B2B buyers have researched options and established product requirements long before ever contacting sales; the best chance of influencing the buying process is developing thought leadership upstream
Although it varies with product complexity and market maturity, today’s buyers might be anywhere from two-thirds to 90% of the way through their journey before they reach out for a sales person.”
Forrester analyst Lori Wizdo wrote those words eleven years ago. All these years later, a new report by 6sense, penned largely by a former Forrester analyst, has come to the same conclusion: when buyers first contact a seller, they are “69% of the way through a buying cycle.”
The company says they polled some 900 respondents who had been part of the “buying process for a B2B purchase of greater than $10,000 in annual value within the last 24 months.” The report did not state a margin of error that I observed but it did say the report had a confidence interval of 95%.
The study had a range of B2B statistics that ought to resonate with anyone who’s spent time in B2B marketing or sales. Below are a few that stood out to me:
The “average” B2B tech buying team:
- B2B buying teams average 9 members from various departments;
- B2B buying teams consider, on average, 4 sellers, for each purchase;
- Teams have 15 “interactions” with each seller being considered; and
- The more vendors considered, the larger the team and the longer the process.
The “average” B2B tech buying process:
- The buying process plays out over 11 months on average;
- The first time a buyer contacts a seller is 8 months in, or 69% through the process;
- Buyers initiate first contact with sellers 83% of the time;
- 78% of buyers have already established product requirements at first contact; and
- 84% of buyers say the first vendor spoke with usually won the business.
The report sums it up this way: “Sellers have little influence over” the buying process once they’ve been contacted. “This means if vendors haven’t won buyers over during the first two-thirds of the buying process, they have a mere 16% chance of winning the deal.”
If this report is to be believed, there are a whole lot of B2B technology vendors that losing deals they never even knew existed. The only way to fix that is to influence the buying process further upstream when customers are quietly researching their options.
Thought leadership influences the buying process
Vendors have to influence the buying process sooner and further upstream. This is where good thought leadership can make a difference. Effective thought leadership should accomplish five objectives:
1. Demonstrates market knowledge
People want to know the solution provider they are working with understands their market. This means consistently demonstrating your business knows the key issues, opportunities and players in the space. An industry-focused blog, your own research reports, and contributing articles to trade publications are proven ways to do it.
2. Help the customers to be aware of the problem
Nobody thought they wanted to carry around their music collection in their pocket before the iPod. It hadn’t even been imagined. This is true generally in innovation. As Henry Ford is attributed with having said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Thought leadership helps prospective customers become aware of the problem – and without feeling like they are getting a sales pitch.
3. See themselves in the problem
It’s one thing to know a problem exists, it’s another thing to see yourself in a problem. The best way to do this is to use storytelling techniques – and identify characters and anecdotes that your target market experiences every day. Narrative case studies, rather than the formulaic problem-solution-results format, are a solid and entertaining way to do this.
4. Shapes customer product requirements
Good thought leadership will help shape the requirements during the early phase of the buying process. Identify things like:
- the top use cases for your category of software;
- the most common pitfalls;
- how executives interact with the solution;
- what team leaders need to know to build a business case; and
- technical requirements.
5. Sets the sales team up for success
As the study shows, customers have already formed a strong view of what they need and don’t need. If you’ve done thought leadership well, you’ve set your sales team up for success. If you haven’t, you’ve probably got an under-appreciated SDR asking discovery questions to a buyer who will very quickly conclude your competition has the expertise they need.
Thought leadership requires thought and leadership
Experience marketing and PR professionals can help B2B tech companies articulate their ideas, but they are not the idea. It’s the best chance most companies have to influence the buying process further upstream. However, effective thought leadership actually requires thought and leadership. Your biggest thinkers need to make time for marketing; and marketing needs to make time for customers.
The full report, the 2023 B2B Buyer Experience Report by 6sense is freely available online without registration.
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Image credit: DALL-E and 6sense