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Should Prospects Decide Whether or Not they are Going to Talk to You?
Blog / For Sales Pros / Jul 25, 2016 / Posted by Dan McDade / 1093 

Should Prospects Decide Whether or Not they are Going to Talk to You?

Do you believe that a large percentage of the buying process is complete before sales needs to get involved (57%, 65%, 67% or even more?)

If so, you can thank Doug Davidoff, CEB, Dan Pink, and several analyst quoted in this LinkedIn article published in early 2015.

Mr. Davidoff states:

The initial research comes from 2011 Corporate Executive Board (CEB) study of 1,400 B2B purchases that found 57% of the typical purchase is made before a customer talks to a supplier. In 2013 CEB updated the research and found that the number shifted to 65%.

He quotes Dan Pink as he goes on to substantiate his premise:

We have moved from information asymmetry (the world of buyer beware when salespeople had most or all of the information) to information balance – or even situations where the prospect knows more than the seller does. When I’m buying something important (whether it’s a new/used car, technology system, ERP or anything else to support my business) I want to know more than I ever have before I talk with a salesperson. Not because I don’t value any salesperson, but because I feel it’s important that I know something to make my time with a professional salesperson most effective, and because I want to be in control of my own destiny.

Then he provides quotes from some notable analysts regarding their take on the buyer’s journey:

  • “SiriusDecisions reports that 70% of the buying process in a complex sale is already complete before prospects are willing to engage with a live salesperson.
  • Two-thirds to 90% of the buying cycle is completed before a B2B buyer ever speaks with a sales rep. – Forrester
  • Business buyers spend just 21% of buying cycle in conversations with salespeople while spending 23% of the time in conversations with peers and colleagues and 56% of the buying cycle searching for and engaging with content – IDG Connect
  • 70% of business technology buyers are at the RFP stage (request for proposal) by the time the vendor becomes aware of the opportunity – UBM Techweb.”

Are you willing to allow 70% of buyers to get to the RFP stage before you become aware of an opportunity in your market? I hope not.

My friend, Mike Weinberg, offers his view:

For the better part of a year I’ve been waging a battle to protect salespeople from a bogus straw man statistic that is the “go-to” argument from many of today’s sales “experts.” These nouveau “experts” have been telling anyone who will listen that today’s buyers 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 because that doesn’t work anymore.

What’s infuriating, aside from the fact that it’s not true, is that this nonsense is exactly what the reactive, passive, struggling salesperson wants to be told. Can you just hear the under-performer declaring, “Oh, goodie. I don’t need to hunt for new business because that doesn’t work anyway. Let me just spend my time on LinkedIn and Twitter or following up on the wonderful leads our inbound marketing effort is generating.

And, SiriusDecisions “debunked that silly myth” as Mike continues in his blog:

Today I am celebrating as SiriusDecisions publicly and authoritatively debunked that silly myth and oft-quoted statistic at their annual #SDSummit. It turns out, according to their own exhaustive research, that buyers are, in fact, engaging with sellers from the very beginning through the end of their buying journey (through the three stages SiriusDecisions calls “Education,” “Solution,” and “Selection”). In fact, the highest level of reported buyer/seller interaction actually occurred early on, during the education phase.

SiriusDecisions continued with the following in the Business Wire blog linked above:

We found that buyers interact with representatives during every stage of the decision- making process at least half the time, and that the type of decision – or buying scenario – greatly impacted the number and types of interactions. “

said Jennifer Ross, Senior Research Director, SiriusDecisions.

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,” Kopec said. “It just means that buyers and providers are interacting in new digital ways. Just because buying behavior is done digitally does not mean that sales representatives are no longer required to instigate or facilitate a buying process.

In a Demand Gen Report blog I wrote a few years ago, I quoted Forrester analyst Lori Wizdo as follows:

Effective nurturing begins at the early stages of the customer’s buying cycle, when the customer is probing the need, scoping the solution, and planning for a technology evaluation and purchase. Customers in the early stages of a purchasing decision are open to knowledge, insight, and even guidance from a tech vendor. But, they are not willing to be grilled by an aggressive sales rep on their sales worthiness.

Finally, from a 2016 interview with ITSMA’s Senior Vice President, Research and Thought Leadership, Julie Schwartz:

It’s widely believed that 60-70% of the buying process is over before prospects want to engage with a salesperson. The premise is that there is so much information available online that salespeople are thought to be unnecessary in the early stages. ITSMA’s data says that for high consideration technology solutions, this is a myth. In fact, we believe just the opposite: 70% of B2B technology solution buyers want to engage with sales reps before they identify their short list. In fact, buyers perceive value in interacting with sales at every stage of the buying process—even the early stages. In the epiphany stage they want education and unique perspectives; in the awareness stage they want product information and subject matter experts (SMEs); and in the interest stage they want benchmarks and best practices.

That’s good news for IT providers. The earlier you engage, the more likely you are helping customers formulate their ideas on how to solve their problems. Earlier engagement means more wins.

To sum things up:

  1. If your read this carefully, you will have learned that a couple of analysts changed their view over the past couple of years regarding when to engage prospects (Hint: ENGAGE EARLY)
  2. Using industry averages can paint the wrong picture. While it might be okay, and even advisable, to let the market come to you on a low priced commodity; it is incredibly risky to do so if you are selling anything strategic. Waiting until the buyer comes to you is a sure way to be column fodder in an evaluation that has already won by a more agile competitor.
  3. Many, but not most, marketers have gotten beyond the “inbounditis” stage and recognize that an All-Bound (balance of inbound and outbound) is key to success. If you want to find out more, go to our Lead-to- Revenue Calculatorand find out what you need to do to hit your number this year and beyond.
About Author

Dan McDade is founder and CEO of PointClear, a lead generation, qualification and nurturing company that helps B2B companies with complex sales processes drive revenue. Dan is the author of the award-winning outbound sales and marketing blog, ViewPoint.

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