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Why Buying is Harder Than Selling?

Today’s buyers have plenty of challenges to overcome, from information overload to economic uncertainty. An increased risk of failure has impacted budgets and continues to affect businesses. On the whole, this has made buying far more complicated and ultimately will affect the way buyers and sellers interact in 2024 – and beyond…

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the specific obstacles faced by sales teams, the silent assassin that’s killing your close rate, and the different factors to keep in mind when talking to buyers in 2024.

How buying groups are changing

At a high level, the buyer’s challenges are all interconnected. Some of these are driven by external factors, such as the state of the economy, the increasing rate of technology disruption and the consequent increase in emerging competitive pressures. However, a range of internal factors have also led to impacted budgets and additional buying complexity.

Even when companies recognize these problems and try to get themselves out of that mess, they often end up overwhelmed by the amount of content they need to trawl through in order to make sense of what a potential solution looks like. Information that’s supposed to be helping them is in fact adding to the level of internal complexity and indecision.

One of the byproducts of this is that the buyer group has also increased. A 2019 Gartner study reported that the typical buying group was made up of between six and 10 stakeholders. In 2022 that number is reported to be in excess of 11 stakeholders and experts predict this will continue to increase in coming years.

What’s interesting is the types of stakeholders now involved in this buying group. We’re seeing CFOs and procurement teams getting involved in smaller purchases and scrutinising deals of lower value to justify if they’re a good investment or not.

Dealing with larger buyer groups

It’s difficult to say exactly why buyer groups have grown so much, but one likely explanation is that today’s buyers are more risk-averse. When there are more buyers involved in a purchase decision, there’s less chance you’re going to pin the blame on any one individual if things go wrong.

Businesses also tend to be more (Zoom, matrix, global) siloed, which means more divisions and departments need to get involved in a buyer group.

If you’re trying to run a sales process, you have to be cognizant of the fact that the buying group is bigger and take appropriate action. This includes:

●     Building multiple champions

●     Aligning as many stakeholders as possible

●     Getting agreement on the problem they’re trying to solve

●     Prioritising that problem above other competing incentives

These activities are absolutely non-negotiable when it comes to servicing our buyers in 2024.

The silent sales killer

In the biggest piece of research on B2B selling in the last decade, the authors of The Jolt Effect (Matt Dixon & Ted McKenna) used AI to study 2.5 million sales calls made during the pandemic. They found that an incredibly high number of opportunities — both won and lost — included moderate to high levels of customer indecision. Half of deals in pipeline end in no decision, and often we have no idea why.

The prevailing wisdom in sales, particularly before the Jolt Effect came out, was that the real reason people weren’t moving forward with opportunities was because of status quo. In other words, they found their current position easier, better or in some way preferable to making a change.

However, this research has shown that customer indecision is far more likely to be the reason they’re not moving forward. This fear of making a decision falls into three distinct categories:

Evaluation. Different vendors and solutions aren’t always like-for-like, making it difficult for customers to properly compare them. For example, if you’re hungry, you have several options; you could cook your own meal, you could go out to a restaurant or you could order something from Deliveroo. Technically they’re solving the same problem, but they are not the same thing. This becomes infinitely more complicated in B2B sales, where prospects are unable to compare different solutions on their real merits.

Information. A lack of information can obviously contribute to indecision. However, too much information can be just as dangerous. Organisations are creating mountains of white papers and other thought leadership content yet, instead of helping, this often confuses customers. They end up suffering analysis paralysis, where they fear moving forward because the risk seems too high or they’re worried they haven’t seen enough content to inform their decision.

Outcome uncertainty. You can have everything else in place, where the customer has the right amount of information and has been able to sufficiently evaluate the solution, but there’s always the chance that things aren’t going to go as planned. Even when you’re told that this is the right product, even when you trust the vendor, you can’t help wondering whether you’re going to be in that 1-5% of people that this solution just doesn’t work for.

As salespeople, you have to identify whether your potential customers fall into any (or even all) of these categories. From there, your job is to alleviate that indecision for them, so that they feel far more comfortable moving forward with a purchase.

Final thoughts

Businesses have been fairly comfortable talking about the status quo for many years now, using things like ROI justifications to validate why they should be moving from their current state to a future solution and what the cost-benefit is.

However, customer indecision is often a deeply personal and emotional fear. It’s essentially the fear of failure manifesting in different ways, something that the customer is far less likely to verbalise openly. This goes back to the principle that buying is actually based on emotions, not logic. You need to understand the emotions that are driving those decisions and the motivators behind them.

When we realise this, it fundamentally changes the way we interact with our customers.

Once we grasp that 95% of buying is emotional and only 5% of it is rational, then it becomes clear that the way that we build relationships, the way that we demonstrate our expertise, the way we demonstrate that we are a safe pair of hands, and the way that we alleviate customers’ fears is non-negotiable in selling in 2024.

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