Blog post

The Effort Effectiveness Crisis

By Hank Barnes | November 08, 2022 | 0 Comments

tech buying behavioral insightsgo-to-market

I like to row.  Indoors., although I’d love to find an opportunity to rent or borrow a scull and try my hands at the water.   This month in any fitness gym that has rowing is known as “Row-vember”–with a goal to get as many meters as you can (and lose some weight and improve my blood pressure).   Between rowing at home with my favorite app, Asensei, and rowing at the  Total Row Fitness studio near me, I am hoping to row well over 250, 000 meters this month.   I do pretty good on time and distance challenges for a 59 year old as well.

When you listen to a great rowing coach, the thing you hear over and over is “don’t waste energy.”  They way you do that with rowing is with better technique, where you get the maximum distance from each stroke without wasted effort.  Bad form wastes a lot of energy.   The more you practice good form, the better you become (and the more you’ll enjoy rowing, BTW).  The effectiveness of effort really matters.

In the B2B world I work in, we are living in an effort effectiveness crisis.  Whether you are marketing and selling or on the other side buying, the vast majority of people and organizations are wasting energy.

Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU via

On the buying side, this is the real story behind all of our research on regret.  I don’t want to question the effort of buying teams–I’m sure they are all working hard, but what we see are things like:

  • Orgs that pursue more buying opportunities cancel more and often do less work with each one.   They are trying to do too much.
  • As buying gets distributed and more and more people are involved that don’t buy regularly, or for whom it is not their day job, we see less effectiveness.  They don’t research properly; they get overwhelmed with information; and they have lots of delays.   And rather than dig deeper, they often pull back.  I blogged about this a bit with regard to expectations recently.
  • They may even be buying “begrudgingly” (almost like doing that 3 to 5 minute row in a bigger fitness routine because it is part of the class) and not worried too much about form or effectiveness–they just want to be done.

On the marketing and sales front, we see similar behaviors:

  • We use tools to help us send out more and more messages, even more targeted messages, but we don’t do enough to research and understand those targets to make each message more effective.  The tyranny of more is a plague that contributes to the effort effectiveness crisis.
  • We seek to simply and standardize in the quest for scale, but don’t take the time to make sure we are scaling great behaviors.
  • We get ahead of ourselves and swarm to any expression of customer interest–assuming they are in a buying cycle when often they just want to learn.

My friend, Dave Brock, recently shared a post in the same vein as this message.  It is well worth a read – “You Have To Make Your Number With Only 50% Of Your Current Prospecting Calls!” He talks of treating this as a thought experiment to explore how your behavior might change if you did less prospecting or needed to generate less leads.  Well worth the time, if your company supports you spending time being curious and thinking critically (but that is a story for a different day).

With the issues happening on both sides, I think it is important to try to figure out why.   I do think our move to a “soundbite information economy” is a contributing factor.  More and more people are exposed to short form content or compelling headlines and just take them on face value.   I’ll be honest, Gartner contributes to this.   Not with “bad clickbait”, but we look for headlines that capture attention and really want people to dig deeper into the research behind it.  But statements like “79% of enterprise buyers regret their biggest purchase”, “44% of buyers would prefer to never interact with a sales rep”. “57% of the buying process is complete before buyers engage with sales”, and more are often taken at face value.  The real insights come behind the headlines.

In the old days (I can’t believe I just typed that and will leave it in–I am getting older), headlines of this type triggered deep exploration.   People wanted to understand the full context of the research and the implications.  Today, many jump to conclusions–and often the wrong ones.   Most of my conversations with regret generally start with “Vendors much be screwing up” when it is mostly driven by issues within the buying organization.  The 57% number resulted in many companies looking at adjusting their sales approach based on that vs. figuring out what value they needed to add to make buyers want to engage earlier.    To play the generation card a bit more, our research shows that younger generations tend to prefer more surface exploration and short form content.    Older ones research in more depth.   Hmmm.  Unless those younger folks work in organizations that are effective at buying.  Then, they actually change their behavior and research more thoroughly.

While I’ve applied this to the world of B2B tech, I think the lessons could be taken to other places.  And again, I would not call this lack of effort.  It is more like too much effort spread too thin with too much wasted energy on the wrong things.

Can we counter it?   I think so, but it takes time and, well, effective effort.  We have to encourage and coach broadly on critical thinking.   We need to encourage people that are looking at a problem to explore it from many dimensions–and involve others who offer different perspectives.  When I’m asked who should be on the buying team for tech, my answer is now build a team of folks that are directly impacted, indirectly impacted, and whose help is required to deploy successfully and get value.   Then give them tasks that align to that involvement and that expertise.

The same with selling and marketing.  Take Dave’s challenge.  Put more effort into a robust Enterprise Persona (our team for an ideal customer profile of the orgs you target).   Do research on your key prospects to understand their business challenges, opportunities, and market dynamics.   Look for eye catching headlines and then dig deeper.

While there is a crisis, there is a portion of the market, both buyers and sellers, that are doing this already.  Our buyers that are less likely to regret pursue less projects, but put in more thorough and thoughtful work.  They don’t waste time pursuing ever piece of information from every vendor–they focus their efforts and engage deeply with their lead vendor.  They have more diverse buying teams–involving more functions–to get their perspectives and cover their bases.

My headline for them (these are the folks on the front end of the new chasm) is  “More Thorough, More Focused, and More Disciplined.”  If you saw that headline and went no further, you probably think “ugh, I don’t want those prospects, they will take longer to buy.”

But the reality is they take an average of 7 to 10 months less to buy.  They have less no decisions.  And they are more likely to expand.

With all the advances in technology, with the growing comfort with technology, and with the logical move to put more decision making power closer to the people most impacted by decisions; this should be the golden age of technology.     But we won’t get there if we don’t confront the Effort Effectiveness Crisis.  It is not lack of effort.  It is about learning “good form” and maximizing the effectiveness of your effort.

If we do, we’ll all be a little better off as a result.

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

Leave a Comment