Sales Still Out of Step with the Buyer's Journey

Salespeople must evolve into trusted advisors if they wish to remain relevant and valuable to prospects and customers.

For both B2B and B2C buyers, constant connectedness enables decision-makers to research and explore potential vendor options throughout the market. Vendors and suppliers, however, have yet to reassess their basic sales approaches despite the fact that most remain out of sync with the average buyer's journey.

SAP's recent "What's the Future of Sales?" report examines the changing buyer/seller dynamic, highlighting ways in which vendors can differentiate themselves in this world of well-informed prospects. Conducted in partnership with Loudhouse, this survey polled 1,220 global business buyers to determine their evolving vendor relationship expectations. Overall, traditional models lack appeal, as buyers seek trust, value, and continued support from these potentially long-term partnerships.

The following statistics explore buyers' current perception of the purchase journey and ways in which vendors can enhance their strategy and the customer experience simultaneously:

  • Only 30 percent of buyers claimed the overall purchase process-from initial encounter to the point at which they received the products or services-qualified as "excellent." The majority of participants (52 percent) described their experience as "good."
  • To enhance the buyer experience, vendors must speed up the purchase process from start to finish (48 percent), provide a consistent experience regardless of channel choice (47 percent), and enable buyers to communicate with the vendor or supplier via their channel (46 percent).
  • While 60 percent of businesses claim they're generally less tolerant and trusting of salespeople today, trust remains the single most important factor when purchasing products or services from vendors. Buyers prefer sellers that demonstrate high levels of knowledge about the products and services (74 percent) and about the buyer's organization (52 percent). Previous experience with the vendor or supplier (48 percent) also cultivates brand trust.
  • B2B buyers typically use Web search (75 percent) and vendor websites (73 percent) to research products, solutions, and vendors. However, 68 percent now wait longer to initiate contact with vendors because they conduct more research themselves. In fact, 80 percent typically know exactly what they want before making contact.
  • When making final decisions, buyers prefer to engage via face-to-face interactions and meetings (54 percent), email (41 percent), or telephone call (34 percent).
  • Ninety-one percent of those polled say they now have higher expectations of vendors and sales people than they did two years ago. However, only 52 percent of respondents believe their most recent purchase experience completely met their expectations.
  • Aggressive salespeople (48 percent), salespeople who lack relevant knowledge or subject matter expertise (46 percent), and unsolicited or cold approaches (44 percent) frustrate buyers most.

Key takeaway: With this wealth of online information at their disposal, buyers have the opportunity to research vendors and solutions long before ever talking to sales. "Today's modern and tech-savvy customers are likely to have conducted major research on specific products and services before even once speaking with a sales rep," says Jamie Anderson, senior vice president, marketing, customer engagement, and commerce solutions at SAP. "In order to deliver the 'tell me, don't sell me' approach buyers prefer, sales professionals must create unique and personalized interactions that keep customers focused and engaged throughout the entire sales process." Therefore, despite the suppliers' potential unwillingness to change, salespeople must evolve into trusted advisors if they wish to remain relevant and valuable to prospects and customers. Personalization allows vendors to demonstrate their understanding of customer needs, transparency facilitates strong partnerships, and seamless service enhances experience, ultimately laying the foundation for long-term trust.