On May 14, SiriusDecisions released findings from its 2015 B-to-B Buyer Study, making quite a splash in the process. One of their findings puts a dent in a commonly used statistic used to highlight the changing nature of the seller-buyer relationship.
Specifically, their research supports the idea that buyers do, in fact, engage with salespeople throughout the entire B2B sales process. As one sales consultant commented, the study “breaks the myth that buyer’s today are 67% of the way through their buying process before engaging with a salesperson, and that it’s fruitless to cold call and proactively pursue prospects.”
This is an important finding, as several research studies do in fact indicate that customers are taking on more and more of the buying process on their own without necessarily engaging with salespeople. A number of sales side coaches and consultants jumped on the news claiming victory in their quest to demonstrate the importance of proactive sales in the process.
I freely admit that I regularly highlight some of these studies, so if it turns out the data we base much of our go-to-market approaches on are wrong, then it’s important that we change. So I’ve spent considerable time reviewing what I can get of the study (full disclosure: I have not seen the study, nor have I found anyone to give any real specifics about it) and assessing what, if any, impact this new data has on the approach we implement and recommend to our clients.
There are a variety of studies highlighting how customers have changed their approach as a result of the impact of the Internet. The 67% statistic that is being referred to relates to a study that SiriusDecisions released in 2013 where they claimed, “67% of the buyer’s journey is now being done digitally.”
There have, however, been other studies that preceded SiriusDecision’s 2013 report and have followed it as well. The study that I often refer to is one from CEB, originally conducted in 2011 and updated in 2013. That study claimed “57% of a typical purchase decision is made before a customer even talks to a supplier.” In 2013 that number was revised to be 65%.
I’ve since seen research from several other firms and others that align with the research from CEB. So, apparently we now have several reputable research firms that present research findings that dispute each other…or do we?
Again with the disclaimer that I have not seen the source report from SiriusDecisions, at first blush I do not think these two studies are as opposing as they first appear.
The 2015 B-to-B Buyer Study states:
“The new way to think about b-to-b buying is that human interactions still occur and matter, and that the rise of digital marketing doesn’t mean those interactions go away.”
Okay, I get that. What I find most interesting about that finding is how absolutely, unremarkable it is. I’ve never thought any differently, nor to my knowledge has CEB or any other original research firm that studies the issue.
The CEB study does not say:
- Customers refuse to talk to salespeople early in the process.
- Outbound sales techniques don’t work.
- Strategic targeting of prospects is fruitless.
It simply states what is obvious to most. That customers today do not need salespeople like they once did, and that the way they assess problems, vet solutions and buy has changed radically. I don’t know many people that would disagree with this sentiment (even those claiming death to the previous research).
The Problem Is The Pundits Not The Research
I will agree with the words of Mike Weinberg that this should be the death knell to “these nouveau ‘experts’ … who have been pushing the social selling Kool-Aid” saying there is no reason to reach out to prospects and that you should wait for your phone to ring.
Far too many pundits have misused the research to push their services, and tell low-performing salespeople what they want to hear. That, however, does not invalidate the research.
Why This Matters To Your Business
I was not planning on writing about this subject again. I shared my thoughts in a popular post, “To Sell or Not To Sell,” and in a LinkedIn post about why you should care. I realize that for a lot of people reading this post, the debate may seem a little to “inside baseball” with little relevance to what you’re doing on a day-to-day basis to drive sales growth.
However as I saw the prevalence of blog posts and comments about the subject I saw that the same mistake being made by the “social selling nouveau” was being made by sales advisors. Just because selling (and sellers) still matter early in the sales process, doesn’t mean that you can simply ignore how the buyer has changed behaviors!
Weinberg, and others, point out that they work with “several companies in various industries that are experiencing record sales performance. The main driver of success? Salespeople are strategically targeting and proactively pursuing potential clients before they’re a lead, before they’re shopping.”
Having talked with Weinberg I don’t doubt for a second that this is true. Though I’d also ask what else those companies are doing to support that strategic engagement.
I also don’t doubt that there are salespeople out there who are good, aggressive, persistent and disciplined enough that they can overcome a weak lead generation and lead management system to meet or even blow away their quotas. If you’re an executive, the problem with this approach is that those salespeople are very hard to find, are very expensive and are not scalable.
Additionally, even if you are hiring these people, why would you want to put the entire weight of growth on your sales team? The better your sales team, the bigger the payoff is to leveraging all of the tools in your kit.
Whether or not the salesperson is able to enter early in the process, the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT), which is what all of this research is actually referring to, has fundamentally changed how prospects and customers process information, learn, consider and buy. Sellers (hunters and prospectors) must know and adapt to this new world of how customers buy. The vast majority of sales systems were built for a time when the salesperson was the first significant contact and controlled the flow of information. Those systems are simply no longer effective. Salespeople and organizations must align their sales process with how customers behave and the options they have available.
It’s Not Either/Or…It’s And
As I shared in my article on The Third Discipline: Bridging B2B Sales and Marketing, there is only one way to create a predictable, sustainable and scalable growth engine. It’s to build and align effective marketing, lead generation, lead management and sales processes together towards a single aim.
Yes, salespeople absolutely matter. If you’re not investing in hiring and retaining the right salespeople then get to it. But, don’t think that all you have to do is hire salespeople and expect them to successfully penetrate accounts predictably without help.
The very best companies that excel at sales growth do so being great at marketing, lead generation, sales development and sales. They don’t look at the issue as either/or, rather they look at it all.
So, does the SiriusDecisions study kill the CEB study? No, I don’t think it does. More importantly I DON”T CARE!!
What I do care about is keeping up with how prospects and customers learn, engage and buy. And I promise that I’ll share the findings and data with you here on this blog. Oh yeah, if anyone can share the actual study with me I’d love to review it and I’ll update my comments once I’ve read it.