Understanding and adapting to B2B buyer preferences, expectations, and timelines is crucial to generating long-term, consistent revenue growth. Rigid plans and processes may appear on the surface to provide consistency and predictability across your sales organization, but they do not account for the varied nature of your individual prospects. B2B selling is not a one-size-fits-all approach — sales agility is an absolute must.
B2B buyer preferences and timelines have changed … has your sales approach?
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses faced unexpected changes and disruptions in their business. From new work-from-home environments and social distancing measures to budget allocation and staffing adjustments, it’s understandable that many sales organizations interpreted these changes as having a significant impact on buyer behavior. However, according to a 2020 B2B Buyer Behavior Study,
- 30% of companies escalated some purchase plans due to changing business needs following the crisis.
- 7% said they were looking for more hands-on attention and engagement from solution providers.
- 16% indicated their research and selection process had continued without disruption.
- 32% of companies said their purchase cycle either stayed the same or decreased.
- 82% of companies reported that their purchase decisions now progress based on changing business needs/priorities.
This data highlights that the needs-based buying behavior of individuals and businesses has remained virtually unchanged, even amidst a crisis. However, buyer preferences and timelines are constantly evolving, influenced by a number of factors, including:
- Economic landscape
- Business objectives and priorities
- Existing tech stack
All of these factors can be influenced by internal and external crises. The COVID-19 pandemic was an extreme example, but market fluctuations, internal strategy discussions, and other factors can have a significant impact on B2B buyer preferences and timelines.
Some B2B buyer behaviors and expectations have evolved in recent months. Forrester analysts report that B2B buyers are now demanding a different kind of experience and relationship with providers — one that offers more control and self-service. Buyers want an experience that is open, connected, intuitive, and immediate.
Increased Complexity in B2B Purchasing Decisions
“As hard as it has become to sell in today’s world, it has become that much more difficult to buy. The single biggest challenge of selling today is not selling, it is actually our customers’ struggle to buy,” commented Brent Adamson, Distinguished VP, Advisory, Gartner.
B2B buyers are more informed and proactive in their research practices going into a buying situation. It’s not uncommon to have six to ten decision makers involved in the process, each prepared with information and resources they have gathered individually to assist in the buying process. These stakeholders also bring their unique perspectives and needs to the process, which naturally increases the complexity. To further complicate the process, these stakeholders are faced with an ever-expanding array of options, from new technologies and products to suppliers and services.
The reality is, the B2B buyer’s journey is not linear, despite how most organizations chart it in their pipeline. Typically, B2B customers view the purchasing process more from a task completion standpoint. Given the various stakeholders involved in the purchasing process, it’s common to see tasks completed across various stages in a non-linear pattern. As a result, sales professionals must be extremely agile in their approach to ensure success.
Plan Ahead, but Remain Agile
As Napoleon once said, “Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go. Nothing is more difficult, and therefore, more precious, than to be able to decide.”
Agility does not mean approaching each situation without a plan. A well-defined sales plan and approach is critical to the success of your sales team. Becoming too rigid against the sales plan, and not accounting for individual differences among your prospects, however, will inevitably cost your team in sales. For example, you should absolutely plan and prepare for a sales meeting. However, you should be prepared to adjust your plan as you learn more about your prospect and their specific needs, priorities, and timelines. The more you learn about your prospect, the better you’ll be able to cater your approach to that prospect and secure the sale.
Not every tactic will work with every prospect. In the case of sales agility, failure is just another word for feedback. Use those “failures” to adapt your strategy. If your current approach or cadence isn’t working for a prospect, change it.
From a broader sales team perspective, agility means rapidly and continuously prioritizing accounts, opportunities, and resources to generate consistent revenue.
According to McKinsey, the 5 trademarks of an agile sales team are:
- Common aspiration across the sales organization (“North Star”)
- Network of empowered sales teams (supported by digital capabilities)
- Rapid decisions and dynamic pipeline management
- Dynamic people support to foster customer-centric sales capabilities
- Next-generation-enabling technology
The best sales organizations are those that embrace structure and alignment, but don’t shy away from dynamic adjustments to meet the needs of their prospective clients. At Sidehill Group, we solve the strategy, process, and execution issues that prevent your organization from achieving growth goals. If you’re looking for ways to increase sales agility and achieve consistent revenue growth, talk with a member of our team.