September 21, 2016

Why B2B Buyers Want a Prescriptive Experience

Written by
Chris Klinefelter
Tags: Podcast

Rick Karlton, an advisory leader for the Sales Leadership Council at CEB, was a recent guest on our podcast, B2B Nation.

In this episode, we discussed:

  • Some of the biggest challenges in B2B sales
  • How B2B organizations are trying to alleviate the complexity of the sales cycle
  • Where B2B sales goes from here

Below are some of the highlights from our conversation.*

What are some of the biggest challenges in B2B sales today?

“There are three pieces to answer this question. In today’s environment, customers have infinite access to information. If you compare that to 10 to 15 years ago, our customers would come to us proactively to learn. They would ask us what options are out there, what paths to take, what they need to be successful. With the explosion of content today, suppliers are being cut out of that learning journey. When a customer actually does call a supplier, it’s less to learn . . . and more to figure out a price, because they’ve already decided what they want.

When a customer actually does call a supplier, it’s less to learn and more to figure out a price.

“Another issue is the amount of people involved in a given sale. It used to be that you talk to a senior executive by clawing your way up to a corner office. You needed to find out who owned the checkbook. In the past decade, customer stakeholders have been much more wary of making decisions by themselves. The age of the senior decision-maker is dead. Instead, everything is purchased by committee. It’s not just a quantity issue of people who are involved in the decision; it’s also the diversity of function that’s involved. If I used to sell to marketing, now I sell to the marketing function, and the CFO is involved, and sourcing and procurement are involved. These are very different conversations with stakeholders who care about very different things.

“The third trend is that there are so many more options. Ten years ago, it would just be your company plus your top two or three competitors. Today there are a lot of niche players in the market and different ways that customers can pursue a specific solution.”

How are sales organizations trying to alleviate the complexity of the B2B sales cycle?

“The avenue being taken most frequency by sales professionals today is to be responsive. They want to give customers everything they’re asking for, and if they want more information, they can provide it. If customers bring more stakeholders to the table, salespeople are bringing product specialists and engineers to the table to better answer these larger sets of inquiries. So many more people are involved in making the sale today. Organizations are trying to show customers how their solution can solve any option they’re considering.

“Here’s the problem: As we talk to prospects, you start to see that salespeople have a flawed assumption. The flawed assumption is that customers feel more empowered by having more content available and bringing more people into the sales decision process. But when you survey the customer base, what they tell you is that they don’t feel empowered at all; rather, they feel overwhelmed. Customers really don’t want to work with suppliers who provide more and more information and experts to answer questions when they’re already overwhelmed. Suppliers aren’t responsive to this. Customers want help from suppliers to know what they should do. They want to know what their buying journey should look like. They want to know what issues and roadblocks they’ll run into and how to navigate those. They really want a prescriptive experience.”

Where does B2B sales go from here?

“Companies are on this journey to be more prescriptive for customers. Sales and marketing need to evolve their sales processes to incorporate the customer’s buying journey and be more customer centric. Companies need to start considering what customers are doing in their purchase journey, the challenges they’re facing in the buying process, and understand what their responsibilities are to prospects throughout their journey. They need to be more prescriptive in their thinking and processes instead of pushing their own agenda. Not enough companies are asking themselves if they understand the purchase journey.” 


Rick Karlton will be speaking at the 2016 CEB Sales and Marketing Summit in October. For information about speakers, agendas, and registration, click here

B2B Nation is a podcast for B2B sales and marketing professionals, featuring expert opinions and advice on the most important topics in the industry. Check out our other episodes on iTunes, or follow us on Twitter: @Technology_Adv.


*Some excerpts have been paraphrased to enhance readability.