Last week, I attended the CEB Sales and Marketing Summit. This was my first chance to see my new colleagues in action, with clients. The event was excellent, with a great spirit of collaboration that develops based on the model of leadership councils. I will be sharing some of my thoughts from the event in a few upcoming blogs, starting with this one.
I share a passion for understanding the challenges that B2B companies face when making buying decisions. Its fundamental to becoming a more effective B2B provider. And the research from the event continues to shine a light on the challenges for buyers. Yes they have more power, more information, and more knowledge. But they also have more people wanting input into the detail, more uncertainty about what information to trust, and more challenges building consensus.
In fact, as the figure below shows, on average, it takes B2B buying teams twice as long as they anticipate to complete a purchase decision!
Furthermore, and this is really important, it also takes them almost the same amount of time to make a purchase as it does to decide to do nothing (see figure).
Both of these facts are alarming–and not just for vendors. For B2B buying teams, it means that they are likely spending twice as much to make a buying decision—spending valuable resources that could be applied elsewhere. And, in many cases (our research shows that 94% of buying teams have made the “no decision” decision), they are spending resources that ultimately result in nothing. A case could be made that something was learned during the no decision experience, but I suspect that, in many cases, it was just an inability to get everyone to agree to progress, with little true, reusable knowledge gained.
I spoke to one attendee about this. She was in a sales enablement leadership role for a large financial institution and spoke about when the shoe was on her foot–trying to purchase technology for her organization. The frustration in her voice was palpable when she described a purchase that took two years. I asked when she knew the direction that she wanted to go. It turns out that her team knew what they wanted after about 3 months. It then took another 21 months to get everyone else on board and jump through all the organizational hoops to make it happen. One of the most challenging parts for her—the vendor risk assessment. But there were other challenges. And, there was not much her preferred vendor could do about it with traditional tactics. Discounting would not help. More demos would not help. Special terms would not help. More competitive positioning would not help. The “battle” was against organizational inertia and process complexity.
Some of these buying challenges can’t be solved by vendors, but there may be ways to help. If, we as vendors, can identify buying challenges that other customers have experienced and learn how they overcome them, we can take that to prospects. We can recognize that just because we’ve convinced they buying team of the value of changing, we have not done it for all the influential parties. To help, we can provide tools to our supporters that make the case for change–and highlight the opportunity costs of delays. We can offer to accelerate things by running activity streams in parallel, building momentum in multiple areas versus trying a sequential approach.
To accelerate our sales cycles, we need to help customers ease the pain of buying. It won’t be easy, but it’s a critical focus area.