Training Our Customers To Want The 57%!


Share on LinkedIn

There’s so much misunderstanding about the data point published by CEB a number of years ago, “Customers are 57% of the way through their buying journey before engaging sales.”

Other research has this “engagement point” anywhere between 57-92%.

The basic premise is the massive amount of digital information enables of customers to do research on the web results in their not engaging sales until the are 57% of the way through their buying process.

It makes sense.  Just for the convenience factor alone.  Customers don’t have to remember who a sales person is, or even who suppliers of certain solutions are, email/call, wait for a response, get the information they need.  Even if sales people were “welcomed,” getting information right when you need it simplifies the customers’ lives tremendously.

But maybe there’s more to the 57%, maybe sales has, “in fact” trained our customers to wait to engage us until the 57%.  Maybe much of this behavior is of our own doing, and in fact, not what the customer really wants.

Consider, for a moment, what used to be great practice.  We would meet with a customer to qualify them.  Qualification typically took a BANT flavor (Budget, Authority, Needs, Timeline).  For the customer to respond to our BANT questions, they had to be well down their buying journey already.

If they didn’t respond to our BANT questions the way we wanted them to, we disqualified them, perhaps nurtured them until they could answer our BANT questions.

The customers may have still wanted to be educated, but since they weren’t qualified, we wouldn’t invest the time in helping them.  (Well, maybe we’d send them some brochures or a link.)

The Challenger Customer gives us some other clues about the 57%.  The customer is probably not even ready to start considering the BANT questions until they are at least 37% through the buying process.  At the 37% point, they are still trying to align themselves and figure out what they are trying to do.  They aren’t even to the point of even considering how to answer our BANT questions.

We have “conditioned” customers to defer sales involvement by the way we engage them.  Whether it’s our approach to BANT, or just our “show up and throw up mentality,” talking about what we want to talk about, rather than what they want to talk about.  If the customer isn’t ready to talk about our products and that’s all we do, then the customers will politely wait until they are ready.

Perhaps the 57% point doesn’t really represent what the customer wants in their engagement with sales, but what we have trained them to do, based on how we engage them.  Being good customers, they may be simply doing what we have trained them to do.

We already have ample evidence that customers respond very favorably to much earlier sales engagement.  We know customers want to learn, they want insight.  We know customers often don’t know they are missing opportunities or don’t know there may be better ways of doing things.

We know customers respond very positively to sales people engaging them at the “0%,” when they are challenged to think about their businesses differently.  The data shows that the sales person doing this first and most effectively is most likely to win the business–very often, it isn’t even competed!

Maybe we’ve had this whole 57% thing completely wrong.  Maybe their behavior isn’t what they want, but a result of what we have wanted.  Maybe their behavior is a polite and positive response to what we have actually trained them to do.

The customers will do their digital research regardless of when we engage them, whether it’s at the 0, 57, 90% point.  That’s just them being thoughtful and good business people.

Perhaps, we’ve used the digital research as an excuse, but it is really independent of what the customer wants or needs in their engagement with sales people.

If we’ve been so effective in training and conditioning the customer to engage us when we want to be engaged, perhaps, if we changed what we want in that early customer engagement, we would be more effective at engaging them early.

What if we changed our engagement model, seeking to emulate the practice of our best performers?  Rather than forcing our customers to wait to engage us when we are ready for them, why don’t we train them to want to engage us earlier?

What if we consistently started talking to them about their businesses, about opportunities they might seize, things they can do to improve their own ability to reach their goals?  If those become the conversations we engage our customers in, before they’ve even considered making a change and starting a buying journey, perhaps they would actively seek our much earlier engagement.

By consistently demonstrating our interest in their success, helping them achieve, by providing insights and ideas, we would train our customers to not wait until the 57%, but to engage us early.  Perhaps, customers might, in fact start prospecting us, calling us, asking, “Is there anything we are missing?  Could we do something better?

Perhaps those customers who are so crazy-busy just running the day to day business, might pause, asking, “Can you help me learn, I don’t have the time to figure it out myself.”

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


  1. Digitization can be an enabler of what might be called a ‘content collecting/initial contact merge lane’, where a company representative contacts a customer once that person has generated specific product or service information for herself/himself. Most of the lead follow-up that takes place this way today is awkward, heavy-handed, and self-serving for the prospect. As a result, in the merge lane, the prospect seeks to quickly put distance from the company rep. If it is done on a more personalized, inclusive, interactive and partnering basis, there should be a much smoother merge.

  2. Hi Dave: I think you are making the assumption that salespeople generally exhibit behaviors that are off-putting to customers, and that vendors pay a price of sorts because buyers are engaging with salespeople progressively later in their buying processes – or at least that’s the way we perceive it.

    While I don’t deny that this perception could result from buyers reacting to abrasive salespeople, or from buyers showing their disdain for abusive and ill-conceived sales tactics, the true reason is that automation has taken over many of the tasks salespeople once had to perform face-to-face. In fact, I’ll posit that this 57% is mainly hokum. Buyers are engaging with Sales throughout the buying process. They just not engaging with salespeople the way they did pre-internet, and pre-collaboration. And that’s a major confusion today.

    Don’t wish for the “good old days.” Salespeople are no longer required to provide spec sheets, product brochures, corporate overviews, customer references, and a myriad of other stuff that I once provided face-to-face for my prospects and customers in the ’80’s and ’90’s. At that time, those were among the key selling functions I provided, and the field rep was the only means to reach prospects.

    That horse is now out of the barn, and the door has slammed shut. Today, websites, landing pages, white papers, etc. do a much better job of handling buyer needs than I ever did. In short, just as it has done in factories and distribution centers, automation has taken over many highly-repetitive, easy-to-perform tasks.

    Does that mean customers are engaging with vendors later in the buying process? Emphatically, no. They are still engaging, but automation handles much of the “heavy lifting,” especially in the early stages of the buying cycle.

    I agree – fix the problems where customers are turned off by direct sales outreach. My recommendation: ignore the 57% hype. Understand how your buyers buy and you’ll build better, more effective sales processes. Automate where salespeople don’t add value.

    Customers aren’t engaging later, they’re just engaging differently.

  3. Michael: I agree that much of the process is handled very clumsily. However, I think there is a separate, perhaps more important engagement point. If we “wait” for the customer to initiate contact in some way, we and customers miss huge opportunities.

    Customers only reach out for content, when they have realized there is a potential opportunity to do something differently or to improve. There are many more customers who don’t realize they should be reaching out for help, or are unaware of opportunities to improve. Our digital outreach seldom reaches these, but they represent huge opportunities for growth. Here is where proactive engagement can be very powerful.

  4. Dave, Yes, we have to demonstrate value before the sales, and the value should pique the interest and enable tobuy


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here