A Conversation on 7 Buyer and Sales Trends to Watch in 2011


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Every once in a while, you have to admit you just didn’t get it right. My recent post entitled Seven Buyer and Sales Trends to Watch in 2011 is one of those instances for me personally. Not because of what I had to say but because I made it difficult to understand. Although it received tremendous notice, it seems that it was just not conversational enough and was a bit too academic. Thanks to Lou Dubois from the Customer Collective for his editorial and moderation guidance and for the gracious subtle hints by Stephanie Tilton of Tenton Marketing. And thank you Mr. Hope for your constructive comment. Sometimes I suffer from “MBA-itis” and get too academic. I am probably exorcising some old demons from the one professor out of five who trashed my Pepsi versus Coca Cola War thesis. Yes, I know, get over it! So what I would like to do is start a conversation on these seven trends.

First, let me just add how I came up with these trends. They come from two plus years of doing qualitative interviews with buyers on behalf of three Fortune 50 organizations. In addition, I love the numerous amount of content available by some really great writers that shape your thinking or spur further thoughts. So here are my conversation starters for each trend to show what I am thinking:

First a conversation primer: What is happening?

I don’t know about you but I am seeing so much change during the past two years that it is downright breathtaking. Two major impacts are the recession and the rapid growth of the digital age. I like the term digital age because it is a way of including all things such as social media, mobile, digital marketing, and even the iPad! We all know buyer behavior has changed so much that the B2B business world has to find ways to adapt or be left in the dust. In addition, we know from the people who survey sales trends, such as Sirius Decision, CSO Insights, and McKinsey, today’s buyers get through nearly 70-80% of the buying process BEFORE they engage with sales people. By the time they get to sales folks, whether it is in person or on the phone, they already are armed with enough information to help make a decision. This is old news now and has created the expanding industry of marketing automation. The real news is this – when they do engage they want and expect more not less! More information and more expertise are what buyers are expecting. Basically, the starting point of engagement has moved further up the buyer’s journey. This is a major challenge because many B2B organizations, both in their sales and marketing departments, have built-in processes where they want to start from the “beginning” with potential buyers. That is, the usual forms of this is who we are, here is our product introduction, what features and benefits we have, and you can all guess the rest. One buyer put it this way in an interview: “look if I call and reach a rep and they start out with something like here is my product, click, I hang up. I already have that information and it just tells me it is going to be a waste of my time.” How’s that for a wakeup call!

Trend 1: From Sales Relationship to Sales Experience

What do I mean? For years, B2B companies have put sales people through training on relationship selling methodologies that focused on – well – the relationship. They are so numerous that I could not possibly list them all. But they all get at the same thing. To succeed you have to have a consultative relationship with the buyer. My favorite was Mack Hanan’s fantastic Consultative Selling. I used it for years personally, had sales teams trained on it, and even had Mack Hanan speak at National Sales Conferences I held. He recently passed and he will be remembered as one of the greats indeed. But what is going on then? Paul Greenberg put it best this year when he said buyers today do not want to be an object of a sale but a subject of an experience. Here it is from a buyer’s mouth in one interview: “I love the guy we deal with; he’s really cares. But I’ve got to tell you that all he’s doing is constantly trying to jump through hoops for us to get over the darn hassle we have with just doing business.” Okay, so you think he is having a good buyer experience? Do you think he will be loyal and suffer through bad buyer experiences because he likes the rep? I really don’t think so. It is not enough anymore to just have good relationship selling – the entire sales and buyer experience has to be good.

Trend 2: Reinvent the buyer experience

Here’s what I see firsthand. Many B2B companies still manage from these very same sales processes without regard to the entire buyer experience. We’ve become fixated on the process and not the experience. Sales reps are compensated on how well they follow the process and close deals. So they are ill prepared to be flexible. On top of that, the entire buying experience is fragmented. Buyers experience something different from marketing than from sales and even different yet when they reach support. B2B businesses need to view the entire buyer experience and reinvent it. This will require new ways of thinking, new tools, new systems, and much deeper understanding on who is your buyer persona and mapping your buyer’s journey to know the best ways to meet the buyer where they are in their journey.

Trend 3: Buyers want expertise

As mentioned, by the time buyers are ready to engage, they are already well informed. So, two things need to happen from the way I see it. First is content has to exhibit a level of expertise that informs and educates buyers. I previously mentioned in my article How Social Media is Transforming the Buyer Experience that companies need to think like online educators. This is a real challenge from a content marketing standpoint. Second, when they do engage directly, they want subject matter expertise – not regurgitation of sales literature. One buyer put it this way in an interview: “They had pretty good information available online but their sales people – um how shall I put this – they didn’t know anything.” I think you get this trend.

Trend 4: New and better tools to enable the sales and buyer experience

Most of sales and buyer thinking over the last 100 years have revolved around the AIDA and BANT process. When you think about it, many of the tools and system that have been created revolve around these processes and measuring “the funnel” around these processes. Again, these views have caused sales and marketing organizations to be fixated on the process and not the experience. Once an understanding of the buyer persona and mapping the buyer journey are reached, sales and marketing teams need better tools as well as systems that allow for co-creating content as well as solutions with buyers. Here’s the voice of a sales rep interviewed: “It’s frustrating, I mean, there is no way I can mix and match what we already have from marketing and I wind up trying to type it out on Word. I know it looks bad but what else can I do.”

Trend 5: The meaning of sales enablement will change

Personally, I think the term sales enablement needs to change to buyer enablement. This should happen sooner rather than later in my mind. Now, before everyone gets in a tizzy in sales enablement, I want to make it clear that I have nothing but admiration for the progress made in sales enablement the last few years. My point is that even sales enablement has to adapt to buyer behavior and focus on enabling the buyer. Think of it this way, if 70-80% of the buying process is self-directed by buyers, should we be spending 70-80% of our time enabling sales versus the buyer? Should we not focus on preparing sales teams to be experts on buyer enablement versus experts on enabling the sales process? This means that we need to get sales as well as marketing to see themselves as enablers for buyers and not enablers of just processes.

Trend 6: B2B companies will learn how to “brand” the buyer experience

As I see it, most of B2B “branding historically has centered on the “product” and even their sales organization. I listened to Joe Pulizzi of Junta42 and the fantastic blog The Content Marketing Revolution recently on a webinar where he told a story of putting a company’s content material before a management team and asked them to tell him what they saw. They all got it: the content was all about their product and them and nothing about the buyer. This is not going to plain work anymore! It has been written about plenty of times in 2010 that buyers want experiences that are like their consumer buying experience. And where B2C is ahead of B2B is that they are making headway into realizing that consumers expect the equation of brand experience + interaction experience = buyer experience (oops MBA-itis strikes again). Over used yes but the best example is Apple. The brand brings emotional appeal and the interaction in the Apple Store is like going into a candy shop when you were a kid. Apple has put together one of the best consumer buying experience in history. And Apple has done a masterful job in branding the entire buying experience. So Apple users who are also B2B buyers say – hey why can’t I have this experience in the business world?

Trend 7: 2011 will be The Year of the Buyer

I truly believe that 2011 will be the year B2B businesses begin to devote time and resources to developing strategies that are focused on the buyer. B2B businesses will see the importance of gaining in-depth buyer insight through qualitative research, creating high quality buyer personas from qualitatively gained insight, mapping the buyer journey via qualitative means, developing meaningful subject matter expertise, and designing sales experiences and buyer experiences that they hope buyers will rave about.

I think that 2011 will be one exciting year. I’m excited – are you? The country will begin to come out of the post-recession doldrums and the digital age novelty will begin to wear off leading to real world practical usage in such areas as social media. B2B businesses will begin to adapt to changing buyer behaviors – maybe even in ways we cannot imagine today.

Join in the conversation………….write a comment…….write a prediction…and please refrain from selling your product and more importantly…from MBA-itis. Let’s have a conversation.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Tony Zambito
Tony is the founder and leading authority in buyer insights for B2B Marketing and Sales. In 2001, Tony founded the concept of "buyer persona" and established the first buyer persona development methodology. This innovation has helped leading companies gain a deeper understanding of their buyers resulting in revenue performance. Tony has empowered Fortune 100 organizations with operationalizing buyer personas to communicate deep buyer insights that tell the story of their buyer. He holds a B.S. in Business and an M.B.A. in Marketing Management.


  1. Tony –
    I’m flattered that I contributed even a small part to stimulating your thoughts for this terrific summary of what’s happening in B2B sales and marketing.

    Like you, I’m excited that a growing number of companies seem to be taking to heart all the buyer research and getting on board with how to better connect with prospects and customers. But, as with any strategic initiative of this sort, success hinges on developing a solid framework and top-level support. I like that you’re sounding the drum beat for a focus on the buyer experience — it’s a critical concept that organizations need to get their heads around. After all, buyers are saying loud and clear what they expect from vendors. Companies that can successfully evolve and pull off these seemingly subtle shifts around orientation and mind-set are bound to see tremendous benefits.


  2. Thanks Stephanie! You are right about the aspects of developing a solid framework and then getting buy-in from the top. I believe a focus on buyer experience is critical for B2B and I am going to continue to work on developing as well as evolving such a solid framework for doing so. And you are astute in pointing out that the shifts can be subtle in terms of orientation – but – as we’ve seen from initiatives in the past, solid frameworks make them happen. Thanks for joining in the conversation!


  3. Tony,

    I think you’ve outlined your view of the complex and rapidly changing world of B2B business very well. And while traditional sales processes that ignore the buying process are outmoded and quickly becoming irrelevant, I would submit, that you are being unduly harsh on the value and adaptability of sales process as it’s being implemented in many firms today. It needn’t be, and in best cases is not, arigid lock-step formula. May I offer some current data to further the conversation?

    I’m presently working on our 2011 Sales Performance Optimization report and was just this morning looking at firms employing social media in monitoriing customer relationships. Only about a quarter of our survey respondents said social media had minimal/no value or did not know the value; anywhere between 25-40% feel it’s potentially important and are currently beginning to explore it.
    The remainder see it as mission critical or very important.

    However, those that seem to be using this to greatest effect are also firms that have much higher levels of process implementation already in place, higher levels of senior management engagement, and a keener interest in understanding their customers’ buying process. Or, to your point, their customers’ buying experience.

    What I would add for your consideration is that while the social media revoution is expanding in the way you’ve described, B2B businesses doing best see it as an evolution of their, dare I say it?, sales process. We’ve advocated all along this should include and synch up with the customer’s buying process.

    The point being, adherence to a defined sales process and user adoption of technology needn’t be hindrances to evolving and involving the customer experience, but rather serve as a platform to incorporate social media and/or ‘buyer enablement’ as logical next steps in that evolution. Firms operating in a completely fluid, ad hoc way may be equally interested in these customer inputs but likely will be less able to adapt and adopt what these potentially could tell them.

    Thanks for your thoughtful commentary.


  4. Barry,

    Thank you for joining the conversation. And for your thoughtful commentary as well. Your Sales Performance Optimization report reveals a very interesting trend with respect to social media. Undoubtedly, 2011 will be a year where B2B firms will seek to integrate such capability into their sales processes. I perhaps came across as unduly harsh but my views on their value remains the same. Effective sales performance management definitely needs the underpinnings of a sound process to manage and execute on sales perfomance. Perhaps one way I am thinking about this is that these processes need to be part of an overall framework for creating the buying experience as well as evolving the sales experience a buyer or customer experiences per se’. And as you mention, synching up with the buyer’s journey and buying process. Sales processes, as you mention, can serve as efficient platforms to evolve both sales and buyer enablement. I think that senior management teams who can development a framework for an enriching buying experience will adapt their existing sales processes to map to the rapidly changing world of the buyer.

    Thanks Barry for a nice conversation!



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