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Urgency and the Buying Process

by Hank Barnes  |  December 12, 2017  |  Submit a Comment

In order for B2B customers to make buying decisions, there has to be a reason to change.  But beyond that, to go through the buying effort, which is non-trivial, there needs to be urgency.     Many providers struggle to deal with this.   Our tech go-to-market team frequently takes inquiries from clients asking to help them figure out how to deal with, and try to change, a pattern of lengthening sales processes, delayed decisions, and buyer apathy.  The issue is urgency–not for you, but for your customers.  Their need to make a change…now (or soon).

Source: Redd Angelo from

Source: Redd Angelo from

There are 4 categories of urgency that come to mind for me–in order of opportunity value for a provider being legitimately considered.

  • Buyer Acknowledged Urgency –  This is a situation where they buyer understands and is committed to change.  I spoke to one company in the recent past who made a decision to purchase an employee performance management system in 4 days!  How/Why? Because their board mandated that a system be in place by the start of the new year.  If not, the repercussions would be significant.  These are often the source of “bluebirds” and your best approach, once you know the customer has this urgency, is to make it as easy as possible for them to buy.  And quickly.
  • Buyer Unrecognized Urgency – This fits the ideas of Challenger and commercial insight.  It occurs when a provider helps a potential customer recognize the impact of their current situation and the cost of a failure to change.   When you help your customer understand this, and they accept it as being unacceptable, you’ve created a competitive advantage in your selling effort.
  • Provider Forced Urgency (Legitimate) – This is more about customer retention than acquisition, but sometimes vendors force urgency on customers by changes they make in their business, such as ending the life of a product or making changes to a SaaS offer.  This urgency can frustrate buyers (I shared a #FridayFails post on LI from John Marrett, who was put in an untenable situation through forced urgency), particularly when communications are lacking and adequate time to prepare is not available.  But it is the reality of business sometimes.   For providers, the key here is not to minimize the likelihood of this putting customers in a bad situation that they can not manage.  If you do, you may have created buyer acknowledged urgency–but they will take that urgency to your competitors.
  • Provider Forced Urgency (Artificial) – This is the worst form of urgency.   It occurs when providers create urgency through artificial deadlines.   We are in the season of this where “end of year discounts” are prevalent.   Artificial urgency, while it can spur deals, typically gets relationships off on the wrong foot, particularly if applied when there is limited other motivation for buying.    Buyers are aware of this tactic and sometimes use it to their advantage (getting discounts even when they would have bought anyway).

Given these categories (there may be more), the two that providers should focus on the most are in the middle.   They should work to develop insights that make a case for urgency to get projects prioritized higher –this is an area I will be exploring in research for clients early in 2018.  And when they are forcing change, they should be conscious of how to do this in a way that is fair and reasonable for the customer, providing communications, options, and advice early enough that the customer can plan for the change.


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Category: go-to-market  

Tags: buying-cycle  customer-experience  marketing-effectiveness  messaging  sales-effectiveness  urgency  

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

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