As consumers, we immediately turn to self-service digital channels for almost all our purchases, whether it’s something small, such as house supplies and food, or large, like TVs and cars.
B2B buyers now act in the same way.
The latest Gartner “B2B Buyer Survey” found that 75% of B2B buyers prefer a rep-free experience: 68% of respondents made a recent significant purchase via digital commerce, which typically involves less rep assistance.
This is all great news for buyers who are buying where and when they want and have increased power. However, the reality for leaders of commercial organizations is messier.
Addressing The Elephant In The Room
The survey highlights that a sales representative’s involvement in buying tasks decreases the likelihood of deal quality. Buyers whose purchase decisions are primarily led by sales reps are less likely to complete a high-quality deal compared to both self-navigated buying and a hybrid approach.
While B2B buyers may have higher quality deals without rep-assistance, these deals often lead to more regret. Overall, B2B buyers are 20% more likely to regret digital commerce purchases, as they believe they could have used more information, should have thought more about the purchase, or ultimately, chose the wrong thing.
So, what exactly is going wrong with the current approach to multichannel sales?
Sales & Marketing Continue To Play A Team Game Individually
The first issue is that customers are receiving inconsistent support, information and guidance across supplier channels. Most buyers encounter conflicting information from supplier resources, with the supplier website and salesperson as the most common points of misalignment. This inconsistency often results from sales and marketing operating in silos and generates a lack of high-quality deals.
Even when organizations are successful in breaking down silos and aligning sales and marketing efforts, they are frequently aligned around the wrong objective. Many organizations are giving buyers exactly what they say they want — an easy and seamless purchase experience across all their preferred channels. Commercial organizations have done this by offering more channels, providing easy-to-consume content and training sales reps to be prescriptive in recommendations to reduce the burden of decision making.
The problem is that what buyers say they want is different from what they ultimately need.While commercial organizations have made it easier for customers to quickly follow through on decisions they’ve made, companies have overlooked the fact that many customers need to slow down and think more deeply about their purchase.
Realign Team Attention On The Right Shared Goal
Through our research, we set out to understand what buyers actually need. We found three coordinated multichannel paths that customers take through a purchase: Seamless, prescriptive and learning.
The seamless path provides a consistent experience across channels and is focused on speed and efficiency, while the prescriptive path involves the supplier providing personalized recommendations that consider buyer needs, preferences and interactions. The learning path deepens the buyer’s understanding of how to accomplish their goals and is the only one of these three that has a statistically significant impact on buying more than planned.
When buyers experience a self-reflective learning path — a sequence of supplier interactions that deepens their own understanding of their needs and goals — they are 147% more likely to buy more than originally planned.
The learning path works because it builds buyer confidence. When buyers realize something new about their own needs and goals, they are 16% more likely to have high decision confidence. Decision confidence results in a higher likelihood of completing a high-quality deal.
The catch is that neither sales nor marketing can create customer learning paths on their own. Both functions must work together to choreograph learning interventions across the purchase journey and ultimately deliver high-quality deals.
The Journey To Commercial Integration
The best commercial organizations create customer learning paths through the operational integration of sales and marketing. At these organizations, sales and marketing manage the end-to-end customer journey with integrated reporting lines, resource allocation, process workflows, systems and shared metrics.
Understandably, this lofty goal might seem out of reach for many. The key here is to pick a few high-leverage areas to make meaningful progress rather than aim for the stars all at once. We advise our clients to focus on one to two of the following:
- Audience understanding;
- Revenue enablement;
- Process design; and
- Customer data and systems.
In each area, sales and marketing can make incremental changes through the lens of customer learning and slowly move closer to full integration.
The Time To Act Is Now
Gartner’s recent “Chief Sales Officer Strategy Survey” shows that CSOs recognize the importance of acting now to drive tighter alignment of commercial functions — it's their top priority for 2023.
Organizations that have taken steps toward commercial integration are already reaping the benefits. For example, companies that report aligning cross-functional KPIs are nearly three times more likely to exceed their new customer acquisition targets. In short, commercial leaders should act now to drive tighter sales marketing alignment or risk being left behind.