Access the infographic with the survey highlights here.

This post continues the findings from our 2020 B2B Buyers Study.  

Part 1 and Part 2 identified a shift in power dynamics toward buyers and showed that buyers are not only asking hard questions and raising objections, but that they MEAN what they say.

In part 3 – and a bit distressingly – we learn that sellers often fail to provide their buyer counterparts with the right answers. We see a significant drop in the buyer’s opinion of seller skills, particularly skills that we’ve found are most important to a successful purchase.

Part of this drop, we assume, has to do with general uncertainty and reluctance to buy. The University of Michigan’s Consumer Index, for example, hit a high of 101 in February of this year and now languishes in the 70s. There is likely a good level of momentary emotion mixed into these responses, stemming from high levels of anxiety and a sense of being professionally on edge.

Also, we can’t assume that sellers are suddenly much less capable. They are likely interacting with customers in a similar manner to the way they did pre-COVID. But that may be the problem. 

We believe these large drops point directly to raised expectations among buyers and sellers’ inability or unwillingness to adapt, along with key failures in how suppliers manage the sale: 

  1. First, the 52% decline in how well sellers deliver ‘unique insights’ points to the fact that most companies must rethink value propositions and re-examine exactly how they add value. Challenger’s recent pulse survey of sales leaders found that most were acutely aware of this. 66% reported having made changes to sales messaging as early as April 2020, just as the pandemic got going. The question now becomes whether sellers have sufficient knowledge and confidence to deliver this new messaging effectively. 
    According to buyers, these new value propositions and sales messages are not landing quite right and sellers struggle to articulate why someone should do business with them. 
  2. Managing constructive tension is difficult in any circumstance. For example, how exactly do you motivate a buyer to make the right decision and take action without crossing the line into being “pushy”, “aggressive” or “obnoxious”?

    Doing so is even more difficult when buyers feel greater reluctance to take risk. Our data shows a decline in seller’s ability to help buyers make the right decision. A virtual work environment isn’t helping. Buyers feel sellers are less capable of identifying stakeholder interests (down by 41%) and of helping build support (down by 49%). While sellers may become expert at managing virtual workflow, when it comes to effective persuasion, managing tension and building consensus to get deals done, there is no substitute for in-person connection. For some reason, humans just work better with people we’ve met.
  3. Finally, as COVID forced companies to change their buying processes – often overnight – the amount of general friction in the system increased. As a consequence, buyers now perceive sellers to be less helpful at making the sale easy (down by 30%). Our past research would tell us this isn’t good. A more difficult sales experience can chip away at loyalty and cause buyer’s remorse. It can damage even the deals you win. 

As concerning as this data may be for sellers – there is a bright side. The current environment has created an amazing opportunity for sellers who possess, or can develop, these important skills: bringing unique perspective, understanding diverse needs, building consensus and making the decision easy. If sellers can do these well, they will truly stand out and be like a breath of fresh air to otherwise underwhelmed customers.  

As a post script, let’s bring the story back to sales leaders. In our most recent pulse survey of this group, we found they are keenly aware that individual sellers are not always hitting the mark. As 2021 priorities, sales leaders tell us they want to a) rebuild their pipelines, b) improve customer value capture, and c) improve rep effectiveness: 

Challenger’s B2B Buyer’s Study gives sales leaders a road map for improving seller effectiveness. Organizations who invest in helping sellers meet the higher bar set by buyers around important skills, will have a much better chance of filling pipelines and reclaiming existing client relationships. As always, Challenger is here to help. 

By mid-March of this year, when most of the world was sent to work from home, it was clear that B2B selling had suddenly, and radically, changed. At Challenger, we have been reporting on the changes as experienced by sellers. This edition of our pulse survey takes the buyer’s perspective, asking them what changes they have observed since the shape of the economy was transformed by COVID-19.

110 individuals from larger companies who spend an average of 60% of their time on purchasing-related activities responded to this survey (52% work at companies with 500 or more employees) conducted July 20-27. This is the third chapter of the findings; subsequent chapters will be released on Fridays.

Access the infographic with the survey highlights here.

Timur Hicyilmaz

Timur has been conducting research for most of his career. He was part of the team that researched many of the original concepts behind Challenger. Mostly focused on trying to better understand how commercial organizations succeed, Timur has spent time working on everything from trying to understand consumer attitudes toward energy consumption to identifying best practices for hospital operations leaders. His passion is for trying to identify strategies that are more likely to deliver a desired outcome than any others.