The Miller Heiman Group 2018 Buyer Preferences Study found that more than 70 percent of buyers said they wait until after they have already defined their needs to engage sellers. In this post, we look at the questions of whether buyers want to cut salespeople out of the buying process and why so many reps find themselves struggling to stay involved.

It’s become common knowledge that buyers are engaging salespeople later and later in the sales process. New research from CSO Insights, the research division of Miller Heiman Group, confirms this. In our 2018 Buyer Preferences Study, we found that more than 70 percent of buyers wait until after they have already defined their needs to engage sales. Tweet This.

This has led many people — especially sales professionals with quotas to hit — to wonder if buyers might be trying to cut salespeople out of the buying process altogether.

The Good News: Buyers Still Want to Work with Salespeople
Despite our research that shows buyers are waiting longer before engaging with a salesperson, the vast majority of buyers still want to engage with sales before making a decision. Only about 3 percent of respondents said they “can’t wait until I can buy B2B online and not work with sellers ever again.”

More than half of study respondents (65 percent) find value in discussing their situations with salespeople. As one respondent to our 2018 Buyer Preferences Study said, they want to work with a salesperson who can “propose an additional alternative solution that brings value, even if not fully in the initial scope.”

The Bad News: Your Salespeople Are Meeting Expectations
That’s not a typo. Sure, most salespeople (62 percent) are meeting customer expectations, and only 6 percent are falling short. The remainder (32 percent) exceed expectations. But there are at least two reasons why this isn’t good news for sellers.

First, buyer expectations may not be very high to begin with. Only 23 percent of respondents consider vendor salespeople a preferred resource to solve business problems. More buyers (34 percent) would rather attend an industry event, trade show or conference than reach out to a salesperson to discuss a challenge. If your salespeople aren’t the go-to resource for problem-solving, it’s no wonder your customers and prospects are engaging them later in the buying process than ever.

Second, when salespeople meet expectations (but don’t exceed them), they all start to look alike in the eyes of buyers. Our study shows that more than half of buyers (58 percent) see little difference between salespeople, and 10 percent find no difference at all.

When salespeople don’t differentiate themselves by providing more value than their competitors, buyers have no reason to work with one salesperson over another. They are left to their own devices at each major decision point in the buying process and end up making decisions based on information gathered from other sources.

How Long Will Buyers Put Up with the Status Quo?
The mismatch between buyer needs and the value salespeople provide leads to something we call the buyer apathy loop. It’s not that buyers want to cut salespeople out of the process. They just aren’t very passionate about working with sales when salespeople are undifferentiated and merely meeting expectations.

In our next post, we’ll go into a deeper explanation of the apathy loop and what our research says about how sellers can break out of it. In the meantime, sales professionals and sales leaders need to ask themselves how long the current situation can last.

AI (artificial intelligence) is pushing the limits of what buyers can purchase online in self-service mode. For example, you can already buy a piece of complex industrial equipment worth $250,000 or more on Alibaba. Developers are also working diligently to create technology that can fool a human into thinking they are interacting with another human.

Once they succeed, how long will it be before buyers decide they really don’t need a salesperson after all?

To find out more, download the 2018 Buyer Preferences Study entitled “The Growing Buyer-Seller Gap.”

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