A new and pernicious myth as taken hold in many B2B Sales and Marketing organizations. The myth – that buyers are 60-70% of the way through their buying cycle before they talk with a salesperson – is an intentional fallacy based on a false generalization that “buyers” means “all buyers”. Search the web for phrases around this topic and you’ll find a substantial volume of vendors selling the myth as truth, much to their short term benefit. In my discussions with both vendors and practitioners (leaders in Sales and Marketing), it is disturbing when they throw out the "60-70% …" statement as if it were "fact" when, in reality, it is not only false but damaging to the revenue engine of companies who sell in the B2B space.
Not All Buyers Know What They Need
Our point of view is that not only are there different types of B2B buyers (we've identified four categories we call archetypes), but that in today's economy there are multiple buyers involved in decisions and they operate in what we call agreement networks. Some of these buyers – especially most executive buyers – want help in understanding complex problems in their business (including “unrealized opportunities”) before they ever think about products. They may not yet be aware of a problem they are faced with, or they may know that they have a problem but don’t yet understand its patterns or implications or impact on their organization. They are (appropriately) weeks or months away from a search for a product or service. It is these buyers who set the direction, before asking others in the agreement network (e.g. their teams) to get deeper into the details, including acquiring solutions.
Providers who understand these agreement networks can choose which buyers they want their salespeople to engage with at what points during the decision process.
What Executive Buyers Say
Business and related challenges are getting increasingly more complex. Executives need and want insights from suppliers like you to help them figure out what’s wrong, what the business implications of the problem are, what potential directions are available (I’m not talking products here), and what options are available to solve it. In the figure below, buyers who already know what they want are driving the "Respond to Request" phase of the buying process. Executive buyers are engaged well before this phase. And according to our Q42012 Global Executive Buyer Insights Online Survey, not only do executive buyers value and reward vendors who provide these early insights, but they are doing so more than ever before (see What Does It Take To Win With Executive Buyers).
The Risk Of Buying Into The Myth
If your Marketing leaders and sales force come to believe that this "Buyers Already Know What They Want" myth is true, then your entire value communication model (Marketing AND Sales) will become tuned to a responsive rhythm of just answering feature and price inquiries of procurement type buyers and you will miss out on engaging with higher level buyers who are involved far earlier in the decision process. Your salespeople will be ill-equipped to engage these executive buyers to help them understand their challenges. Large and high margin opportunities will be won by vendors who prepare their sales force to out-position yours by creating value for these early stage decision makers.
I’m not arguing that some types of buyers do their homework and know what they want before they speak with a salesperson, especially when buying commodity products or services. In reality, your salespeople may be engaging with procurers without awareness that higher level decision makers were involved weeks earlier in identifying and understanding a problem that your product may help solve. It's just that now, the decision criteria is only about function and price, whereas you could have had serious competitive advantage with loyalty from executive buyers. I'm also not saying that you should ignore procurement buyers, because they may be an important revenue stream.
Become A Myth Buster
I AM asking whether you have more than just procurement buyers. If so, join me in rejecting the "Buyers Already Know What They Want" myth, and develop your marketing messaging and salespeople differently for different types of buyers. You can choose the field upon which your company chooses to play? Even if your current focus is procurement buyers, you can change by understanding the needs of higher altitude buyers, adapting your messaging to those buyers, and preparing your salespeople to engage and create value with these buyers.
Many marketing vendors gain revenues by convincing Marketers of this fallacy that buyers already know what they want before a conversation ever happens with salespeople. But is it in your company's best interest? Too much is at stake for your business not to challenge this fallacy.
Take A More Prosperous Path
Let your competitors fall into the trap of the fallacy of believing that their "buyers" already know what they want. In the age of the customer, make them pay by taking a different path toward higher value. Of the four buyer Buyer Archetypes that we’ve identified, all but one – procurement buyers – greatly value salespeople that understand their roles, responsibilities, their business, and their challenges, and that offer insights to help them understand and solve complex business problems. I’m working with companies every day to help them modify how they hire, onboard, and develop salespeople that are competent at engaging executive buyers. My colleagues are helping to tune messaging to executive buyers. You can do this too. The executives in your future large accounts want you to step up to help them. So what are you doing today to get the conversation right? I'd be delighted to hear from you as to your challenges, concerns, and accomplishments thus far.