Marketers and salespeople have known for some time that buyers are reaching out to vendors less and less.

There is an excellent study here on buyer preferences, conducted by CSO insights across 500 B2B buyers from 25 industries and companies with revenue of at least $250m. The study found that the vast majority (70%) want a clear understanding of their challenge before engaging sales and almost half of buyers (44%) said they prefer to have identified their possible solution before engaging sales.

So buyers are approaching sales with more and more of their decision already made. Data from Gartner also shows that buyers only reach out once 57% of the buying journey is complete. 

This means that customers have already educated themselves, identified their challenge and assessed the options. 

In many cases, buyers only reach out at this point to benchmark prices. Leaving your sales team to compete on price or fighting an uphill battle to re-educate the buyer.

And the results show in sales; in another CSO study on sales practices and their effectiveness, it was found that since 2003 the percentage of salespeople achieving quota fell by 16%, decreasing every year for five consecutive years from 63% in 2012 to 53% in 2017.

And it’s not a trend that is set to change, data shows that buyers generally have a positive impression of the value of working with sellers but less than 23% preferred using salespeople as a resource to solve problems. In a list of ten alternatives, including vendor websites, events and web searches, only trade associations ranked lower than vendor salespeople.

Data shows clear ways that sales can adapt to this change and close the growing buyer-seller gap

Contribute to the search for information using the method buyers prefer the most

Buyers are coming to vendors with predetermined opinions about the market, sellers are finding it hard to influence what the customer values in a solution. Sellers need to influence that process earlier through channels other than salespeople. 

Subject matter experts are the most preferred resource for solving business problems. Arming salespeople with information from these sources, that aligns with your value proposition offers an avenue to influence buyers. 

Expert opinion (even from inside your organisation) contributes to the way buyers evaluate their options and gives the sales team a platform to sell on the strength of the solution rather than the price.

Consistently articulate a solution aligned to the customer's needs and the service delivered

It seems like an obvious thing. Communication skills have always been the core of sales. Larger product sets, more complex buyer challenges and buyers who have a greater understanding, demand salespeople that can be a conduit for understanding beyond products and features and into the nature of the challenges the buyer faces.

To rephrase that, salespeople do not need to be subject matter experts in their industry - they do need to be able to communicate insights that build trust and provide value to their buyers. 

Deliver a customer experience that aligns with the sales promise

Both studies showed past experience with the vendor is important. The CSO world-class sales practices report ranked delivering a consistent customer experience second in terms of top sales practices (to consistently and effectively articulate the solution). 

Consistent customer experience and solution articulation correlated highest with achieving revenue and quota targets.

The buyer preferences report ranked past vendor experience second only to subject matter experts as a preferred resource to solve business problems. 

There is an imperative with this point that marketing messaging, sales messaging and delivery by internal experts is aligned and consistent.

Opportunities for gaining a sales & marketing advantage

It's clear from the data that successful organisations have a set of key practices that help their salespeople attain their quota and meet revenue goals along with a host of other benefits like more accurate forecasting and fewer lost deals (read “wasted time”).

Consistent decreases in sales performance prove the assertion that most organisations continue to fall behind with their sales processes. The analogy that CSO use is “running up the down escalator”, as fast as sales teams try to optimise and improve - they are making marginal improvements where they need to be making fundamental changes to the way they engage buyers, equip their salespeople and create customer experiences.

Stop running down the up escalator, jump the barrier and join the fast lane.