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B2B Sales Cycles Get Longer and Involve More Decision Makers

About half of B2B buyers say the sales cycle has gotten longer for new vendors; one in five say the number of decision-makers involved has grown

B2B sales cycles are getting longer – and the process involves more decision-makers.

That’s according to a report by Korn Ferry called The 2021 Buyer Preferences Study: Reconnecting with Buyers.

The report is based on a poll of 261 participates who work working for medium-to-large enterprises around the globe. Most participants hold leadership titles and are “directly responsible for making purchase decisions of $10,000 or more.”

Below are five points that stood out for me in the report.

1. B2B sales cycles are getting longer.

B2B sales cycles are getting longer but incumbents have an advantage. More than half of respondents (52%) “said the buying cycle has gotten longer for new vendors – but just one in three (32%) “said it’s longer for existing vendors.”

This finding is reflected in previous surveys too, which points to a continued trend. For example, a 2020 study by the Demand Gen Report 68% of respondents said the B2B sales cycle has increased compared to a year ago.

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2. B2B sales cycles may involve more people.

An average of 6.2 decision-makers are involved in the B2B sales cycle. That’s six people B2B companies have to convince to successfully sell a solution.

One in five (20%) of respondents said the number of people involved in deals had grown, however, it’s not true for every business. Most (57%) “reported the number remained the same, and 23% stated the number of decision-makers was lower.”

3. Prospects won’t engage B2B sales until late in the process.

Prospects are engaging sales later in the cycle. Lots of other research has shown this to be true – but the Korn Ferry adds some detail:

  • 79% wait to contact sales until after fully defined their needs,
  • 57% wait until they’ve identified the products they think meets their needs, and
  • 17% “finished evaluating solutions and resolved outstanding questions on their own.”

This effectively takes a substantial portion of the sales discovery and problem identification process out of the hands of sales – and squarely into the purview of B2B marketing. This could have a significant effect on lead conversion and the handoff between sales and marketing.

It’s worth pointing out there are occasions when buyers are open to talking to sales sooner. The survey found 75% of buyers are more receptive “when the buyer is facing new, risky, or complex initiatives.”

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4. B2B buyers require an omnichannel marketing approach.

B2B buyers consume information from a range of sources. The survey found respondents look for information in the following places:

  • 44% “past experience with a vendor,”
  • 41% “subject matter experts from industry or third parties,”
  • 36% “industry/professional online communities/social networks,”
  • 32% “industry events/trade shows/conferences,”
  • 31% “business or industry publications/trade media,”
  • 28% “peers/colleagues,”
  • 28% “vendor websites,”
  • 27% “web searches,”
  • 22% “vendor salespeople,” and
  • 11% “local or national professional trade associations.”

What’s interesting to me is not a single source gained a majority of responses. Not experts or analysts. Not PR. Not content marketing.

This reminds me of a 2020 report by Spiceworks that found about half of B2B technology prospects require 11 or more pieces of content. There is no silver bullet: B2B marketing today requires an omnichannel approach.

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5. The biggest lever B2B marketing can influence

How can B2B marketing begin to address these communication problems? The most significant factor the reports points to is demonstrating you understand the prospect’s problems and industry.

The report asked about this in two ways. First, when asked what B2B buyers find most helpful in the sales cycle, 55% said the vendor “understood my business, my situation and my needs.” Secondly, when asked what roils a deal, 50% said the vendor “did not understand me or my business.”

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The full report will be of interest B2B sales and marketing professionals alike. Registration is required to download the full report: The 2021 Buyer Preferences Study: Reconnecting with Buyers.

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Image credits: Unsplash and respective study

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