Sales managers rely on meticulous onboarding programs, continuous coaching and extensive product instruction to instill confidence in their sales reps. Turns out, one of the main challenges in successfully guiding a prospect through the buying process is the buyer’s own lack of confidence.
Research recently released from Gartner revealed that overwhelmed B2B buyers face a crisis of confidence as they increasingly struggle to make large-scale purchase decisions. The Gartner study indicates the root cause of customers’ struggle has less to do with how they perceive suppliers’ offerings and more to do with how they perceive themselves.
“It’s not customers’ confidence in suppliers that is in critically short supply, but customers’ confidence in themselves and their ability to make good buying decisions,” says Brent Adamson, distinguished vice president at Gartner.
In today’s environment of increasingly abundant high-quality, yet often conflicting information, additional customer research and learning does not lead to greater clarity, but rather deeper uncertainty, the Gartner report states. More often than not, today’s customers are left with no clear means for evaluating trade-offs or moving forward with sufficient certainty to justify an expensive, potentially disruptive purchase.
In fact, Gartner research shows that 89% of customers report encountering high-quality information during the purchase process. However, when customers struggle to make sense of all this information, they are significantly more likely to settle for a course of action that is smaller or less disruptive than originally planned.
“Ironically the majority of suppliers and sellers unwittingly exacerbate this problem by focusing both content and sales conversations on ‘thought leadership’ and high levels of ‘expertise,’ all in an effort to stand out in customers’ eyes,” adds Adamson.
To truly differentiate themselves in this environment, Gartner research has found that the best suppliers build their customers’ confidence in themselves and their ability to make good decisions. To that end, leading suppliers train their sales reps to engage customers with a specific kind of information — “buyer enablement” — while simultaneously helping the customer make sense of all the information they encounter — “sense making.”
It’s all about buyer enablement
The complexity of making a B2B purchase decision can be largely attributed to the abundance of high-quality information available to buyers. The typical buying group involves six to 10 stakeholders, each of whom has consulted four to five sources of information.
Gartner reports that 77% of B2B buyers rate their purchase experience as extremely complex or difficult, and that 95% of buying groups revisit decisions at least once as new information emerges.
Customers today value suppliers that provide them with the right information, through the right channels, designed to make the purchase process easier. This
gives customers a playbook to anticipate and overcome buying obstacles they might otherwise fail to address. This specific kind of support significantly decreases the kind of purchase regret known to reduce customer loyalty and advocacy, while also dramatically increasing a supplier’s likelihood of winning a larger deal at a better price.
Marketing’s role is to make buying easier. What customers truly want in this complex buying environment is information that helps them simplify
the purchase process. Suppliers that can provide them with that information will be rewarded.
“By combining empathy with deep industry and customer knowledge, suppliers can develop and deploy information that is specifically designed to help buyers buy — just as they do to enable sellers to sell more easily,” says Adamson.
Building confidence with sense making
Customers who are confident in the information they encounter, as well as those who feel little skepticism toward any claims the sales reps have made, make bigger and bolder purchase decisions. Gartner experts said one selling approach that dramatically increases confidence and reduces skepticism is sense making. Sense making helps customers evaluate information so they are able to prioritize various sources, quantify trade-offs and reconcile conflicting information.
“This approach simplifies customers’ learning by helping them evaluate and prioritize relevant information, all while helping customers arrive at their own understanding. In fact, sales reps perceived by customers as adopting a sense-making approach to information succeeded in closing a high-quality, low-regret deal an astonishing 80% of the time.
“The most successful organizations today aren’t solving for a sales problem, they’re solving for a human problem,” says Adamson. “Those that aren’t working to build customer confidence will continue to struggle in today’s complex buying environment.”
Want to learn more? Visit Gartner.com and use the website’s search tool for additional insights on “sense making” and “buyer enablement.”