The buying world has changed. B2B buyers are no longer working primarily through sales representatives to navigate purchases. In fact, Gartner’s most recent B2B buyer survey shows that 75% of buyers prefer a rep-free experience and 68% made a recent significant purchase without traditional rep assistance. At the same time, B2B buyers are 20% more likely to regret purchases made through digital channels alone.
Organizations are catching up to buyer preferences. They are increasingly combining Sales and Marketing efforts to deliver a multichannel purchase experience. Sales and Marketing leaders frequently work together to deliver consistent information across channels, make the purchase experience easy and seamless, and move the customer quickly toward a transaction. In fact, according to a recent Gartner sales survey, heads of sales deem aligning commercial functions, such as sales and marketing, as their top priority for 2023.
While many organizations have made considerable progress in this respect, our research shows that optimizing toward seamlessness and buying ease is actually not the optimal goal.
So what is the optimal goal for commercial organizations?
In our recent Unified Commercial Strategy research effort, we set out to explore customer purchase journeys. We uncovered a set of factors, or different customer perceptions that define how a customer sees, engages with and responds to a multi-channel brand.
From this analysis, we found three coordinated multi-channel paths customers can take that have an impact on commercial outcomes. It is important to note that these paths are not mutually exclusive.
- Seamless Path – The seamless path provides a consistent experience across channels. It gets the buyer from Point A to B as quickly as possible. It is efficient. It has no friction. This is most like how the majority of companies are working today, with speed as the most important objective.
- Prescriptive Path – The prescriptive path involves the organization providing buyers with personalized recommendations. These recommendations consider buyer needs, preferences, and past interactions. The organization is using their knowledge to essentially tell the buyer what to do and ease the burden of decision making.
- Learning Path – The learning path helps buyers deepen their understanding of how to accomplish their goals. The organization provides information and guidance to help buyers apply previous experience, recognize potential mistakes, identify alternative approaches, evaluate progress, and reflect on goals.
The seamless and prescriptive paths have no significant impact on customers buying more than expected. In fact, the only path that makes a significant difference in buying more than expected is the Learning Path. The Learning path leads to a 147% increase in buying more, which means making a more bespoke or expansive purchase (e.g. an upsell, cross-sell, or return to an abandoned transaction). When buyers realize something new about their own needs and goals, they are 16% more likely to have high decision confidence. Decision confidence results in a higher likelihood of completing a high-quality deal. In other words, buying more means the best deal for the supplier in the short and long term.
So what does this mean for commercial organizations?
The whole commercial organization plays a crucial role in guiding customers down this learning path. But neither Sales nor Marketing can guide customers along this learning path alone. Consider the current state of integration; a recent 2023 CSO strategy survey showed that 62% of respondents describe their sales and marketing functions as defining qualified leads differently. This is a major disconnect for a crucial data definition at the crux of integration. These breaks in integration need to be fixed to facilitate a smoother customer understanding and learning experience. And the time to act is now. Organizations that report aligning cross-functional KPIs are nearly 3 times more likely to exceed their new customer acquisition targets. So, slow down to speed up together, by focusing on the customer learning path.
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