People selling to people is still the primary way in which business-to-business (B2B) technology purchases are made, despite all the attention around digital marketing and its ability to connect with customers in new and meaningful ways, according to a survey of 503 organizations in North America, Europe and China from IT research firm Gartner.
The survey found that 56 percent of respondents considered direct interaction with the provider of high importance, 42 percent of medium importance, while 3 percent considered it of low importance. However, the report noted that during the past few years, the sales organization has lost its control of the sales cycle.
"Personal interactions with providers are still the most influential activity in B2B buying decisions," Tiffany Bova, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, said in a statement. "However, buyers do not value their interactions with salespeople as much as they did in the past. As a result, sales teams must adjust processes and skills to learn to guide buyers through their purchase cycle."
To address the increased expectations of today's buyer, sales needs to lead change efforts in their organizations, in partnership with marketing, and in the way they sell. Gartner identified key changes the sales organization should make to improve the customer's purchase experience, including using a variety of activities in combination to address all of the buyers' questions and concerns, and lead to a purchase decision.
Direct interaction with the provider and social media were considered the most influential marketing activities. The survey found that the most valued interactions are with technical and industry experts, not with sales staff. When exploring and evaluating options, 81 percent of respondents most valued interaction with a technical expert whereas only 38 percent said their most valued interaction is with a member of the sales team.
"To deliver what customers want, salespeople need to become more knowledgeable about what is happening in the customer buying process and offer insightful information that customers can't find on their own," Hank Barnes, research director at Gartner, said in a statement. "The best sales reps will coordinate a range of activities and interactions to touch various members of the buying teams and guide the customer along their buying journey versus forcing them to follow the internally preferred process to address their questions and concerns."
The survey indicated buyers want to hear more detail from providers after they have done their own initial information gathering. With sales presentations ranking fifth on the list of most influential marketing activities, the survey indicated they have the biggest impact when buyers are focused on evaluating and engaging, or when buyers are looking to deepen engagement and experience.
"In the past, sales was dictating the flow of information—cold calling, sending out corporate marketing literature, meeting with prospective customers, conducting sales presentations and arranging high-level executive meetings in more of a push selling model," Barnes continued. "Now customers are deciding when and where the sales engagement will actually begin as well as how and where that interaction will take place in more of a pull model."