A recurring topic of discussion with my clients is whether B2B selling is getting more difficult. The consensus response is that it is getting much harder. Evidence would bear this out as Salesforce.com reported that 57% of sales reps would miss quota in 2019 (I’ve found no data on the final tally). When I ask sales reps and sales managers why, I typically get responses like “There’s more competition… Customers have access to more information… Our offerings are becoming a commodity and lowest price wins… etc.”

But are these really the root causes or symptoms? While we sell for a living, we too often forget that customers don’t buy for a living. Rather, they are in the business of their business. Fortunately, there’s growing interest and research into this phenomenon, which I believe sheds a light on the underlying issues – as well as the opportunities for sellers.

Is B2B Buying Easy?

Gartner reports that 77% of B2B buyers agree that purchases have become very complex and difficult. This is a surprising number, but why is it so complex and difficult? For a start, 66% of the time buyers see little to no differentiationbetween proposed offerings (Aberdeen Group). If sellers’ solutions look the same most of the time, is it easier or harder to make a purchase decision? Customers will often default to the lowest cost as the safest choice.

Who Are We Selling to?

True Sales Results reports there are on average 7.2 internal stakeholders involved in complex technology sales (Gartner currently reports this number as between 6 and 12+). And this number has been significantly increasing since CEB did their groundbreaking research (it was 5.4 in 2015). It’s natural that not all these stakeholders are aligned and have their own agenda. Now we’re getting a glimpse of at least part of the real issue.

All That Information…

Spotio reports that 84% of buyers kick off a buying initiative with a referral (sucks for you if you’re not the one referred, but that’s the topic for another post). Today, 67% of the buyer’s journey is now done independently and digitally (Sirius Decisions). Gartner reports that buyers are, on average, 57% of the way through their buying journey before they meet with a sales rep.

Perhaps the sellers are right after all. Buyers do have access to more information than ever about your products, your services and customers who have bought them, but is it helping them make the right buying decision? Gartner reports that 55% of buyers encounter an overwhelming amount of information they believe is trustworthy – and 44% of B2B buyers struggle with contradictory information from various suppliers.

Where Does Confusion and Uncertainty Lead?

Nothing I’ve come across captures the essence of the buyer’s current journey like this graphic from Gartner. Imagine having to navigate this serpentine (and often circular) path to a purchase decision. As you can see, many steps are revisited in order to gain consensus and validate conflicting information.

A Long, Hard Slog

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Source:©Gartner “Win More B2B Sales Deals.” All rights reserved.

As a result, 46% of B2B buying cycles are 7 months or longer according to CSO Insights – if the buying cycle results in an actual purchase.  An astounding 43% of the time, buying initiatives are either cancelled (presumably because they are too hard) or deals are lost to “do nothing,” which is the same thing from the seller’s perspective (Forrester). Now we’re getting to the heart of the matter. Selling has become much harder because B2B buying has become a confusing, protracted, often paralyzing and risk filled endeavor!

Whether you call them supporters, champions, or mobilizers, not buying for a living is just the start of their challenges (and your worries!). How many of them signed up to also sell as part of their job description? Today, they need to sell internally to a diverse, unaligned group of stakeholders. Only 17% of the buying group’s time is spent meeting with all potential suppliers (Gartner). Therefore, the odds are the bulk of actual “selling time” is being conducted on your behalf when you aren’t in the room! How well have you prepared and armed your champions with the right information and insights to take on that task?

The answer, as I’ll explain in the next post is to help the customer simplify the complexity of their situation and make it easier for them to buy – and feel they have made an informed decision.

Good Selling!


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