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Gartner: ‘Buyer Enablement’ And The B2B Marketing Journey

This is the first of a two-part series focusing on overcoming challenges in the B2B buyer journey.

“The B2B buying journey is hard.”

When Brent Adamson, distinguished VP, Gartner, took the stage at the start of the Gartner Sales and Marketing Conference in Las Vegas on Oct. 9, his focus wasn’t on the hundreds of sales and marketing leaders that filled the sprawling conference main stage.

His focus was on the B2B buyer, or “buyer enablement.” And at a time when customer experience is at the forefront, perhaps that’s exactly the point.

The B2B buying journey poses a unique set of problems when compared to B2C counterparts. The sales cycle is often longer, and there’s much more money on the table (millions, if you’re an enterprise buyer). Multiple stakeholders, often spanning multiple teams, are involved in the purchasing decision. Commitments are investments — ones that can last years, with a vendor/client relationship often viewed as a long-term partnership, rather than just a transaction.

But, Adamson argues, “the infrastructure that we have built is no longer consistent with how customers want to buy.” Sales and Marketing workflows have traditionally been considered linear. Marketing teams work to engage, nurture, and qualify leads, which are then passed on to Sales to close the deal. Then, after the deal is won, efforts are put in to keep customers happy, in hopes of continued loyalty.

The customer journey however, isn’t linear.

“It’s more like a big bowl of spaghetti,” Adamson said. Buyers are constantly shifting between different stages — evaluating and re-evaluating; researching; and validating their decisions.

For the buyer, internal process can be impossibly complex, with tiers of red tape to fight through before coming to a final purchasing decision. Gartner research found 77 percent of buyers reported high purchase difficulty. The headache for buyers, Adamson says, is evident: the term “I never want to do this again” sometimes echoed to describe the buying process. And even though those internal challenges may have nothing to do with the quality of sales and marketing efforts, vendors still feel the impact.

“Your customers’ buying difficulty has a significant impact on your organization,” Adamson said. The question vendors must now ask themselves is “…To what degree is your customers’ struggle to buy impacting your ability to grow?”

The shift toward buyer enablement

Adamson broke down the modern B2B buying journey into six steps, or “jobs:”

  • Problem identification
  • Solution exploration
  • Requirements building
  • Supplier selection
  • Validation
  • Consensus creation

Though some of these steps (like “problem identification, for example) may seem like a linear move (after all, you can’t start searching for a solution until you’ve identified problem, right?) all steps are being continuously revisited throughout the entire journey, with validation and consensus creation serving as the backbone to solidify decision-making.

The challenge for Sales and Marketing teams, Adamson says, is understanding the pain points associated with each “job,” and taking proactive steps to create an easier process for buyers.

Aligning teams for buyer enablement

The secret weapon, Adamson says, is accessibility to information.

Since the buyer journey is no longer linear, the divide between Sales and Marketing is increasingly blurred, with both teams working across all stages of the cycle in tandem. According to Gartner research, buyers are generally “channel agnostic,” which means they’re engaging with both Sales reps and digital channels (driven by Marketing) to find the information they need to validate their decisions.

The problem Sales and Marketing teams need to overcome is providing accessibility to the right types of information customers are looking for.

“What your customers are looking for is not conversation, it’s for information,” Adamson said.

Streamlining search by providing simple access to information that directly addresses specific pain points can help develop a positive buyer outlook and speed up the buying process. Developing this type of content needs to be done across all channels, with the right content, delivered through the right channel, at the right time.

Easier said than done, of course. But the effort is worth the impact, Adamson says. Gartner research shows that buyers that are given “information that helps us advance” are three times more likely to feel as if they entered a “high-value, low-regret” deal. For vendors, this translates into higher customer confidence, more proactive word-of-mouth recommendations, and less churn.

“If we can provide information that helps them {the buyer} advance, that’s how we’re going to win,” Adamson said.

But, how can Sales and Marketing teams do this? Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow, where we dive into different tactics to help create better experiences for buyer enablement.

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