I was inspired to write this article after reading Megan Heuer’s article entitled Three Myths of the 67% Statistic. Megan is Vice President and Group Director, Data-Driven Marketing at SiriusDecisions. It is a good read. I am happy to see SiriusDecision make a commentary on their statistic regarding the buying journey. As Megan points out, we have all seen a variety of numbers, such as the Corporate Executive Board statistic of 57%, as well as others. All stating buyers are not making their first sales contact until up to 70% of the buying process is completed.
What I would like to share is how taking these statistics too literally or as gospel can have downsides. I believe it is safe to say we can take these statistics with a grain of salt. The fact they vary widely is indicative of loose validity. Meaning they are going to depend on who is surveyed and some of the studies may not have much rigor to them. I see them as helpful – not gospel.
I know I am not alone in thinking this way. In conversations with Dan McDade of PointClear, he has questioned such views as well. I really like what Dan had to say in his comment on this issue:
“…an over-dependence on inbound marketing tends to drive smaller deals with lower level decision makers. One company we work with saw their average deal size on inbound generated opportunities drop to 1/3 of what they enjoyed from proactive, targeted and intelligent outbound.”
This, over time, can be one significant downside to treating these statistics like gospel.
There have been others vocal about this issue. Including Julie Schwartz, SVP of Research and Thought Leadership at ITSMA. This is what she had to say recently, which I liked:
“In fact, we believe just the opposite: 70% of B2B technology solution buyers want to engage with sales reps before they identify their short list. That’s good news for providers. The earlier you engage, the more likely you are helping customers formulate their ideas on how to solve their problems. Earlier engagement means more wins.”
The reality is how buyers behave and respond is going to vary widely. Which means how and when they want to engage may be very different than a generalized statistic. Here is a real world example from a real experience:
A software platform provider conducted qualitative buyer research in two distinct segments. This involved a series of on-site interviews and mapping how purchase decisions are made in both segments. In segment A, it was found buyers had a specific goal and call to action to ‘do something quickly.’ This meant they were contacting sales almost immediately and asking for a demo. Estimated at 10% into the buying process. In segment B, they found a different set of goals and a more formal protocol for buying. There was short listing and an RFP process. Their path to a purchase was distinctly different than that of segment A. It was estimated their contact of sales came in about 50-55% of their buying process. This organization mapped out two content and sales game plans mapped to each segment – as opposed to one-size fits all.
As you can see from this example, it echoes what Megan, Dan, Julie, and I say – be careful about treating these statistics as gospel. If this organization did treat as gospel, they would have suffered in segment A. Finding themselves caught flat-footed and unprepared.
I made a similar point in my article 5 Steps Chief Sales Officers Must Take to Survive the B2B Buyer Revolution, which outlines actionable steps for Chief Sales Officers. I recommend the following 4 steps for both marketing and sales to avoid significant downsides:
1. Take a view inbound and sales interaction can happen in parallel. Avoid also being gospel-like about buying stages having neat starts and stops. Not real world reality.
2. Determine the critical buying path-to-purchase for your business, industries, and segments. As the examples above shows, they can be distinctly different between segments and industries.
3. Commit to finding out. Meaning commit to a level of buyer research and buyer insight development. This can include the use of company personas as well as buyer personas – applicable to B2B environments.
4. Map out marketing and sales game plans, which are integrated and mapped to the critical buying path-to-purchase. Understanding at much deeper levels the activities and behaviors of buyers and how they can vary by segments.
Following these fours steps will get you closer to real statistics you can believe in and act upon. Helping your organization to map out marketing and sales game plans, which truly help buyers along their buyer’s journey as well as their path-to-purchase.
(I welcome further conversations to help tackle this challenging issue. I am very interested in getting your thoughts and perspectives on understanding buyer’s critical path-to-purchase. Please share widely – your peers and colleagues may be too fixated on one of these statistics.)