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SiriusDecisions-B2B-Buyer-Sales-Rep-Interactions-May2015A recently-released study from SiriusDecisions made some waves in the B2B marketing world, as it challenged the notion (spurred in part by SiriusDecisions’ own research) that digital has disintermediated sales, with much of the buying process complete before contact with a vendor is made. In fact, in a notable finding, the study indicates that buyers’ most important content asset is a sales presentation.

Following are some highlights from the study that illuminate the power of human interactions, which were found to generally be more prevalent the higher the expenditure level.

Human Interactions Matter, No Matter The Buyer’s Behavior

The study breaks B2B buying behaviors into three clusters, which show varying dependencies on sales representatives.

  • Independent

This is the simplest, most “transactional” type, characterized by agreement among individuals, with a time frame typically less than 8 weeks and with a typical price range of less than $50k. This scenario also has the fewest buying centers (1-2) and colleagues (1-2) of the three identified.

This scenario averages 11 interactions with vendors, of which 6 are human and 5 non-human (digital). Given the more transactional nature of this relationship, it skews more digital than others. Overall, fewer than half of the respondents reported that they or someone from their organization received information from the sales representative of the winning vendor to help inform their decision at the Education (49%), Solution (42%) and Selection (38%) stages.

(The Education phase refers to when a “decision is made that there is a reason for change”. The Solution phase refers to a decision being made on “the approach on how to change,” while the Selection phase refers to the choice of a vendor.)

  • Consensus

The next step up in complexity, this scenario involves decision-making across teams, functions or departments, with a typical timeframe of 1-2 quarters (but no more) and a spend of $50-500k. There are more buying centers (3-4) and colleagues (3-5) involved with this cluster.

Not surprisingly, then, there are more interactions with vendors (14) for this scenario, with an average of 8 human interactions and 6 non-human ones. Sales reps are also more involved throughout the buying process: a majority of respondents reported receiving information from winning vendors’ sales reps that helped inform their decision at the Education (62%), Solution (56%) and Selection (53%) phases.

  • Committee

The most complex of the buying scenarios, this involves agreement at the executive leadership level, with a timeframe that can last 1-2 quarters or more, and with a price range typically starting at $500k and reaching into the millions of dollars. With 5 or more buying centers and 6-10 (or more) colleagues involved, it certainly deserves its “committee” nomenclature.

Not surprisingly, this buying scenario demonstrates the most interactions with vendors (17), of which 9 are human and 8 non-human.

Notably, sales representatives are most involved in the Education phase of this scenario. In fact, two-thirds of respondents reported that their organization received helpful information from the sales rep of a winning organization at this phase. This runs as a strong counter to the theory that much of the early work in buying is digital, with sales representatives only engaged further along the purchase path.

Indeed, respondents were less likely to say they had received helpful information from the winning vendors’ sales reps at the Solution (55%) and Selection (54%) phases, although a majority said that sales reps helped inform their decisions at those points.

Sales Rep Interactions Positive in Nature

As the above results demonstrate, sales representatives are generally involved throughout the decision-making process. And those interactions are overwhelmingly positive, according to respondents.

Specifically:

  • 87% of respondents who had met with a representative from the winning provider at the Education phase said that the impact was very (45%) or somewhat (42%) positive;
  • 84% of those who had met with a winning vendor’s rep at the Solution phase reported a very (42%) or somewhat (42%) positive impact; and
  • 81% of those who had met with a winning vendor’s rep at the Selection phase said that the impact was very (46%) or somewhat (35%) positive.

It’s interesting to note that the reps’ impact was most positive at the earliest phase, although the differences are relatively small.

The study also notes that there are other provider representatives that can influence decision-making. Although vendor sales representatives are by far the top-ranked, buyers also ascribe influence to other subject matter experts such as Vendor Product Managers, Vendor Solutions Specialists and Distributors.

Most Important Buying Interactions

The SiriusDecisions study also features a “Buying Interactions Model,” essentially a quadrant that divides interactions into Human and Non-Human as well as High and Low Reciprocity.

Looking at “Facilitated Interactions” (Non-Human, Low Reciprocity), in which “information is delivered through online channels providing content that buyers can access in a self-service manner,” the study notes that buyers’ most impactful interactions are searching on the internet and exploring a provider’s website, which have equal weight.

Among “Simulated Interactions” (Non-Human, High Reciprocity), in which “information is delivered through online channels for buyers to access in a self-service manner with the ability to interact in a simulated or virtual environment,” by far the most impactful interaction is accessing a free trial, twice the influence on decision-making as the next-most influential, touring an online demo.

Influenced Interactions” (Human, Low Reciprocity), feature “information… delivered directly from a person from the provider organization or through an external party.” While these interactions can be structured by the vendor, they have little direct control over the information exchange. Among these interactions, attending an industry conference holds a slight overall lead in the weighted scores illustrating the impact on the decision-making process. Close behind are vendor-sourced conversations with a customer reference and buyer-sourced conversations with a customer reference, each of which carry equal weight.

Finally, “Orchestrated Interactions” are those in which “information is delivered directly from a representative of the provider organization. The provider has direct control over the information exchange, allowing for a highly responsive experience adapted to the buyer.” The most impactful interaction here? Dialogue with a sales representative.

About the Data: The results are based on a proprietary survey where responses were collected via a “rigorously qualified panel” of 1,005 B2B executives, 7 in 10 of whom are based in the US. Close to half came from companies with less than $500M in revenues, while one-third were from companies with at least $1B in revenues. Gen Xers comprised half of the respondents, with Baby Boomers accounting for 32% and Millennials the remaining 18%.

Some 54% self-identified as influencers, with the remaining 46% identifying as decision-makers. A bare majority (51%) had made their last purchase within the prior 30 days, with another 35% having done so in the previous 90 days.

Among job roles, CXOs (34%) and IT leaders (22%) were the most heavily represented, while manufacturing (25%) and high tech (20%) were the industries most heavily represented.

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