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When you get to the 70% mark in a B2B journey, nothing is going to change the buyer's mind! Here's why

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher December 12, 2023
Summary:
Time for a wake-up call!

decision

We all know that buyers do a lot of research before they reach out to Sales. That’s not a surprising finding from The 6sense B2B Buyer Experience Report. But did you also know that when those buyers finally reach out, most of them already know which vendor they will select?

Kerry Cunningham, Head of Research & Thought Leadership at 6sense and former Forrester analyst, took me through some of the key findings in the new 6sense report, and if you are in Marketing or Sales, you need to hear this because it will change how you work today.

The 70% mark in the buyer journey

In an 11-month buying journey (the average cited in this study), most buyers only engage with the vendor once they hit the 70% mark (in this case, eight months). What Cunningham finds surprising is that it didn't matter who the person was - what role they played on the buying team or what level they were at in the company - that 70% didn't change.

What that tells us, Cunningham argues, is that when a buying team starts directly interacting with a seller, they do it as a team. In other words, ‌no-one on the team is conversing with sales independently; it is all happening as a team.

Another interesting finding - 83% of the time, the buying team initiates the first interaction. And the other 17% whose first contact was by interacting with something from the seller? That interaction happened at the 70% mark of the buying journey.

What does it all mean?

Cunningham says:

So it doesn't matter whether they're initiating the contact or responding, it's going to happen about 70% of the way through the journey. And the fact that everybody's having that at the same time, it tells us very, very firmly that buyers decide when they interact, and they interact when they're ready and not before, and you hounding them and calling them is not going to change when they respond.

Cunningham also points out that there is very little variability in responses that arrived at that 70% mark. Most responses were between 60 and 75%.  The buyer already knows what they want when they initiate contact By the time a buyer initiates contact, 78% of them already have their requirements fully or nearly defined. 

Decision made

If you aren’t thinking hard yet, this next stat might shake things up a bit - when the buyer initiated contact, 84% started with the seller that ultimately won the business.  They already know who they want when they reach out to sales. 

You would expect that someone on the seller's team could get in with a buyer early and convince the buyer so that when they are ready, they go to that seller. And that might have happened in the past, but it's not happening now. Buyers are reaching out at 70% of the journey, Cunningham says, and no seller is going to be able to change a buyer's mind at that point. That's not to say that Sales can't mess it up once the buyer does engage, but we'll get to that in a few minutes. 

So a lot is happening before a buying team hits that 70% mark, and Cunningham says it's an "amazing outcome for marketing and what marketing budgets ought to be." 

It’s also a wake-up call. 

The amount of interaction is crazy

Let's look at the amount of interaction buying teams do during the buyer journey. A buying team is looking at four vendors for an average eleven-month buying process. Each person on the buying team (an average of nine members on a buying team) has 16 interactions per vendor. Not only does the buying team interact with seller websites and assets, but they also interact with other external sites and information.

So, a buying team has over 4000 interactions, of which 600 are with the vendor. If you thought it was easy to make a purchase decision, this should tell you it's not. Cunningham says it's really hard to be a B2B buyer; ‌due diligence takes forever. 

We also know that the size of the deal impacts the length of the buyer journey. But something else has a more significant impact - adding more vendors to the evaluation. Cunningham suggests that if you add a fifth vendor, the length of the process extends to 13.5 months and adds two more people to the buying team. It also increases the number of interactions to 8,000:

One of the main conclusions out of this is vendors have to be very, very good at enabling buyers to make decisions and to be efficient. Reduce as much of the friction as you possibly can between your buyers having questions and needs and them having answers to those. I think you've got to do some things differently to make sure that you're enabling your buyers.

Another interesting finding was that enterprise-level companies tend to make decisions faster. Cunningham believes the reason may be that they have specialized roles for this type of activity, although there is no good answer in the data to explain it for certain.

Due diligence becomes incredibly critical

You might think that if the decision is pretty much made before the buying team initiates contact with the vendor, then why bring in more than one vendor? Why not just talk to the one they know they want? 

But it doesn't matter if it's the winner or not; each vendor gets the same number of interactions. Cunningham says this is about more than when Sales gets involved. The four vendors selected are picked at the beginning of the process, and the buying team does an exhaustive evaluation before they get to that 70% mark. One vendor might be out in front, but the process still involves all vendors and needs to be finished that way. Cunningham said that when B2B budgets are tight, you go through the motions with everyone. 

So, is this ammunition for Marketers and a death knell for Sales? 

It's certainly a big part of the message, Cunningham acknowledges. This study tells us that by the time an account becomes an MQL (meaning someone reached out to talk to Sales), it's the beginning of the end of the process. It's not the beginning, so marketing needs to put the right processes and activities in place that give buyers all the information they need before they talk to anyone.

Can you spend budget effectively?

But it's not just about getting a bigger budget; it's also about what you do with it. What should you do differently? And should Sales stay out of it until the process hits that 70% mark?

Let’s start with marketing. 

A lot needs to happen up until the 70% mark of the buying journey. But if you don't spend the time to clearly identify your total addressable market (TAM) and, of that, the in-market accounts, no amount of budget and marketing activity will help.

You have to prioritize spending, and the way to do that, said Cunningham, is two ways:

  • Do low-cost, high-value activities for those in your TAM who are not in-market.
  • Focus more time and spend on those in the market. (We know that intent plays a key role in knowing if an account is in-market.)

Another question is, what is the right experience to provide buyers when they are inundated with content and messaging? Cunningham says AI can help here (and not just generative AI). AI helps you determine which prospects to focus on and where they are in-market. You have to know your buyers inside out - what interests them, what their buying journey looks like, what questions and issues they have. Then, you can use generative AI to help you provide the most frictionless, easiest way to get that information to them. She explains: 

Then Gen AI definitely comes in on 'the how do I become the frictionless way to get them that information'? Right now, we create content. I create a ton of long-form things. We create short-form things and all that. Ultimately, it's going to be on the fly creation of an answer based on what the prospect has as a question. Like, here's the set of prospects that have this question, this issue at this stage. Here's the stuff that they need to help them make their decision. That has to be the thought. It can't be what do I give them that helps convince them? It's how do I help that buyer get through that buying journey, make their decision and find what they really need? Because the days of getting away with just telling them what you want and what they want to hear‌, that's pretty well over.

In addition, activities like invitations to speak with customers or to attend events where customers will be are good for in-market accounts. Companies do these things, Cunningham said, but they aren’t standard practice. 

Here, you might think about the idea of becoming a media company and that every tech vendor also needs to be a media company. But that's not really the answer. The answer is community. If you want to be top of mind and help buyers, create a community that empowers them to talk with others, sharing the information they need to do their jobs. There's some product talk, but it's not the primary focus. 

6sense has a great community. 6sense Chief Revenue Officer Latane Conant has done a lot to build a 6sense community that has created relationships outside the buying process. HubSpot has a great community, and there are others. But it's a work in progress for many because it needs to be about so much more than the vendor and what it sells. 

What about Sales?

Sales should definitely not stay out of the process, says Cunningham, but their role is evolving to become one about building relationships with champions and decision marketers outside the sales process (and before a purchase process starts):

Find a way to create value or a space. You have to think about your role in that community differently. And you've got to find ways to add value to the people you want to sell to, even when you're not in a sales cycle.

Relationship building without selling is hard, but it's where sales and business development need to focus their time and effort. People don't respond until they are ready, and they have already decided by then. That means traditional BDR and SDR emailing isn't going to work and could, in fact, hurt the vendor.

What BDRs can do, Cunningham says, is reach out to everyone inside an account and ensure they have everything they need.:

You think about what a BDR can do very effectively is reach out to all of the people inside an account who might be involved in a decision and ensure that they have everything that they need. They have all of the information. If we know, say, a 6sense customer, here's an account that is looking at this solution on my website. They've looked at a bunch of content. I know what they haven't looked at yet. I've got two or three assets that are really great, that would really be important in their decision making process they haven't seen. I go outbound, and I make sure that that thing is sitting in their mailbox or that they've got the link to it. They've been invited to the event or whatever that is. So I think there's much more of that relationship building, as you said, that can and should be done.

Cunningham shared the report's findings with people in sales operations, and no-one said the findings were wrong. Things are changing. What isn't changing is that when the buyer does initiate contact, sales execution has to be pristine and contribute to the buying team's confirmation bias or overcome it. There is less room for error if you're on the sales team for the preferred vendor, and it's a more challenging job for the non-preferred vendor, but neither will likely know where they fall, so the engagement has to be perfect.  

My take

Many findings in this report speak to the challenges and opportunities that Jon Reed covers in his dbook, Reaching the Informed Buyer, including this one:

Enterprise buying is a collaborative decision – one that involves experts inside and outside company walls. To reach this diverse constituency and earn their attention, marketers must become educators and publishers, and salespeople must become advisors and ‘challengers’.

Reed talks about how to reach B2B buyers, whether they are in the market for a product or not. How to ensure they have all the information they need, whether they are buying or not. And why they should create opt-in audiences that evolve into opt-in communities. 

His guidance (too much to write here, so read the dbook) applies to marketers trying to reach buying teams before they hit the 70% point in their buying journey. 

Cunningham concludes there are a lot of surprising findings in this study (and more to come), but if you think about how things have been changing and for how long, we’re probably right where we should be, spending our time helping buyers, not just pitching our wares. 

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