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The B2B buyer is in control. Why are we in denial about it?.


I love the 80s. For all the terrible hairstyles, neon spandex, exercise fads and hedonism, they brought us great music (I’m not thinking of ‘Wham!’ here), some of the best movies of all time (Dead Poets Society and Return of the Jedi), as well as some amazing technological advancements. I distinctly remember the first cordless phone my dad installed in our house in 1988 and how impressed I was that I could call my friends from my bedroom – at least for 20 minutes until the battery ran out.

However, I suggest we don’t look to the 1980s for any kind of inspiration regarding sales tactics. A lot of sales techniques from that era focused on ‘controlling’ the buyer. For example, this extended to filling out a purchase agreement towards the end of a sales conversation – and if the buyer didn’t stop you, then you assumed consent. What a load of rubbish!

We now know that the buyer is in control – and that they’ll get in touch with you, in their own time – when they are ready. In fact, recent research by Kerry Cunningham (ex VP of Research at Forrester) and his team at 6sense have confirmed what others have previously stated: on average, buyers contact a vendor when they are already 70% through their buyer journey.

And this doesn’t change if your sellers are proactively calling and emailing buyers. Trying to ‘control the buyer’ doesn’t work. 83% of buyers initiate contact with vendors first.

You can listen to Kerry talk about his research with Green Hat’s CEO and ABB’s Global VP of Marketing & Communications in a recent MI3 podcast.




The buyer’s mind is made up, and there’s little you can do to change it. 

The average length of the B2B buyer cycle depends on your industry and value of your offering, but let’s just assume it’s around 10 months. What are buyers doing for the first seven months then, if they’re not talking to sellers?

The answer is, they work as a group to establish their requirements, evaluate an average of 5 vendors, and then start calling suppliers to get the deal done, and their problem solved.

And here’s the scary fact: by the time they’re ready to talk to sellers, 78% of B2B buyers have completely or largely established their requirements. You’re not likely to change these when buyers are in the final stages of making a decision.

There’s good news though. But only if you’re the first vendor they call: 84% of buyers said the first vendor they contact will ultimately win the business.

I think we can safely assume that all these buyers are doing is confirming a decision that’s already been made. They’re looking at other vendors simply to find more reasons as to why their preferred vendor is the better choice – a classic case of confirmation bias.

Similar to how I came up with reasons to justify why the 80s were such a fantastic decade, when in reality, my love for that time is likely due to spending some of my formative years listening to Prince and watching Alf. Regardless of whether it was indeed one of greatest decades or not, I shall always prefer it over others.




Are you saying that we don’t need salespeople anymore? 

When we had Kerry Cunningham visit Australia recently, we met with a lot of marketers and sellers to discuss his research, and it probably won’t surprise you that the sales leaders in particular reacted quite strongly to his findings.

The regional VP of Sales at a large manufacturing company asked: “So are you telling me that my sales team is all but useless, because by the time buyers are talking to us the deal is pretty much done already?

To which our response was an emphatic ‘no’. The best salespeople have long known that they won’t get the deal done any quicker if they pester buyers with sales calls and emails, create false urgency and generally make a nuisance of themselves. Instead, they focus their energy on helping buyers become successful.

They also know that buyers will reach out when they’re ready. They focus on partnering with their marketing colleagues to make the buying experience as frictionless as possible. Their role is to help buying teams educate themselves so that they can make informed decisions.

Even back in the 80s sellers knew that people didn’t like being sold to – or marketed to for that matter. Advertising delivered by fax machine, anyone?

Speaking of marketing…


4_Fax 1_edit


It’s a (marketing) trap! 

If the buying team is in control and does its own research until they’ve settled on their requirements – and in most cases a strong preference for one vendor – then the role of marketing just got a lot more important.

Why? Because marketers are the ones who need to make sure that when buyers come out of their ‘research closet’ after 7 months (or whatever 70% equates to in your buying cycle) they call you first. If not, you only have a 16% chance of winning the deal. And only if there are no other vendors in the mix.

The problem is that many marketers are too busy setting traps (forms to ‘guard’ their content) and spying on their targets (lead scoring) all with the goal to generate MQLs – rather than making it easy for groups of buyers to evaluate and compare their offering.

According to Kerry’s research, the average buying group has 10 members who have an average of 4,000 digital and human interactions during the buying cycle. And the vast majority of that is happening anonymously.

The idea that MQLs – meaning individual leads – will turn into opportunities and revenue is as old as it is misguided. Even companies that have worked hard to optimise their ‘MQL to revenue’ conversion rates rarely exceed 3%. And chances are, they’re missing most of the buying signals from the rest of the buying party.

You may call us the RevTeam. 

Marketers and sellers must work together as a ‘Revenue team’ and align around the buying party. The goal is to steer decision makers and decision influencers towards the content that convinces them to choose you – and call you first.

Here’s a few common mistakes that marketers and sellers make – especially when they work in silos:

  • Putting gated forms in front of your most valuable content. Don’t make it even remotely difficult for buyers to read about your offering. If you do, they’ll go elsewhere. And chances are they’ll end up on your competitor’s website.
  • Making your offering overly complex. If the way you describe the value of your offering is ‘highly differentiated’ but also hard to understand and even harder to compare to your competition, then buying teams may disregard your solution, no matter how brilliant, early on.
  • Pushing your sellers to make unwanted calls. No millennial will ever answer a call from an unknown number. Likewise, sending ‘salesy’ emails will neither speed up the buying process nor will they create any goodwill with the buying team.
  • Focusing on individual leads rather than buying groups. This not only misses many of the important and often anonymous buying signals, but also puts you at a disadvantage over competitors who not only map buying parties but also make sure they have the right messages and content for each member.

As hard as it may be for many sales and marketing leaders, we must acknowledge that we are neither in control of the buying process nor the decision makers. But we do have full control over how hard or easy we make it for buyers to connect with our brand, IP and thought leaders, as well as find, evaluate, and compare our offerings.

Just don’t set traps or pre-fill purchase agreements!

You can access the research I’ve referenced throughout the article here. Green Hat is currently working with Kerry and his team to produce an Asia Pacific version of the insights and findings, to be released in September.


Malte Weyhe

Malte has been living and breathing B2B marketing for the past 15 years. Originally from Germany he now calls Australia home but has spent most of his career working for global professional services firms. He’s worked in field marketing roles, led global digital teams, ran the marketing function in Asia Pacific, and in his last gig before joining Green Hat set up the global ABM program for consulting firm Korn Ferry. He loves everything to do with account-based go-to-market approaches and heads up our ABX team.