A few years back, the good folks at CEB, now Gartner, unleashed one of the most well-known stats in B2B sales.
The average B2B buyer is 57% through the purchase decision before engaging a supplier sales rep.
This stat has become repeated so often, I’m afraid its meaning has been misunderstood, misrepresented and severely diluted.
Taken at face value, we all know what stat means: It’s an average. Not a wide-sweeping, applies-to-all fact. Just an average.
So now what’s happening? Companies are embracing that stat like it’s gospel, going wild with marketing investments to create an abundance of content matched to the buyer’s journey. It’s like everyone is saying “Well, apparently this is how customers are buying now, so this is what we have to do.”
But what companies cannot do is shift their entire sales and marketing focus to this because an over-reliance on content marketing can create a lot of ‘leads’, but few that are truly sales-ready. This is exactly what leads to the bickering between marketing and sales (the infamous ‘gap that needs to be bridged’).
What does this really mean?
Actually, gaining an understanding of what this stat DOESN’T mean is where you’ll find the pot of gold.
It doesn’t mean is that EVERY company is 57% down the buying path.
As mentioned before, the 57% is an average and not a given. Some companies may be 95% along the way, while others may be 10-20%.
For example, in an established market like CRM or ERP there is a lot of content and commoditization of features out there. A company can very well decide to buy a new CRM, establish a project team, do research and quickly get to a short list of 3-5 potential vendors. By the time they invite sales people to the conversation, opinions are formed and they could very well be 85% down the road. On the other hand, perhaps a new VP of Sales was hired and she recognizes a need to better forecast visibility, so they are just 20% along the way.
It doesn’t mean that every company or buyer wants to wait until they are 57% down the path before talking to a sales person.
Just because they don’t engage a sales person doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be inclined to do so. In fact, what if they don’t even really understand the solution to their problem? How would they find you (or any other vendor) if they had no clue which product or service they need?
Think about this VERY common scenario: Your company has a challenge, but instead of fixing the root cause, someone creates a ‘workaround’ that eventually becomes the norm—the process becomes part of your company’s culture. If no one presents a true solution, the inefficient process will remain.
Using the CRM example above, perhaps the struggle is a sales forecast report rolled up in an Excel spreadsheet. Because the workaround process is so manual, it is riddled with errors and unreliability but they tolerate it because they are too busy with other priorities. When someone finally helps them solve the problem, they will kick themselves for not having fixed it sooner!
This is a perfect scenario where a CRM sales person would be welcomed as a savior for helping solve their problem. If the sales person didn’t reach out, however, they would likely continue with their makeshift workaround for far too long.
It doesn’t mean they have an established “buyers journey” for you to map to.
The reality is that every company has plenty of problems, challenges and opportunities to improve. However, folks like Steven Covey and Gino Wickman (Author of “Traction”) have long stated that companies fail because they try to prioritize TOO MANY things. Meaning, your prospects may be struggling with the very problem your solution addresses, but are too focused on the Meaningless Many instead of the Critical Few and aren’t following a purchase path at all.
In other words, THERE IS NO BUYER’S JOURNEY! This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call “an opportunity”.
So what do you do?
Option one: Create the Buyer’s Journey
Most buyers don’t wake up in the morning saying “Hey, I need to buy one of these today!” But I bet they are struggling with the very issues your solution routinely addresses. If that is the case, THERE IS NO BUYER’S JOURNEY TO ALIGN TO.
Combine picking up the damn phone with digital (email) and social outreach to introduce them to your solution and get them thinking differently about their challenge.
Option two: Intercept the Buyer’s journey
If you combine picking up the damn phone with digital (email) and social outreach to engage the buyer and you do so in an account that happens to be in the process of solving that problem, you have the opportunity to reshape their evaluation and thought process.
Do you see the common theme here? Whether the prospect is 10% or 57% of the way down the path, you are always better off engaging sooner versus later. The earlier you get to the prospect, the more able you are to control the process and influence the business requirements.
Sure, marketing content can help educate your prospects if they are searching for a solution, but let’s not wait around for a client to get to that 57%. Let’s not assume they will find us when they are ready. Instead, assume they have no idea you or your solution exists. Remember that you, the sales person, are there to help solve their problems.
Pick up the phone and GO GET ‘EM. (I mean, go HELP them…)