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What is a Shortlist Anymore?

by Hank Barnes  |  February 12, 2019  |  Submit a Comment

As Gartner continues to explore the world of B2B buying, we’ve noticed a phenomenom that is perplexing, compelling, and informative.

For years, people have talked about shortlists. “We’ve built our shortlist of vendors to consider.” “We’re on the shortlist.”   In short (apologies), the shortlist was a signal that buyers were closing in on a decision.

Well, that concept, at least in its simple, traditional form is gone.   In most cases, while the shortlist may exist; it isn’t what it used to be.

Late in 2017, in a survey of people involved in significant B2B technology purchases, we asked if, after creating a shortlist, they ever added vendors to it.  The responses were surprising:


Only 10% of the respondents did not change their shortlist after it was created.  48% added vendors most of the time or every time.

Here is what we think is happening.   The short-list is really more like a river.

Photo by Sindre Strøm from Pexels

Photo by Sindre Strøm from Pexels

  • Buying teams start their exploration with a few vendors in mind (they may not call this a short-list, but in some ways it is);
  • As they research, they uncover more options, expanding the list;
  • They then narrow it down (the first short-list);
  • As they research more–other vendors are discovered (by their peers or recommended by experts or through their own research) or new requirements emerge and the short-list expands;
  • Further research suggests others ways to solve the problem, and new lists (branches) are created;
  • And it progresses until confidence builds and a decision needs to be made;
  • Or, they get so confused and uncertain they decide to do nothing.

The meandering shortlist delays decisions, causes buying teams to revisit prior research, and  may indicate a crisis of confidence.

From the vendor perspective, there are several implications.   First, being on the shortlist may not be as crucial as it was.   If you get there, you need to do everything you can to build confidence across the team and help them complete their research so they don’t turn up alternatives.   If you aren’t on the shortlist, you can get on it by making a compelling case for your approach versus others.   In this case, be sure to try to uncover where the gaps in knowledge or confidence are that are driving the buying team to look for other options.  You might discover some must-have requirements that aren’t being met.

Have you experienced the shortlist that isn’t, both negatively (“where did that deal go”) and positively (“they were late in the buying process, but we got them to consider us”)?

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Category: go-to-market  

Tags: b2b-buying  buying-process  short-list  vendor-strategies  

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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