New B2B Buying Journey & its Implication for Sales

B2B buying process has changed, and your sales strategy must, too

A new understanding of the B2B buying process is needed

Sales leaders often attribute this lack of customer access to a failure on the part of sellers to deliver enough value as part of a typical sales interaction.

However, in studying ways to address this access challenge‚ Gartner research found a different reality altogether. The problem is rooted far less in reps’ struggles to sell and far more in customers’ struggles to buy.

Learn what sales must do to adapt

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    Sellers have little opportunity to influence customer decisions

    The ready availability of quality information through digital channels has made it far easier for buyers to gather information independently, meaning sellers have less access and fewer opportunities to influence customer decisions.

    In fact‚ Gartner research finds that when B2B buyers are considering a purchase‚ they spend only 17% of that time meeting with potential suppliers. When buyers are comparing multiple suppliers‚ the amount of time spent with any one sales rep may be only 5% or 6%.

    Pie chart showing distribution of buying groups' time by key buying activities.
    As hard as it has become to sell in today’s world, it has become that much more difficult to buy. The single biggest challenge of selling today is not selling, it is actually our customers’ struggle to buy.

    Brent Adamson

    Distinguished VP, Advisory, Gartner

    The customers buying journey is hard

    The typical buying group for a complex B2B solution involves six to 10 decision makers‚ each armed with four or five pieces of information they have gathered independently and must de-conflict with the group. At the same time, the set of options and solutions buying groups can consider is expanding as new technologies, products, suppliers and services emerge.

    These dynamics make it increasingly difficult for customers to make purchases. In fact, more than three-quarters of the customers Gartner surveyed described their purchase as very complex or difficult.

    Pie chart showing that 77% of B2B buyers state that their latest purchase was very complex or difficult.
    The six B2B buying jobs are Problem identification, solution exploration, requirements building, supplier selection, validation, and consensus creation.

    B2B Buyers complete a set of jobs to make a purchase

    To understand how to best help customers advance through a complex purchase, Gartner research identified six B2B buying “jobs” that customers must complete to their satisfaction in order to successfully finalise a purchase:

    • Problem identification. “We need to do something.”
    • Solution exploration. “What’s out there to solve our problem?”
    • Requirements building. “What exactly do we need the purchase to do?”
    • Supplier selection. “Does this do what we want it to do?”
    • Validation. “We think we know the right answer, but we need to be sure.”
    • Consensus creation. “We need to get everyone on board.”

    The buying journey is not linear

    B2B buying does not play out in any kind of predictable, linear order. Instead, customers engage in what one might call “looping” across a typical B2B purchase, revisiting each of those six buying jobs at least once.

    Buying jobs do not happen sequentially, but more or less simultaneously.

    Information that helps customers advance drives ease and high-quality deals.

    Information drives purchase ease and high-quality sales

    All of this looping around and bouncing from one job to another means that buyers value suppliers that make it easier for them to navigate the purchase process.

    In fact, Gartner research found that customers who perceived the information they received from suppliers to be helpful in advancing across their buying jobs were 2.8 times more likely to experience a high degree of purchase ease, and three times more likely to buy a bigger deal with less regret.

    Buyer enablement is the provisioning of information that supports the completion of critical buying jobs.

    Suppliers must enable buyers to complete buying jobs

    To win in this B2B buying environment, suppliers should focus on providing customers with information that is specifically designed to help them complete their buying jobs.

    We call this “buyer enablement” — the provisioning of information to customers in a way that enables them to complete critical buying jobs.

    Implications of today’s B2B buying behaviour

    Sales reps are a channel to customers, not the channel

    Customers are largely channel-agnostic when seeking the information they need to get a job done. 

    As a result, sales reps are not the only channel to customers, but simply a channel, and alignment across in-person and digital channels is crucial for supporting customers in the way they actually buy.

    Supplier pipelines cannot speak the truth

    Most sales organisations organise activity around a linear pipeline, seeking to move opportunities from one stage to the next. For customers, however, purchase progress is far better defined in terms of job completion rather than stage progression.

    As a result, while pipeline reviews might indicate a preponderance of opportunities stuck in sales Stage 5, for example, there is no way of knowing through a linear, supplier-centric sales funnel where exactly customers are truly struggling to make progress in any given deal.

    Sales and marketing must operate in parallel, not serial, fashion

    Most sales and marketing teams are organised in serial fashion: Marketing generates and nurtures demand early through digital channels before handing off the most qualified of opportunities to sales for in-person pursuit. Customers, however, do not buy in a linear fashion. Rather, they use both digital and in-person channels with near-equal frequency to complete each of the buying jobs more or less simultaneously.

    As a result, in today’s world of B2B buying, there is no handoff from marketing to sales, or digital to in-person. It’s a parallel process, not a serial one.