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Why A ‘Sense Making’ Approach Wins B2B Sales

  • Written by Brent Adamson, Gartner
  • Published in Demanding Views

brent adamsonIt’s no secret that B2B buyers are overwhelmed when it comes to making complex purchase decisions. In fact, most B2B buyers report they feel inundated with options, choices and noise. In this environment, providing prospects with yet more high-quality information and “thought leadership” is no longer a differentiator for sales organizations.

Suppliers focused on content creation and delivery, have flooded the marketplace not just with high quantities of information, but high quantities of high-quality information. In fact, Gartner's research indicates that nine out of 10 buyers encountered information of generally high-quality when making a purchase. So, how does one compete in this information-rich buying environment?

Beyond simply providing customers even more data, research, information, and insight to consider, today’s best sales professionals help customers make sense of that information specifically within the context of a purchase, proactively guiding them through the buying journey.

Gartner's research reveals three distinctive information-sharing approaches that sales reps typically take: giving, telling and Sense Making.

  • Reps who adopt a “giving” approach follow the maxim: “More is better.” They tend to be responsive and comprehensive in the information they provide.
  • Sales reps who rely on “telling” are very forward with providing information and opinions, stories, and anecdotes based on their personal expertise and years of experience.
  • Reps who take what Gartner calls a “Sense Making” approach carefully share information to guide customers toward a clearer, more rationalized view. They help the customer make sense of and act on all the information they’ve encountered.

After surveying more than 1,000 B2B customers, we learned that when customers overcome their inherent skepticism of sellers as a source of objective information and feel more confident in their own ability to take decisive action on the information they encounter, they are more likely to make the kind of purchase all suppliers seek to close: a high-quality, low-regret deal.

The Sense Making approach is dramatically more likely to reduce buyer skepticism and increase their confidence relative to giving and telling. In fact, research shows that 80% of sellers who used the sense-making approach closed high-quality, low regret deals.

This is because a Sense Making approach secures a commercial advantage through a series of unique, information-related behaviors:

  • Connect to relevant resources. Diagnose customers’ information needs and provide curated sources and tools to help customers feel they know all the relevant information.
  • Clarify information complexity. Reduce the complexity of the information environment by filtering and processing information for customers.
  • Collaborate on customer learning. Help customers evaluate the quality of information and arrive at their own understanding of difficult issues.

Regardless of the sales method or model, Sense Making is an effective sales approach. Building confidence, reducing skepticism and resolving customer information challenges is what sets the best apart from the rest and results in more consistent high-quality, low-regret deals.


Brent Adamson is a distinguished Vice President in Gartner’s Sales practice, advising chief sales officers (CSOs) and other sales leaders on the latest research and trends on sales operations, sales enablement, buying behavior and sales strategy, among others.