Why Sales Interactions (with Humans) Still Drive the B2B Buyer’s Journey [Report]

May 26, 2015 | Brendan Cournoyer
Why Sales Interactions (with Humans) Still Drive the B2B Buyer’s Journey [Report]

For years now, inbound marketers have trumpeted stats stating that the majority of the B2B buyer’s journey is complete before a customer ever speaks with a salesperson. But a recent SiriusDecisions study argues that sales interactions with reps still have the greatest impact on buying decisions.

In my recap of SiriusDecisions Summit 2015, I noted that a key takeaway from the event was that it’s finally time to retire old stats like “67% of the buyer’s journey is done digitally” and “57% of the buyer’s journey is complete before a customer's first interaction with a sales rep.”

Real Sales Interactions

This point was actually taken from a session with Marisa Kopec and Jennifer Ross, based on research from a new SiriusDecisions report, Demystifying B-to-B Buying for 2015 and Beyond. The report pulls together data from over 1,000 B2B execs who made a major buying decision at some point over the previous six months.

The study shows that, despite the popularity of the stats mentioned above*, sales reps still play a critical role in the buyer’s journey. In fact, the latest numbers show that more than half the time, sales rep involvement starts at the beginning of the buying process.

*Interestingly, the “67%” stat was actually originated by none other than SiriusDecisions a few years ago.

Why B2B selling is still alive and well

As I wrote last week, the takeaway from the old stats has typically been that buyers are less dependent on sales reps to make purchase decisions. But as the new report states, “just because buying behavior is done digitally does not mean that sales representatives are no longer required to instigate or facilitate a buying process.”

Consider these findings:

  • As the price of an offering goes up, human interactions also increase (i.e. the pricier the product, the more sales interactions are required to close the deal)

  • The highest level of buyer/seller interaction occurs during the education phase of the buyer’s journey (i.e. early in the process)**

  • Buyers who make a purchase interact with a sales rep in all phases of their decision-making process

As a result, SiriusDecisions recommends that go-to-market strategies should be a balanced mix of non-human and “human-to-human” interactions.

**This could be that buyers are looking for category expertise from the sales reps’ experience with previous customers. This presents an opportunity for the sales rep to set a favorable influence to the buying process.

As Kopec explains via a press release for the report, “The new way to think about [B2B] buying is that human interactions still occur and matter, and that the rise of digital marketing doesn't mean those interactions go away. It just means that buyers and providers are interacting in new digital ways.”

But what about content? One of the reasons why some have argued that buyers are less dependent on sales reps to make a purchase has to do with the influx of content at their fingertips. But perhaps the most telling stat of all has to with the content type that buyers felt had the greatest impact on purchase decisions. The number one answer wasn’t blog posts, or eBooks, or even case studies.

It was SALES PRESENTATIONS.

The buyer’s journey is rarely a straight line

Another interesting finding from the report: as Kopec states, the buyer’s journey is “much more episodic” than linear. Depending on the buyer, their path to a sale can be very long, with multiple touch points along the way. Other times, it can be very (very) short.

“A buyer can perform a single search on Google or go to a sales meeting, and that one interaction might provide all the information they need to inform each of the decision gates they need to get through in order to make a decision to buy,” says Kopec.

With this in mind, it’s still important to have the right content and messaging for each stage and interaction. But how and when the buyer consumes that information may be less predictable. So make each interaction count!

Final takeaways

While effective content and inbound marketing remain critical to the buyer’s journey, the demise of the B2B sales rep has been greatly exaggerated. If anything, the need for companies to arm reps with the knowledge and resources they need to have more successful sales conversations is as important as ever – which is why SALES ENABLEMENT is (and should be) so high on everyone’s priority list this year.

For tips and ideas on developing an effective sales enablement strategy, download the free eBook, Sales Enablement for Dummies.

Looking for the right sales enablement solution? See how the Brainshark Sales Accelerator helps increase sales productivity with the content, training and analytics reps need – right within Salesforce.com.

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