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What Influences B2B Purchase Decisions?

By Tom Pisello | May 13, 2021

In a digital selling environment, it is vital to understand what remote buyers need from sellers to make B2B purchase decisions. If you are a sales leader or sales enablement professional, it’s important to know how sellers are stepping up to meet these needs, or perhaps falling short.

In a RAIN Group survey of virtual buying and selling experiences, researchers asked buyers what factors have the greatest influence on their B2B purchase decisions, and importantly, how sellers stack up against these decision-making determinants.

The top factors that influenced B2B buyers’ decision-making should come as no surprise. The top four success characteristics indicated for those sellers deemed as best-in-class are:

Whether selling virtually or traditionally, this list should be of no surprise, and many of these factors have been well recognized as selling best practices for some time. Discovery, Alignment, Listening, and Justification.

Pretty simple? Absolutely, these are all selling 101 skills…
Executing well? Apparently not, especially not in today’s post-crisis, virtual selling situations.

The Engagement Gap

Buyer expectations are continually evolving, and now that our sellers are engaging almost exclusively in a virtual versus traditional, in-person environment, there is an ever-growing gap between the expectations of today’s “consumerized” buyer and the perception as to what sellers are stepping up and delivering.

Looking at the top four factors influencing B2B purchase decisions, the Buyer perceives sellers as dramatically falling short on elevated expectations in a virtual selling environment:

Only about 1 in 4 sellers (26%) are perceived as effective at discovering concerns, wants, and needs. This means that 3 in 4 sellers are believed to not be asking the right questions, essentially pitching with a blindfold on, and mostly “showing-up and throwing-up.”

Similarly, a meager 1 in 4 sellers are perceived as good listeners, meaning that a similar 3 out of 4 sellers are doing most of the talking, are not listening to what the buyer has to say, or listening, but not being perceived as listening in on-line meetings.

The gap is a little smaller when it comes to showing the “art of the possible” and “how to solve a problem”, which you would expect with all the solution knowledge, content, and training we give to our sellers. However, even here, only 34% are perceived as capable of aligning solutions to specific challenges and use cases. An embarrassing 1 in 3 is perceived as “knowing how to align solutions to solve problems”.

And the largest, most significant gap: Only 16% of sellers are effective at “making a clear ROI business case”. This means that less than two out of ten sellers can effectively articulate the business outcomes of the proposed solution and deliver a clear and credible financial justification so crucial to getting from “do nothing” to “Yes”. Even when sellers are providing ROI analysis, the ability to make the case “clear” is lacking, with sellers not being able to tie the value projections to the solution in a crisp and credible manner.

The bottom-line? Less than 3 in 10 sellers do well in the four crucial areas that have the greatest influence on b2B purchase decisions.

Alarm bells should be going off!

Buyer expectations are dramatically accelerating and sellers, although they are certainly enabled to conduct virtual selling engagements every day, are falling far short of what buyers want and need. We call this the Engagement Gap. The gap is significant, is hindering B2B purchase decisions, and needs to be addressed in order for your sellers to be differentiated, effective and successful.

Bridging the Engagement Gap

To help reduce the engagement gap between buyer expectations and selling experiences, for each of the top four most influential decision-making factors, we compiled some tips and actions you can take now to help enable sellers to close the gap:

Better discovery – Sellers need help and guidance as to how to do better discovery and what questions to ask.

We recommend ditching that big presentation deck sellers often rely on to fuel early meetings and leverage something more modern, differentiating, and dynamic. At the same time, you don’t want to ditch all visuals and have the seller just reel off a big set of interrogation questions, as buyers often want to “see and learn” as an integral part of the discovery, not wait until after they have given you their firstborn to get there.

Instead of your typical interrogation, or linear one-way endless slide presentation, a seller can instead leverage a Dynamic Discovery Presentation, which provides interactive elements to help foster visual discovery, fuel conversations, and conduct show-and-tell storytelling based on every buyer’s unique challenge and perspective.

The interactive Dynamic Discovery Presentation typically starts with a picture of a “day in the life” of a prospect, a visualization of the buyers’ challenges in the context of their daily work environment.

Using this visualization, the seller can use the interactive Dynamic Discovery Presentation to prompt for and explore each potential challenge, walking the prospect through typical issues and indicators your firm sees other organizations similar to the buyer experiencing.

As opposed to a big, linear deck, the interactive presentation provides dynamic pop-ups and drill-downs into little mini-stories (vignettes), to pivot to and present the right insights and benchmarks needed to educate the buyer on the cost of “do nothing” and some critical questions to answer about current costs, risks and lost opportunities of sticking with the status quo.

If interested, the seller can then dig deeper into the use cases to solve the challenge, how the solution can help, and a link to relevant success stories proving value outcome delivery.

The seller is guided on their discovery and can pivot the conversation exactly to where the buyer goes, and the prospect receives a collaborative discovery and education on the priority issues which need to be addressed sooner vs. later and ideas on how to solve these challenges.

The Dynamic Discovery Presentation can be leveraged in the online virtual meeting, but as importantly in today’s consensus-based decisions, also shared with the prospect and buying team post-meeting, providing a choose your own adventure experience for recipients the presentation is shared with.

Integrated tracking provides the seller with insights as to exactly who the Interactive Dynamic Discovery presentation was shared with, consumed by, and where each decision-maker spent their time within the story.

Check out some great examples here.

Aligning solutions to problems – Once the challenges are identified, it is important to be sure the right solutions are recommended and perfectly aligned to priority problems and opportunities.

A modern way to help solve the alignment gap is to leverage an Interactive Diagnostic Assessment, where a seller can provide a buyer with a guided health check and intelligent, data-driven diagnosis and next step recommendations.

Using an Interactive Diagnostic Assessment, your sellers and customer success team can collaboratively engage with prospects and customers to understand where they are, through a set of questions designed to uncover potential issues (especially hidden challenges), score the health, and most importantly align and guide next step-prescriptive solutions.

The Interactive Diagnostic Assessment helps sellers discover and measure the buyer on key dimensions of their current capabilities and maturity. Each dimension of the assessment is characterized, scored, tallied and compared to peer benchmarks, a great way to help the prospect or customer understand and prioritize shortfalls and motivate change.

The Interactive Diagnostic Assessment tool automatically and smartly presents the right use case advice and solution recommendations to solve these challenges, assuring alignment to priority issues.

All of this is delivered in an online application that the seller can interactively use in the virtual selling environment, to produce a leave-behind diagnostic assessment report and link that the seller can share with the buying team post-meeting.

Check out an example here.

Listening better – Sellers have a lot to do and manage when hosting online virtual sales calls. It can be very difficult for the seller to get the buyer to be convinced they are listening if the seller’s video is off, his head is down taking notes, or the seller is searching feverishly for the right slides or supporting material and assets to share in response to where the buyer takes the conversation.

And worse, it can be easy for the talkative seller to go on and on, not providing openings for customers to chime in. And with customer video that may not be turned on, it’s too easy to miss cues to know that buyers are engaged, are able to chime in, and are being heard.

It is important to encourage and coach “less talking and more listening”, and “free sellers up” as much as possible to show that listening is actually occurring.

A few easy recommendations to close the Listening gap:

Check out some useful tools here.

Making a clear ROI case – Post-crisis, most buyer organizations placed more reviews and financial control hurdles in place to scrutinize proposals and assure that only those purchases aligned to top-level priorities and generating significant business value outcomes with low investment/risk are approved. If you are a seller, you likely have felt the impact of this, with longer decision cycles on deals that eventually get to “Yes”, and unfortunately many more deals ending in “do nothing”.

To help overcome these challenges and help buyers make confident B2B purchase decisions, every significant proposal ($50k or more), should be proactively accompanied by a financial justification business case. The case is used by your buyer, decision-makers, and approvers to assure that the proposal has strategic alignment, priority, financial reward, and manageable risk.

To generate the financial justification so needed in an effective manner, across all deals that need it, Interactive Value Assessment tools can be used to help all sellers:

Leveraging the Interactive Value Assessment tools, sellers can collaborate with buyers, to co-create a value proposal and outcome plan.

The resultant output report is shared with the buyer, decision, and approval teams, providing the credible financial justification needed to assure that the CF”No” and COVID committee deliver prioritization of the investment compared to all other options and alternatives, and quicker approval.

Check out some great interactive value assessment examples here.

The Bottom-Line

As buyers’ expectations elevate, sellers are perceived as falling short on four key factors influencing B2B purchase decisions, creating an engagement gap with less than expected capabilities in Discovery, Alignment, Listening, and Justification.

Proper sales enablement and coaching, providing sellers with the right toolset, mindset, and skillset, could significantly help your sellers meet elevated buyer expectations, especially across the four key buying factors. Leveraging new types of content including dynamic discovery presentations, interactive diagnostic and value assessments can help fuel differentiated virtual selling engagements, close the engagement gap, and boost selling effectiveness.

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