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7 Data-Backed Insights Every Sales Leader Needs to Know About the B2B Buyer Journey

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What kind of experience are your salespeople providing to prospects before they ever pay you a dime? What about before you even know whether a company is evaluating you?

At PeopleMetrics, we’re interested in these answers as well. We want to make sure that every interaction a prospect has with us is valuable, and leaves them better off than before. So, we set out to answer some of these questions.

We surveyed 750 B2B decision makers purchasing professional services, including 127 C-suite executives and 300 senior managers. We compiled our findings into the report Start Your Winning Streak: 7 Lessons for the Modern B2B Sales Leader. Below are the seven biggest highlights from the report.

1) Your reputation is incredibly important.

We might be living in the information age, but when it’s time to buy, people still turn to humans they trust. Asking one’s network is still the most popular early step in the buying process -- 78% of buyers reported doing this.

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It’s clear that buyers are engaging with a vendor’s content via their websites, webinars, and downloadable content. What’s unclear is when in the process that happens and why. Is content a deciding factor in the purchasing process, or a “check the box” step to make sure the vendor’s thinking matches their reputation in the market? That’s tougher to tease out based on this data alone.

2) Buyers invest a lot of energy into the purchasing process.

The time prospects invest in the buying process is directly correlated with the size of the purchase. But on average, buyers invest 86 hours choosing a B2B partner.

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These decisions also involve multiple people. Smaller purchases (less than $25,000) usually involve 33 hours across and involve fewer than four people. Enterprise purchases ($500,000 and above) take four times longer, and a team that is 50% larger.

3) Buyers expect salespeople to match their own investment.

Buyers are pouring hours into the decision making process, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise they expect that investment to be reciprocal. While the early stages of the buying process will likely involve the buyer evaluating the vendor from the distance of online channels, this changes dramatically as the buying process nears conclusion.

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Again, this matters even more when it comes to high-contract-value accounts. More than three-quarters of buyers who purchased solutions costing more than $500,000 said they met with their winning vendor in-person. The losing providers for similar-sized deals had in-person contact with just 55% of potential clients. Providers willing to add the human touch have an advantage.

4) Buyers look for five “value-add” behaviors.

Showing up in person is one way (and a powerful way) for salespeople to show they are invested in the buying process, but there are other ways for salespeople to add value in any interaction. We identified five behaviors that send a strong message to buyers that a salesperson is invested in their success and adding value at every interaction:

  • Responsiveness: Reps follow up in a thorough, accurate, and timely manner – both before and after meetings.
  • Preparation: Reps do the required preparation work for the meeting (e.g., getting up to speed on the business, delivering what was promised based on prior meetings/conversations, etc.).
  • Listening skills: Reps ask insightful questions and actively listen to understand the issues and challenges driving the buyer’s needs.
  • Knowledge: Reps demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of solutions and services, and relate them to the buyer’s current business strategy and needs.
  • Unexpected insights: Reps provide value-added advice and guidance by adapting solutions, demonstrations, and materials to reflect the unique situation of the buyer.

To a seasoned sales rep, these behaviors won’t appear all that surprising. What might be more surprising is just how impactful they are in closing deals (and bigger deals at that).

5) A prospect’s perception of value from sales meetings has a big impact on deal size and closing probability.

The five behaviors identified above make the sales process valuable for a buyer. When a buyer is getting value out of their interactions with you, it has a big impact on the probability of closing and the size of the deal. We found that as a buyer’s rating of meeting value moves from good to excellent, the average size of the contract increases by close to $100,000.

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This is valuable insight for salespeople looking to close more and bigger deals, but it also means that probability of closing can be determined early on in the process by measuring perceptions of value. Almost six times as many decision makers say meetings with a rejected vendor had little to no value, compared to meetings with the successful vendor. Do you know how your prospects perceive meetings with your team?

6) Not sure if your sales team is delivering value? Just ask.

Many B2B companies actively manage their client experience by listening and responding to client feedback. But this action of listening and taking action is much less common during the sales cycle. So we asked buyers: If a company asked for feedback about your experience, would you respond? 81% said they they would definitely or likely respond.

And they backed this up with real action. About 30% of prospects have been asked for feedback during the sales process, and out of that small group, 90% reported taking the time to respond. This represents a big opportunity for sales teams. Perceptions of value are a powerful indicator of closing probability and deal size, and it turns out your prospects are just waiting for you to ask them if you’re delivering.

7) Perceived value during the sales process impacts future advocacy.

The best salespeople intuitively understand that selling is about relationships, and the data backs that up. Prospects that had a positive buying experience are the ones most likely to refer you new business. Great sales experiences positively impact the client experience, and great client experiences positively impact recommendation and new business opportunities. We call this the champion cycle:

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Putting these insights to work

We know that B2B buyers are educated about their problems and the potential solutions long before they begin dialogues with providers. But ultimately, they’ll choose the provider that makes them feel important and valuable as a customer. The insights from this research should serve as guidelines on how sales leaders can design a prospect experience.

Here are some factors to keep in mind as you coach your team on how to deliver a great buying experience:

  • How frequently are your reps making human contact with their prospects? No, email alone doesn’t count.
  • How consistently are reps following up after interactions? Are discussions being documented? How quickly are prospects receiving what was promised to them?
  • Are your reps preparing in advance of meetings? Sorry, mental prep doesn’t count, preparation should include documented research.
  • Does your sales team have the resources they need to be seen as subject matter experts? Tools like Guru are making it easier than ever to provide your reps with the information they need at the very moment they need it.
  • What’s holding you back from reaching out to prospects and asking them how your team is doing? As always, the people on the receiving end of your experience are the one’s that hold valuable knowledge on how to make it better. Get in touch with them -- by phone, email, or survey -- and ask them: “How are we doing? How could we be better?” They’ll appreciate it.

To get the full research for this post visit: Start Your Winning Streak: 7 Lessons for the Modern B2B Sales Leader.

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