For more than a decade, Challenger has focused our quantitative and qualitative research on two things: B2B buyer behavior and B2B seller performance.

It’s been a fascinating journey. We’ve learned a lot. But what we haven’t done (and are doing now) is to tie the research together into a story across time. There is more to discover.

Let’s take a look.

2008-2009: The surprising truth about customer loyalty.

The story starts when we were part of CEB. Our group was a business unit in contributing to the largest-ever study of the drivers of B2B customer loyalty (i.e. the ways suppliers drive customers to buy, buy more, buy more often, and advocate on their behalf). As fate would have it, this research unfolded around the global financial crisis (our most recent major economic disruption pre-COVID). But it was that disruption that led us to uncover an insight that would shape the way B2B solutions providers go to market, even a decade later. That key finding is now the common punchline: at 53% of the loyalty equation, the sales experience drives more customer engagement and loyalty than brand, reputation, service, quality, and price – combined. To provide the sales experience that would lead to greater loyalty, companies (many with our help) developed commercial insight and transformed the skillset their sellers needed to create those experiences.

2010 – 2019: A decade of growth (and increased complexity).

The global economy slowly but steadily improved from the Global Financial Crisis through 2019. Businesses grew, along with corporate budgets and a desire to make investments. But with the opportunity to invest comes different opinions about what to invest in, and more people found themselves involved in purchase decisions than ever before. The size of the typical B2B buying group grew incrementally every few years, from 5.4, to 6.8, to 10.2 (and just under a dozen in our most recent study). These people (from multiple functions) bring more perspectives, opinions, sources of information…but the more diverse the opinions, the greater the risk of group conflict. When sellers react to “established demand” (a buying group 57% of the way through the buying journey that has tried already to build consensus around an issue to solve and a solutions to pursue) they likely encounter a dysfunctional buying group. Building consensus across large, ever-expanding buying groups has been the challenge of the decade. Where sellers have the best success, they’ve continued to leverage Commercial Insight and a new skillset, but have also activated and engaged customer Mobilizers, who were capable of challenging their colleagues to overcome status quo and move the purchase forward.

2020: An abrupt halt, and an urgent need.

By mid-March 2020, with most of the world confined to work from home, it was clear that commerce was suddenly, and radically, changing.

Most sellers quickly figured out the ins and outs of presenting via video-conference. But virtual presentation is not the same as a virtual engagement. And this is where buyers have been very clear and shown their expectations with their actions. When we retested the buyer’s opinion of seller capability to provide a powerful sales experience post COVID, the data clearly showed that they had raised the bar. In the eyes of buyers, it’s never been more important for sellers to provide unique perspective and insight, to support decision-making and give a clear reason to take action. During the growth years of the last decade, buying groups had the budget and approval to make a purchase – and they would do so in spite of the experience sellers provide. In 2020, they may only purchase (or even start the decision-making process) because of the experience sellers bring

And that is where our work (the work of sellers to rise up and meet the new experience bar) has just begun.

Explore more by downloading our latest whitepaper: How B2B Buyers Choose Their Suppliers for a deeper-dive into our decade-long analysis of customer purchase behavior, and most importantly, what sellers must get right as we approach 2021.

Michael Randazzo

Michael Randazzo

Michael is a Sr. Marketing Director at Challenger, and has worked in the sales and marketing effectiveness space for much of his career as a consultant and advisor to senior commercial leaders.