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94% = Enterprise Buying Teams That Have Abandoned a Buying Effort With No Decision (in the past 2 years)

by Hank Barnes  |  September 20, 2016  |  Submit a Comment

The bold headline comes from our most recent Gartner survey into Enterprise Buying Dynamics.   We run this survey approximately every 18 months to understand what influences enterprise technology buyers and how they approach these buying efforts.

Let me be clear, this is not saying that 94% of the projects that B2B buying teams consider end without a purchase.  If a respondent was involved in 10 projects and one of them ended in no decision-in the last two years, then they are part of this 94% number.

It is saying that 94% of our respondents have started down a buying path and then decided to do nothing.   The message: it is far from uncommon for significant buying efforts (where the organization was seriously contemplating change) to end without no action at all.

Note: For Gartner clients, our first two research notes that dive into the results in detail just published

Tech Go-to-Market: Complex Technology Buying Dynamics Mandate Account-Based Strategies for TSPs

Tech Go-to-Market: Trust Drives the B2B Technology Buying Cycle (This is a significant update to the earlier research in this area)

The overall impression of the survey reinforced our recent recommendations to tech providers that their marketing and selling approach has to be driven by increased awareness of the customer’s situation.  And nothing bears that out as dramatically as the headline of this post.

If you are skeptical of the information (even with my early clarification), you are not alone.  When we have shared the data internally, the immediate reaction is “Wow, that is a lot.”  The next question was often: “but does it include situations where the respondent casually investigated a product/service and decided not to pursue it further.  That happens all the time.”  Our analysis of the survey results leads me to believe that this assumption is not the case.

Here is why.   In order to qualify for the survey, respondents (there were 508 from around the world–an approximate 50/50 mix of business and IT roles–in medium to large businesses) had to indicate that they had been involved in a significant technology purchase effort (over $25K or 50K in value) in the last 12 months.  In general, the respondents had been involved in multiple projects in the past 12 months. Those in IT roles tended to be involved in more projects.

Therefore, the context of the survey was “real” buying efforts.   And all of the other survey questions aligned to that foundation (e.g. things like the number of people involved, leadership, activity mix).

The specific question that exposed the 94% number was:

Over the past 2 years what have been the top causes for cancelling or stopping a technology buying cycle without completing the purchase at all (regardless of provider)?  (note: we extended this context to a 24 month period).

The respondents were given choices, with the ability to select up to three.  The graphic below shows the “reasons” for cancellation:


As you can see, the reasons for “doing nothing” are quite varied.  In some cases, it is about the providers—they have not presented a compelling case for change.  In other cases, budget issues arise or internal conflicts stymie efforts.

But the bottom line is it happens in nearly every organization.   Make no mistake.  These enterprises are buying many technologies.  But they often have efforts that are abandoned–ended with no purchase being made.   The case for change loses to the status quo.

I have written about this before.

  • Exerting the effort to thoroughly consider an enterprise technology purchase is costly (another fact from our survey is that tech buying teams typically have 13-15 people actively or occasionally participating throughout the process)–for both the technology buyer and the providers that try to win the business.  Abandoning the effort, while often a valid decision, typically means that someone’s, or everyone’s, time and resources have been wasted, at least to some degree. While, we can always learn from effort and building trust and exposure is always a good thing, the level of cost and time spent on a legitimate buying effort may to be too high if the only outcome is added trust and exposure.
  • Your real competition is often not your competitors.  You are fighting against the status quo, budget, or other projects.   You are also competing against the enterprise’s own ability to buy.   Enterprise buying is hard and many enterprises don’t have clear processes and procedures that they follow consistently. They may have procurement rules, but those on the team may not know them and may not know how to drive to a successful buying decision.

94% is a big number.   And no matter how you interpret it, it  matters and bears repeating.  Most enterprise buyers have gone down a buying path, recently, and decided that going nowhere was a better choice.

As technology marketers and sellers, we must recognize that abandoned efforts happen a lot.  And we must include in our sales and marketing efforts a focus on trying to understand if this could happen to the project we are pursuing.    The only way to do that is to work to build a deep understanding of the enterprise situation.  What are the priorities?  What are the other projects being considered?  What are the other projects already underway?  A failure to uncover this could often mean you are wasting time on efforts that will go nowhere.    Prioritize your time and effort.

In upcoming posts, I’ll be exploring some other survey results that build on this information and also go in other directions.  For Gartner clients, a reminder that we have research published about this (again, see above for the first published research)–and more coming–as well as the ability to explore via inquiry.

Have you been a part of the 94% where prospective buyers decided, “we will do nothing.”?



Category: go-to-market  

Tags: buying-process  competition  marketing  no-decision  sales  

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

Hank Barnes provides research and advisory services on go-to-market strategies for technology providers. He focuses on issues related to positioning, storytelling, the technology customer life cycle, and customer experience. Read Full Bio

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