Brands are cracking the code on what buyers want. ABM, RevOps, intent, AI, PLG, and a whole lot of technology is improving sales productivity and the effectiveness of every marketing dollar.
Actually, that's not true. Instead of codes being cracked, B2B buyers are evolving their journeys — and moving the cheese along with them.
A buying team member was recently asked why they did not purchase from a vendor. "The process was brutal,” they said. “It was all about the sale. There was nothing about value for the customer or about the customer. I don't need this."
Quest to Stay Aligned With Buying Team Behaviors
Both won and lost customers across various industries have made similar comments over the past 24 months. Buyers are acting differently, delaying contact with vendors and sending specific requests and expectations when they do reach out.
The concept of a buyer's journey has been around for decades. In short, it is a detailed map of the content, decisions, actions, intentions and sentiment that a buyer goes through to solve a problem. Mostly that includes making a purchase decision.
Journeys are constantly evolving, and therein lies the rub. For vendor engagement strategies to work they need to stay aligned with buying team behaviors. To achieve that companies need to continually monitor journeys from the "outside in."
Related Article: Are You Creating the Best B2B Buyer Customer Experience?
Timing Is Changing for B2B Journeys
Journeys consist of hundreds of activities. Some matter more than others. These are called micro-moments which are intent-rich buyer actions when they have a specific need. As buyer behaviors evolve, the when and what of micro-moments change.
Let’s compare how B2B journeys have changed over the past two years. One big change is in timing.
Below is a high-level purchase journey showing the frequency of buyer-initiated vendor interactions based on hundreds of B2B buyer interviews conducted. That includes websites, content, events and sales or support teams. The green line represents the 2019/2020 timeframe; the red line represents 2021/2022.
A buyer raises their hand when the line arches up. Prior to that, they engage primarily with digital assets — yours, competitors, and influencers — and tap into their peers. The red line indicates buyers are delaying direct sales engagement until a later stage in the journey.
Let's go a level deeper to see how timing changed. The red bubble is when a buyer raises their hand to directly engage with vendors. In 2019/2020, buyers raised their hand after researching the problem, tapping into peers, developing a master list of vendors and conducting an initial short-list.
Compare that to today. Hand-raising occurs after the buying team has completed their research into alternatives, vendor product features/fit, reputation, discovered pricing and completed a second short-list.
The Price of Admission
Every vendor is trying to figure out how to be in sync with buyers. According to the buying team lead for a global insurance and financial services firm, "When I go to a website, I want to see screenshots, video demos, use cases, testimonials, and pricing. Vendors who do not put product screenshots on their website are always hard to use."
When buyers finally do engage, it is often with less than three vendors. Unfortunately, the other vendors often do not know they were even considered, evaluated and eliminated. Since buyers have invested time and resources in understanding a vendor's capabilities, they expect vendors to have similar knowledge about their company and industry. It's the price of admission into the deal.
And that is when things can go awry.
Related Article: How to Optimize Customer Acquisition and Retention
How Buyers Really Feel
In a recent conversation with several heads of B2B Sales, I asked about their sales approach. For most it was a BDR/SDR books an initial qualification call which includes a short company presentation. The prospect is then handed off to an account executive who embarks on more qualification, discovery and use case discussions. A generic demo may be given on the second or third call. After more discovery, budget and timing qualification, a sales engineer is involved, and things get meatier.
Exactly the opposite of what buying teams want.
According to Gartner, of the entire journey, buyers only spend 17% of their time with vendors. Put yourself in the buyer's shoes. They know a lot about the vendor and have specific questions and a clear path to decision-making; they are eager to get going. The buying team's process grounds to a halt when vendors possess little knowledge of the buyer, company and industry. The shininess of the short-listed vendor goes from brilliant to patina.
What Buyers Hate from Vendors
There are additional frustrations:
- Generic demos: Forcing buyers to sit through generic presentations and demos increases the likelihood the vendor will be eliminated. Buyers want highly tailored demos that are use-case and industry-specific.
- Pricing transparency: Buyers want pricing upfront, preferably on the website. When they don’t find it they turn to their networks to discover what others paid. This often results in sticker shock when it comes time to negotiate the price, and surprise is never a good thing.
- Validating post-purchase experience: Onboarding, customer support and training are significant final selection decision variables. Buyers expect vendors to present a clear, customized, detailed plan and meet the team before signing the contract. A couple of bad references or word of mouth chatter will result in elimination.
Some touchpoints are negative experiences, not all. There are several points of delight in the journey, especially with vendors that are listening and trying to deliver on expectations. Positive experiences can outweigh negative ones but not all the time. Understanding the buyer's journey is key to eliminating touchpoints that do not meet the needs of the buyer.
Turn Change to Your Advantage
What does it look like when vendors operationalize buyer-centric journeys? Their sales and marketing are aligned to the journey and expectations. A won B2B customer summed it up this way:
"The personal relationship clearly is fundamental. And it's fundamental to a successful relationship with the vendor because you must really trust. You must be able to trust that this person will not oversell you. I rarely have an excellent experience with software vendors, but I would say that I have had that with [vendor]."
Keep in mind that buyers define their own journey. It’s the responsibility of vendors to align their operations to meet buyer expectations. An aligned customer relationship requires a different mindset — a symbiotic relationship with the customer.
5 Ways to Get Started With Buyer-Centric Sales Cycles
Customer-alignment is both a business strategy and discipline requiring processes to continually capture and understand how journeys are evolving. Here are five steps to get your started:
- Conduct quarterly qualitative buying team journey research.
- Help employees “connect the dots” between their roles and buyer expectations.
- Conduct gap analyses between touchpoints and journey maps.
- Prioritize action plans to fix key micro-moments and align touchpoints.
- Encode journey maps into RevOps and martech systems.
The key is to start — your prospects and customers will thank you. And you’ll see the results in pipeline conversion and win/loss ratios.