ← Time for Sales (and the Organizations Behind Them) to Step Up […]

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