Gartner: Escaping the Pain of Commercial Complexity – Soirée, San Francisco
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Brent Adamson: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Brent Adamson. I am from the sales practice over at Gartner, and I’ve got 60 minutes with you to share 90 minutes of content, so let’s get going. What I want to do today is share with you the keynote that I presented at our sales conference in Vegas, I guess about a month and a half ago, and what this really is meant to do is almost be like a tease to give you a sense for some of the big ideas that we’re finding in our sales research right now. And for what it’s worth, and I mean this quite sincerely, I’ve been doing this for 16 years. I find this not only the most interesting work that we’ve done probably ever, but also probably in some ways some of the most mind-bending work. And what I want to do to kind of give you a sense for what I mean by that is. This is sort of the cliff notes today. So, I’m going to give you sort of the high-level findings from two major research projects that we conducted this year. And I’ve got to just tell you right in advance to set expectations, we’re going to go sort of skimming across the top. Okay? So, we won’t go real deep into methodology. We won’t go real deep into implications. We won’t go real deep into applications, but all of that is available. And of course you can imagine we are more than happy to. In fact, I know that we work with a number of you in this room and we’re happy to work with all of you to think about what this means for your organization, but one way or another, I want to make sure that this 60 minutes is incredibly valuable for you.
We’re giving you some really big ideas to show you how the world of selling and marketing and for that matter buying are actually radically different today than they were even five years ago. And to show you what I mean, you know, it’s funny. In the sales practice, we’ve been doing this for a long time. I come out of the part of Gartner that used to be the corporate executive board or CEB, which is where I’ve spent the last 16 years. Over the last two years, we’ve been part of Gartner. And the way we work is we always run these very large research initiatives and we publish one a year trying to understand as best as we possibly can. How is the world of B2B selling, particularly the sale of complex solutions, how is it changing? How is it evolving? So, we always start with this question. We’re always looking for a selling story. What’s the current selling story? How is that story evolving? What does it mean for all of us in sales leadership, sales enablement, as we equip our sales teams to go out there and succeed?
But one of the things for those who may have been following along with our work over the last four or five years, and you think about the big blue arrow and all the other stuff that we’ve been doing and the challenge your work in many ways over the last several years, what we’ve come to really conclude is that the thing that we’ve been tracking and researching isn’t actually a selling story. What we’ve actually been finding is a buying story. That’s where the richest vein to mine is in all of our research is not how the world of selling is changing, but how the world of buying is changing and how B2B buyers today, just the whole who’s in the buying group, how big is the buying group? What kind of information are they getting? How much information are they getting? That world is evolving and evolving rapidly. By the way, when you run into a head of sales that says, I think we just need to get back to the basics, that should set off alarm bells in your head, because if they’re getting back to the basics, it simply means selling the way that we sold 10 years ago. That is a recipe for disaster when customers are not buying the way they did two years ago.
But the thing that I want to share with you today, so I just caught you up. That’s 10 years of work right there. So, selling story, buying story. This is why I geek out on this stuff because I’ll tell you in the last year and a half, what we have found in our research is actually very different. Well, we found in our research over the last year and a half is not a selling story. It’s not a buying story. What we’re finding now is a human story. It’s a story that applies to every single one of us, not just as sellers, not just as buyers. It applies to every single one of us, just who we are as people because the dynamics of selling and buying today we’re finding are being driven more and more by just the world that all of us collectively live in today. A world that is in many ways I think we’d agree kind of overwhelming and with massive amounts of information. The world is kind of confusing. A world that’s changing all the time. And when you, as a human being, try to make not just buying decisions in this world, but decisions in this world, things actually tend to sort of break down. And we’re now for the first time ever seeing that in our research.
I want to show you what I mean by that. So to do that, again, two big research projects in each one of them have this sort of aha moment. Well, you can actually get a whiff for this sort of bubbling up off of the data. This is different. I would tell you honestly, this is different. This is to show you what I mean. Let me tell you the first of these two research projects. The first of the two research projects I’ll give you the headline on is a project that we ran in are actually not in our sales practice this year but in our marketing practice. We have a very large “Gartner for marketing leaders” practice. We do a lot of work on B2B marketing. And one of the questions that we set out to study this year on the B2B marketing side is this idea of account growth, which of course is near and dear to all of our hearts in sales as well. In fact, we studied this question in sales two years ago. I was here at Dreamforce last year presenting the results from that work. It’s a really interesting question. I won’t go into all the marketing side of this. I promise. You know, you guys are sales. Nobody wants that, right? But the question we’re trying to figure out is to the degree that your customers are now in, not just potential customers or prospective customers, but current clients, the degree that they are now engaging with you and your organization more and more through digital. It stands to reason that your marketing team’s going to have to have a much bigger role today, not just in hunting, but in farming and finding opportunities to existing customers. So, that was the question we set out to understand, what is marketing’s role in driving growth with existing customers?
And again, if you’re in the marketing side and you’d like to know what the specific answers to that is. We could walk you through that in a lot of detail. I spent a lot of my time traveling around the world sharing that research, but for our purposes today, I want to share with you the high-level findings in trying to figure out an answer to this question. So, how do I take an existing customer, let’s say just to make up a number. It’s a $20 million customer. All this will be familiar to all of us, right? Because the world we all live in and we’re trying to drive growth and I’m trying to get that $20 million customer to a $25 million customer. Right? This is the world of farming, right? That’s the engine of growth for all of us. How do I get that customer to buy the new solution, to buy the services, to wrap around the product, to buy the new technology and swap it out from the old technology, to buy our capability and expand it to Europe, whatever it might be. How do we get them to engage in that step function of growth where they’re not just buying just a little bit more, but the big decision to get them to engage with us in a much deeper level? We always say we want to deepen customer relationships. That’s what we’re trying to figure out. How do we make that happen?
So, in order to figure out how that was, what’s going to happen? What has to happen in the world of selling and buying and marketing in order for customers to engage, to decide to do that, to decide to go on that journey with you, to decide to go from a $20 million relationship to a $25 million relationship. The way this works is, the first thing we always do is we set up a bunch of hypotheses. By the way, for those of you in research, we know that’s a fancy word for guess, right? We put together about 90 different hypotheses that we figured might drive growth. And then we put a put together a survey, and we went out and we surveyed about 1100 individual stakeholders all involved in some sort of large complex B2B purchase decisions where they already had a relationship with that particular supplier, and so they were deciding, do I just maintain that relationship at that same level? Do I buy more? Or maybe do I walk away altogether?
So, we had a survey where we’re asking these individuals engaged in those kinds of decisions, lots of questions, and we asked them around these 90 different questions, these 90 different attributes. Once we had all that data, this is me skipping over the methodology really quickly. So again, if you want to go deep into this, by all means, I’ll take questions afterwards because I’m going to go right to 12. We have 1100 people and 90 different sort of attributes you’re testing. The first thing you do is you run a factor analysis on all of that data. All a factor analysis is designed to do is take a big set of data and bucket it or group it into the smallest number of categories. Everything in that category moves together in a statistically significant way. And when you run a factor analysis on this data set, you get three buckets or three categories. Essentially what these become are, these are the three levers at our disposal as a supplier to drive growth with an existing customer.
Let me introduce you to the horses in the race. And then we’re going to run the race. Okay, so here they are. Here are your candidates from the factor analysis. The first category is one that we’ll call customer satisfaction. We tested a number of different attributes of satisfaction and to what degree are you overall satisfied with the supplier? To what degree are you willing to recommend the supplier? To what degree do you believe that this supplier is better than competitors? Not surprisingly, all of the answers to those three questions grouped together. Statistically, when one goes up, the other one goes up. When one goes down, the others go down. So, these things are not in a bucket because we thought they are similar thematically, they’re in a bucket together because the analysis tells us that these statistically are related to one another. Okay? So, that’s bucket number one.
Bucket number two is this bucket. We’ll call this one motivation to change. As part of this work, based on everything we learned from Challenger and everything we’ve written about in the Challenger Customer, we realized that in many ways, to try to get your customer to grow with you over time, they probably have to think about it. They don’t have to want to change. You want to do something different. So, we tested a bunch of attributes about sort of motive, the degree to which they’re motivated to make a change. And low and behold, all of those things fell together in a bucket. This is the belief that change is an op. From your customer’s perspective, the degree to which your customers believe a change is an opportunity to improve the performance of their business. The degree that they believe that the purchase is the right thing to do, that they have a clear understanding of why they need to make that purchase, and they’re eager to make that purchase quickly. So yeah, let’s do this. That’s the second course.
Alright, now the third one is interesting. The third one comes from some things that we started in this CNR research last year when we apply a jobs to be done approach, or a jobs to be done analysis to B2B buying. If you’ve not seen that work, it’s utterly fascinating. We should walk you through that sometime. But one of the things we found is this idea of what we call confidence, and it turns out confidence, as you’re going to see, plays a huge role in B2B buying today. So, we call this decision confidence. And what’s interesting is we tested based on things we’d seen in the past and based on a lot of work we’d done in secondary research of behavioral psychology, behavioral economics. We just put in a bunch of different attributes around customers’ confidence. And low and behold, when we ran the factor analysis, every single dimension of confidence grouped together. When you’re confident in one aspect, you’re confident in the others. These are things, as you can see here, the degree to which customers are confident that they determine the right questions to consider as part of that purchase. The degree to which they’re confident, they identified which information matters most, the degree that they’re confident that they anticipated the necessary changes to make good on that purchase. The degree that they’re making the right choice, that they’re confident they’re making the right choice.
Okay, so there’s your three levers. Those are the three horses in the race. All of this is statistically derived in terms of if you’re going to drive account growth, the recipe for driving account growth is up there on the screen. But the question is, which is it? Is it all of them? Is it money? Some of them, is it two and not the other? Let me run the race and I’ll show you what happens when you do this. We’re going to run these against essentially the likelihood of a customer to engage in a growth decision. The likelihood of a customer to say, let’s take this $20 million relationship and make it a $25 million relationship.
So, let’s take them one at a time. Here’s our bar chart. The first thing we found, some of you’ve not seen this before, might find this surprising. For us, we found the exact same thing when we studied this question two years ago from a sales perspective, which is we can find, and again, this is a different study, different time, different group. We find the exact same answer this year as two years ago. We can find no statistically significant relationship whatsoever between a level of current customer satisfaction with you, the supplier, and the likelihood of that customer to grow with you over time. And that’s really dramatic because the degree to which they are satisfied, how many of us are measuring that right now? How many say, these centers I see sets through the roof. The net promoter score is super high. It’s like, whew, man. Does that bring on the money? It’s going to start just raining money now. Right?
What we find is that we just can’t find that relationship at all. We’ve looked for it. We’ve looked for very carefully. We look for very closely and yet no matter how we cut this data, we can find no statistically significant relationship between the level of customer satisfaction and the likelihood of them to go on a growth journey with you. Now, if this is where I’ve got to stop, remember I told you like there’s so much to talk about. We can just talk about this for the rest of the art cause there’s so many interesting implications of this. The one thing I will tell you because some of you are already asking to say, “God, but Brent, if they’re not satisfied, they’re not going to stick around, let alone grow with you”. And you’ll be 100% right. In fact, what I don’t have in this deck, but we can’t show you, is high levels of satisfaction are a significant driver of retention, high levels of satisfaction, or a high driver of renewal. If you run a renewal-based business, it’s always high satisfied customers will absolutely stick around. But just because they stick around doesn’t necessarily mean that they will do more with you. And that’s the trick.
We all seem to think that if I actually make them more and more satisfied, not only really stick around, but then it’s a linear curve towards, and they will grow even more. But what happens is, if there’s diminishing returns, I’m happier, more likely to stick around, and at some point, yes, I’m going to stick around. No matter how much more happy you make me, I’m still not any more likely to do more with you going forward. In a different talk, we go into this and definitely call this the zone of wasted effort.
The zone of wasted effort is where you pour good money after bad, good effort after bad to make your customers that much more satisfied and they still won’t grow with you. And by the way, it’ll feel so good because your sat scores will be through the roof. Your net promoter scores will be skyrocketing and it will be so happy to say, look at these, these scores are amazing. And we all scratch your head and wonder, why aren’t we growing? That’s a really tough place to be when your account managers are delivering gold-plated service to your customers in the hope that that’s going to drive growth. And it turns out it does. That alone is its own keynote.
I want to show you what happens next because you think, what’s going on here? Why is it that levels of satisfaction won’t drive growth? It’s because in fact, when you talk about this world of account management, you’ve got to understand we’re not talking about one thing. We’re talking about two things. We’re talking about their decision to stay and their decision to grow. And those two decisions are actually very different. In fact, if you think about the decision to stay, that largely is a decision to what. This is like, “you guys are great. I love you. I’m so satisfied. Let’s do it again. Let’s renew that contract. Let’s sign me up for the same thing one more time.” That largely is a decision for the status quo, but now if you’re asking me to incorporate a new technology, a new service package, to extend the scope of this relationship to a new region, that’s not a decision for status quo. That is a decision for change. That’s the difference.
That’s why the data looks like this, because the underlying physics of these two decisions are radically different. One is a decision not to change, and one is a decision to change. And it stands to reason that the drivers of those two decisions are actually going to be different if you want your customers to grow with you, because “you guys are just awesome. Everything you’d said and you’re going to do. You did good. You did great. I love you. We should change everything that we’re doing.” That doesn’t actually make any sense. If you stop and think about it logically, just because I think you’re great doesn’t mean I think I’m wrong. Just because I think I’m super satisfied with what you’ve done with me in the past doesn’t mean I think I need to change what I’m doing in the future. You’ve got to give me a reason not to love you. You’ve got to, you’ve got to give me a reason to change me. Does that make sense?
By the way, for those who are on the journey or know the work, this is the heart and soul of all the Challenger work that we’ve been talking about for, believe it or not, the last 10 years. We first founded Challenger in May of 2009. It’s been 10 years. I feel so old. Okay, so now here’s where it gets really interesting because up until this point, I’ll be totally honest with you guys. This is why I love doing this research with our teams. They’re so good at this because up to this point, I’m totally with it. The first time I saw this research I was like, “yup, got it. Okay. Oh, there, this status quo change.” We’ve seen this before. We know how this party ends, right? We’ve got to motivate them to change.
Clearly, if we want to get our customers to grow with us, we can’t just make them happy with what they’ve done with us in the past. That’s customer success and a really important part of your conversations, your teams. We got to get them to want to change what they’re doing in the future. We’ve got to motivate them to want to do something different. Well, maybe not, because I’ll tell you of everything that we found in our research this year, this to me personally, was the single most interesting finding of all of it. Not only could we not find any statistically significant relationship between level of satisfaction and likely to grow, mind-bendingly we could find no statistically significant relationship between the customer’s motivation to make a change and their likelihood to grow. And this one I did not see coming.
This is why you do the research because this is super interesting to see. Like what in the world is going on here? Because we’ve just spent the last 10 years sharing with you guys a body of work through books, through articles or meetings or retreats, saying, “if you can just get your customer to embrace change to get them to do something different, then that’s how you’re going to grow as a company”. And for the first time, now we’re beginning to see sort of chinks in the armor of that argument for the very first time. We’re beginning to see diminishing returns to essentially an approach that’s based on challenging the way your customers think, motivating them make change.
By the way, today’s not today. We’re going to put a fork in it and say the party’s over. What we’re finding though is that what used to be the single biggest differentiator for most suppliers is actually now becoming quickly table-stakes. But there’s also something else going on. We better hope that third bar shows something. Otherwise, it’s like the most uninteresting talk ever. Right? So, what’s going on here? Do you want to add any ideas? You’ve motivated me to change. I want to do something different. Nothing happens. What’s going on?
BA: We’re in a world that is constantly changing. The deeper version of this research, what we find is in for a penny and for a pound. As soon as you convince your customer to make a change, you as the current supplier, there’s no incumbent advantage there. It’s a reason. Absolutely. But that’s not where this one goes right now. That is a side note to this research. Super interesting. So, now I’ve convinced my customer to change, but I get caught up in the momentum of change and I no longer have the advantage, which is really frustrating. Just because I see the need to change doesn’t mean I feel any pain. I mean, you don’t need to convince someone that they need to work out.
BA: They’re not going to do anything because they don’t really feel the pain of what you’re doing now, being such a significant thing that they need to stop. I told you this is not a selling story or buying story, this is a human story. Essentially, you’re on the right track. This is what we think is going on too, because what happens is you’ve come in, you’ve blown my mind, you’ve bent my brain. You’ve shown me a new way to make money, new way to save money. I’ve never anticipated this. I’m like, “yes, I want to get on that train. Rock and roll. Shoot. Let’s go.” And then what do you do? You start doing the mental math. Alright, if I’m gonna make this change, that means I got to have budget. If I’m gonna make this change, that means I’ve got to get these people involved. I’m going to make change, it means I probably need to talk to the IT department or the legal department, or the compliance department, or the regional team, or the end users, and all of a sudden your head starts to explode because you realize if you want to make a change, you need to do that.
For those who have not seen this before, this is our most recent map of a B2B buying journey. We all draw these maps of B2B buying journeys. It’s step one, step two, step three. B2B buying is not linear. B2B buying is what we call the spaghetti bowl. And this is what we spent a lot of time talking about last year, is that when you actually take a jobs to be done approach and apply it to B2B buying, what you find is that customers don’t move through a B2B purchase in a linear fashion. They move through it and what we call the looping fashion. It’s two steps forward, one step back, one step forward, two steps back. Someone else gets involved. You’ve got to start over. You start doing research. Realize maybe that wasn’t the right problem. We’ve got to do that again. And it’s just so incredibly frustrating.
When you convince your customers they need to make a change, and then they start doing this in their head and they’re thinking, yeah, but I’m not going to. It’s too hard. I mean, for all of you guys in this room, there’s I think 20 different vendors in this hallway. I would imagine at least 10 of them you’d love to have in your organization. Have you guys already begun to do the mental math in your own head of what it’s going to take for you to get those vendors into your organization? I would imagine it’s gonna look a lot like this and you’re thinking, I love them, but that’s hard.
This is what we’re finding is that in fact, we live in a world where motivation is necessary. Of course. But it’s probably no longer sufficient. And the reason why is because somewhere across the last five years, everything has just gotten so hard. It’s kind of demoralizing in a way, but this is the reality that we live in. This is our human reality. By the way, this is me on Amazon at two in the morning reading review after review, after review, after review, and I can’t decide. So, I finally just hit the save for later button.
The world divides, by the way, the two groups. There’s people who don’t do what I just said. And then those of us who do. My wife, for example, I think she has about a thousand different products saved for later in her Amazon. You know how many of those she’s ever going to buy? None of them. What do you do with your customers? They hit the save for later button on you because this is kind of what we’re seeing happen. So, how do I break the blockade? Because now new is the problem we’ve got. It’s not that you didn’t bend my brain. It’s not that you didn’t motivate me. I know you motivated me. But I don’t know that I can do that.
And low and behold, check out the third bar. You’ve got to make me believe not that I want that, you need to make me believe that we can do that, that I’ve got the confidence to go on that journey, that I feel confident that we’re asking the right question. I feel confident that we’re actually involving the right people. This is what we’ve come to call decision confidence, and it turns out that decision confidence is the critical sort of secret sauce of making, not buying decisions happen, but decisions to happen. I’ve got to make my customers feel more comfortable, more confident just to make a decision. Before they can buy something, they have to decide to buy something and if they don’t feel confident in their decision, if they don’t feel confident in their ability to make a decision, that decision is going to be what not to decide.
And I would imagine your single biggest competitor today. We all have the same problem. The single biggest competitor today is what? Status quo. No decision. Good enough, right? Let’s skinny the thing down. Let’s not buy, let’s buy the small pilot. It’s because I don’t feel confident in anything more. This is a risk mitigation strategy. Now, again, there’s a longer version of this, but the high-level lesson is, when you dig into this data thing, what are the different things I can do then to boost decision confidence?
If you guys want to grow with existing customers, the ticket to growth with existing customers is building their confidence in themselves. Decision confidence. And if you are asking, what are the drivers of decision confidence? There’s actually three and four in our research, but the biggest one is something that we’ve talked about now for about a year and a half, something that we call buyer enablement. Buyer enablement sounds a lot like sales enablement, that’s not by accident. If you guys asked me what’s the one thing sales enablement should be focused on today, it’s not so much enabling your sellers to sell. It’s enabling your sellers to enable your buyers to buy. It is, what can I do to help provide my reps information. You can also do this digitally as well. Of course, you don’t have to go through your reps. Let’s just take them out for just a second. Rhetorically. What can I do to help my customers go on the journey of making a large scale purchase and to do that?
It’s high-level today, but one of the ways to think about this, let me go back to a spaghetti bowl for just a second because there’s a really interesting point. You’re four times more likely to than when you provide your customers with the kind of information that helps them understand who should be involved, what are the questions they’re likely to ask? What kind of data do you need to get everyone on board? Where are the likely sticking points? Where is this going to get difficult? When you can provide your customers with the tools, the frameworks, the benchmarking tools to know that other companies like you’ve done this, you can be confident. You can do it too when you provide them the kinds of diagnostics so they can self-assess and get agreement and coalesce around, we’re a level two and we need to get to a level three of performance or maturity of whatever sort of capability you guys are selling. Those are the kinds of tools that will help your customers feel more confident to make the decisions you need them to make the purchases that you want them to make.
We have a whole showcase of buyer enablement. We’ve got sort of a recipe book on how to design these things. There’s a whole body of work that we’ve developed because what we’re finding is the single biggest obstacle for your customers buying your solution today is buying anybody’s solution today. One of the quick lessons that comes out, I’m going to go back to the spaghetti bowl, but just think about, if you think back to that spaghetti bowl. There’s a question I always ask when I have that up on the screen, so let’s do it now, which is we think about that big spaghetti bowl, the complexity, the map of your horror show of decision-making goes on inside of your customer organization and think about it.
I always ask the question, let’s put it up, just we can ask you to look at what we’re doing. Who’s in a better position to know what that picture looks like for your customer? Is it you or is it your customer? Who’s in a better position to know what that picture looks like for your customers? You guys all want to say your customer, right? Because we’re customer centric and the customer always comes first and the customer is always the right answer. I would venture to tell you, you as the supplier are in a far better position to know what this page looks like for your customer than your customer.
How many times have you guys watched the deal go off the rails where your customer gives you a call and says the B2B version of like in high school when you’re like your date called and said, we need to talk. Nothing good happens after that, right? It turns out the legal team had to get involved in this. We didn’t know. It turns out the capital review board had to look this over. We didn’t even know we had a capital review board. How many times does your deal go off the rails inside your customer organization for some sort of obstacle that they themselves didn’t anticipate? And when it happens, your thought is not like, “wow, I’m so surprised.” Your reaction is like, “Oh God, here we go again.” Because you’ve seen this happen before. You can predict these things and not only can you predict them, but more importantly, you can anticipate them and therefore simplify them. You can give your customer a heads up, this is what’s about to happen to you.
And there’s all sorts of ways to provide your customers the guidance to become effectively their buying Sherpa to take them by the hand and guide them through that purchase journey to materially simplify that page so it isn’t so hard. They are more confident to make those kinds of decisions. This is the buyer enablement story, and it’s still critically important to our work today. But that’s perfect timing. So, that is research project number. That’s the marketing study. That was a study of how do we drive growth with existing customers.
Now, let me shift gears and show you something completely different. Just to give you a heads up so you can see where this goes. It all winds up in the same place. I will neatly tie all this together in one theme before it’s over. But when we study this year on the sales side it was a different question. It wasn’t about hunting, it wasn’t about farming. This is about selling. Whether I’m selling to existing customers or to new or prospective customers doesn’t matter. So, we’re going to take that lens off. And we were just simply asking the question, what can I do in this world where our customers can learn so much more on their own, where they have so much access to information where frankly, most customers don’t see a need to talk to a sales rep, at least not very until very late in the purchase process.
One of the biggest obstacles all of you guys have is this: access. How do I even get my customer to take my call? How do I even get my customer to talk to me? Chief sales officers all over the world, that is the number one thing they were asking me last year was, how do I get the customer to pick up the phone and talk to me? In our chief sales officer meeting in June in Chicago, we had 65-70 chief sales officers in the room in Chicago, and I asked them, “how many of you actually answered the phone when it rings?” And not a single person raised their hand. And I said, “dudes, that’s not cool”. You can’t do it, but you see what I mean? You guys answer your phone when it rings. I don’t.
Particularly if it’s a sales call, I don’t need to talk to a sales rep to get information. I got the internet. I am empowered. So, the question becomes, what’s the recipe for success in that world? How can a sales rep stand out relative to all that information in that world? That’s the question we set out the answer to try and figure out if we can figure out what’s going on in this world. And this is where the other really surprising thing showed up in our research this year, because the thing that showed up in our research this year is going to look a lot like what we just talked about from a different angle.
It’s from this idea of information because one of the things we found we’ve not seen before is this. It’s a pie chart. Technically, I guess it’s a doughnut chart, but that’s alright. It’s a chart and it looks so innocent, doesn’t it? It looks so innocuous. It’s a pie chart. This one graphic up here on this page, I would argue in many ways changes everything because one of the things that we asked our customers this year was this very simple question on the left side of the screen is agree and disagree. It’s a scale from one to seven from strongly disagree to strongly agree, and we simply ask them the information we encountered as part of this purchase journey was generally of high quality. Agree or disagree.
And you see on that the graphic over on the right, 89% of the customers we serve, this is a sample size of about 1100 as well. These are individual stakeholders all involved in a complex B2B purchase. 89% agreed with the statement that the information they encountered as part of this purchase was generally of high quality. It’s all really pretty good. Now, who cares what I say? Why is that a big deal? I think honestly, this is a huge deal because what these customers are saying is, it’s all pretty good. It’s all pretty smart. It’s all got data. It’s all got analytics. It’s all got proof points. It’s all got some subject matter experts that are more than happy to walk me through it. It’s all smart, and now I don’t know what to do because it’s all pretty convincing.
In fact, that 89% is everybody saying we live in a world where it’s not just because the world we lived in five years ago when the blue arrow and the 57% we talked about all the time, we still do. That world was largely world war. It’s a war, a world of a wash of information. And what we have to do is we have to spend our time sort of picking the good information from the bad, finding a signal versus the noise. But the world that we live in today, it’s all signal. It’s all pretty smart. It’s all pretty good. And if you ask yourself wait, what? What? How did that happen? How did we get here? I’ll tell you how we got here, is we put ourselves here.
As suppliers, particularly your friends in marketing, all those in sales enablement world, we’re adjacently guilty on this, right? Because there’s not a single one of us in this as a company in this room, I would imagine, who doesn’t have a CEO who has said at some point in the last five years, if we want to win in today’s economy, we need to be a thought leader. How many of you guys want to be a thought leader in your industry, right? We all want to be, why do you want to be a thought leader? You want to be a thought leader to stand out. You want to be a thought leader to be known for saying smart things. You want to be a thought leader for being ahead of the market. You want to be a thought leader so when your customers have questions, your prospective customers have questions, they will come to you first because you’re a thought leader. And what’s interesting is we now have better tools than ever before to make good on that mandate.
How many of us over the last five years have installed massive amounts of technology to build and deliver better, more content to the marketplace than we ever have in the past. It’s called content marketing. So, we build marketing stacks, we bring in marketing automation. You can automate this stuff now. Right? And you can build white paper after white paper insight after insight, smart idea after smart idea. We now have more access to more data than ever before. We’ve got better analysis and better analytics. Now we can say really, really smart things, and we’ve got a dashboard that blinks red on the first Tuesday of every month saying, you got to publish. So, we pour all that stuff out in the marketplace and there’s your customer on the receiving end of all of these smart things, thinking, “I don’t know what to do”.
I did our meeting in Palo Alto about two months ago. We were talking about this graphic and there was a head of sales here. I’ve known him pretty well, and he says, “I did what we’re doing, what you told us to do. We’re doing that Challenger thing”. And by the way, I need to be super careful. Challenger, I think, is still absolutely the right answer. But again, what we’re seeing though is the world we live in today, it’s going to be necessary, but not sufficient. Because here’s what happens. He said, “the whole marketplace is telling our customers they need to go that way and we’re challenging them and we’re telling them, no, no, you need to go this way. And we’ve got data, we’ve got research, we’ve got analytics to show them the Challenger thing. You say, no, no. The better way to go is that way.”
And I said, “that’s great. And I would not stop doing that because that’s gonna help you stand out. Absolutely. But from your customer’s perspective, here’s the moment of empathy of our morning”. I want to take your selling hat off and put your buying hat on and think about what does that feel like from your customer’s perspective. Because now I’ve got one company saying I should Zig, and they’ve got data, they’ve got research, they’ve got analytics, and you’ve got to Zig. And I’ve got another company saying, no, no, no, you need to zag. And I’ve got data, I’ve got research, I’ve got analytics. And now the customer’s in the middle saying, zigzag, smart, data. I don’t know what to do. So, what do you do? We should probably study this some more. Why don’t you call me in six months? By the way, your customers never actually want you to call them in six months. That is actually a lie. That’s okay. Does it sound familiar? It makes me wonder how many of your marketers are back in the office right now stoking the fires of your own doom by just pouring out more and more smart content on a daily basis, confusing your customers at simply a higher level.
In fact, we can see this in the data. These are our customers. 50% of the customers we serve this year told us that the amount of trustworthy information was overwhelming and watch the language here because it’s not just the amount of information is overwhelming. It’s the amount of trustworthy information is overwhelming. It’s all pretty smart. I believe it, but there’s so much of it. More scary is 43% of customers we serve. They told us the supplier information was trustworthy, but also contradictory. This is the zigzag problem. What do I do now when I’ve got smart people tell me to do two different things? How do I make a decision when the quality of the information is no longer a viable criteria for me for the basis of that decision? How do I decide? And finally, what if they all kind of sound the same? They’re all smart, but they’re all saying the same thing.
In fact, 55% of customers said making informed tradeoffs in this world is really, really hard. When, again, the quality of the insight, the quality of the information, the quality of the thought leadership is no longer a viable basis for making those decisions. So how do your customers make decisions in this world? Remember, it’s not a selling story. It’s not a buying story. It is a human story in how we make decisions in this world. The way we’ve made decisions for thousands and thousands of years, as human beings because here’s what happens.
Just to be clear here, this is not our research per se. This is us standing on the shoulders of giants, looking at people like Daniel Kahneman who won a Nobel prize for this, Robert Cialdini who wrote the book, “Influence”. You guys will know a lot of researchers in the behavioral psychology, information management, decision-making, behavioral economics. And one of the things, when you put all that research together and step back and look at it, one of the things you can do is you can sort of map out what happens in a world of information overload. Which is where we are today.
So, if you think about sort of the volume of information on this graphic from left to right, it’s going from low to high and in the value that you derive from that information, what happens in this world is you can draw a curve to it. It looks like this, that as you gather more information, you get smarter, you make better decisions, you’re more informed up into a point. But at some point you’ve gathered so much information and so much data and so many perspectives that you reach this sort of this the maximum capacity for critical thinking. Then, anything after that point just actually doesn’t make things better. It kind of makes things worse. And over here on the right side of this curve, this is where good decision gives way to bad, where we’re rational choice gives way to gut feel. You start thinking, how are your customers making decisions? Over on the right side of this graphic, this is where the psychology comes in because we actually know that the way your customers make decisions is the same way humans make decisions. We all do this.
This is where human coping strategies, behavioral psychology sort of kicks in and human bias takes over. I’ll walk through these. I’ll just do it very briefly, but as I walked through this, I want to ask yourself, I want you guys to ask yourselves. I want you to do essentially the post-mortem on the last. Do the win-loss analysis in the last six months to 12 months of the deals in your pipeline and ask yourself how familiar does this sound? So, things like the anchoring bias. There’s a lot of information out there. It’s all really good. You’ve given me a bunch of data. You’ve given me a bunch of data. I found a bunch of data. I don’t know what to believe. So, I’m going to say I’m going to focus on these two things.
The things that are most important to me are the things that I think are most relevant. So, you anchor on one subset because you can’t make sense of it all. You anchor on a subset of that and just make the decision based on that. The confirmation biases you tend to have as human beings is all well documented. We tended to gravitate to those things which confirm that which we believed already. How many times have you guys lost the deal because the CEO said, “well, here’s what we should do because I think this is the right answer”, right? Selective exposure bias is like cherry picking. I just think it’s very much like anchoring. I’m just going to pick this data point and that data point and we’ll put it together and there’s our answer.
The one that’s really fascinating to me and actually really troubling is belief. Perseverance, belief, perseverance shows up in our politics right now. It shows in all sorts of different ways with the environment. Not that I’m not trying to mention politics, I promise, but belief, perseverance is simply this really fascinating, really troubling dynamic. When faced with evidence to the contrary, you dig in even deeper on that which you believe to start with. And the more evidence that shows that I’m wrong, the more I believe that I’m right. We see that playing out in our politics right now in all sorts of ways. It’s dividing us in really troubling ways. It’s very, very frustrating. That belief, perseverance.
Or finally, if you can’t decide, you just decide not to decide. It’s like you can zig and be right, I can zag and be right, but I don’t know what it is. Right? Why don’t I use it? Maybe as zig and zag as a Venn diagram, I’ll just buy the little overlap in the middle. Can I get a pilot on that? Or maybe I’ll just decide not to decide. How many deals have you guys watched go off the rails or start as a big deal and become a small deal because your customer is unable to make good, confident decisions? It falls into these biases here.
And it also begs another question, which is, so where are your customers? Are they on the left or on the right? We had a really fascinating conversation. So, there’s what I’m showing you today in 30 minutes, there’s an eight hour version of this, believe it or not, we call it an executive retreat. And I spend my time traveling around the world running these things. We’ll do one in Vegas in a couple of weeks. If you guys haven’t seen this, it’s really interesting. In Chicago, we had this discussion, which is this: how long does it take your customer to reach the top of that curve? By the way, I don’t have a statistical answer for that. I wish I could give you the actual data. I don’t have that, but I don’t know if I can even get one. I don’t know what you would ask to figure that out? But someone proposed an answer, which I found both compelling and terrifying, which is how long does it take your customer to reach the top of that curve where they start sliding down the slope on the right side and making bad decisions based on gut feel?
How long does it take to get to the top of that curve? I’ve heard 10 seconds. Why 10 seconds? That’s how long it takes me to put a search string into Google and hit return. That’s exactly right. I put three words into Google, hit return, and I’m overwhelmed, and here we go. Now, I need to make a decision again. This not just happens to B2B buyers. This happens to consumers, happens to all of us. If you guys tried to buy a car lately, I bought a car in January and it took me three years to buy a car. I still wonder about all the cars I didn’t buy. That’s called the paradox of choice, which is also at play here.
What is a sales rep to do in this world? This is where this gets really interesting, is what we found is a sales reps’ posture towards information. Information overload, not just high quantities of information, but high quantities of quality information are actually getting in the way of your customer making good decisions. They’re actually short circuiting, not selling, but buying actually with a really short circuiting, is deciding. So, is there something that a sales rep could do in this world to increase the likelihood of your customer, not just buying something but deciding something.
What we did is we studied sales reps from the perspective of how they engage customers with information. Just to be super careful here, this is not a profile. It is not a person is all this. This is a technique. There’s an approach and what we found is if you study sellers, sales reps how they use information, how they’re perceived by customers as engaging them with information, it turns out to really matter in this world, not surprisingly. And what we found is from a customer’s perspective, there are three different approaches that you can identify for sales reps, engaging with information. There’s giving, telling, and sense-making. You can kind of see where the story goes. Giving reps are perceived by the way this they’re used. There is an old version of this slide that says giver, teller, sense-maker. Don’t ever say that. I did that in London and it wound up in a really bad place. Should I stop being a Challenger and start being a sense-maker? And the answer’s no. No. That’s the wrong way to think about it. Whatever you’re doing now, whatever methodology you might apply, applying some of these techniques is going to be critically important in this world.
Let me show you. Love this. Here’s our horses in the race on this one. So, the giving rep is a sales rep who largely believes that more information is always a good thing. If customers have questions, give them answers. If they ask for more information, give them more. The giving rep is that they kind of see there. Their whole strategy is based on being a provider of insight, information, thought leadership, research. The more the customer wants, the more you give. These are the sales reps that come and beat you guys up for more information. They’re asking you for another insight, another piece of collateral, another talking point. And you say, well, why do you need it? I just gave you what you need. Why do you need more? And they said, well, because I got to talk to them again. You know what I’m talking about, right? I can’t go talk to my customer if I have nothing new to say. So, give me more information to share, which is really maddening. And it turns out it’s actually not helpful in this world.
The telling rep is like the subject matter expert on your team. The telling rep is this individual. It’s got the deep expertise in the industry. They often have like 20-30 years of industry knowledge. Maybe you hired them out of the vertical that you sell into. And their posture is largely, I’ve been doing this a long time. Let me tell you what I think you need to know. So, based on my opinion, the right answer here is X.
And what’s interesting about these individuals is most of us in this room would hire more of them if we could. If we could find him, if we could afford them, because these individuals, they have swagger, they’ve got gravitas. I talked to a med supply company. He said, “yeah, we had those guys.” We used to make them wear lab coats to the sales calls, right? Because it’s given so much credibility that, “let me tell you I’m a doctor too, and here’s what I think you need to know.” Right? So, it’s all based on their opinion.
Finally, the sense-maker rep over on the right, they take a totally different tactic. Sense-making reps, the way they look at it is like, I’m not going to give you more information and just make you more confused. I’m just not, I’m not gonna tell you what I think you should do. Let me just sit down. Like there’s a lot of information out there. You’ve got information from us. Maybe it’s a commercial insight, maybe it’s something else. You’ve got thought leadership. You’ve got everything from that Google search. Let me see if I can just sit down with you and just help make sense out of all of it. And that’s the approach, not surprisingly, that wins in this world.
Again, there’s a longer version of this, but what we find is, for those sellers perceived by customers as engaging in sense-making, those sellers closed high quality, low regret deals 80% of the time, which is an incredible number. Those sales reps are perceived by the customer selling to them as giving reps. Those high quality deals close 30% of the time. Now, if you’re looking, if you’re looking to the CLO to significantly increase the likelihood of closing the kind of business that you guys are looking to close, then the idea is to approach your customers not with more information or not what’s your personal advice, but approach them from this idea of, let’s just sit down together and see if we can just help you make sense out of all of the information that’s out there. And if you ask yourself, why does this matter? Why does the data look like this? Why does this happen? Why does this work?
In fact, the reason why sense-making sales reps are so much more likely to win is there’s two dynamics at play that we found in our research this year that significantly impact the likelihood of you as suppliers closing what we call that high quality, lower great deal. By the way, a high quality deal is if the customer didn’t settle for the smaller solution, but bought the bigger solution with a bigger scope, the higher price point, and they have less regret in doing it. That’s a high quality, low regret deal. It’s a bigger story behind that too. We can walk you through it, but if you want to look for what are the things I need to do to increase the likelihood of winning a high quality, low regret deal.
What we found in our research is there’s two mechanisms you’ve got to focus on. The one on the left is if you can reduce the customer skepticism of the individual rep selling to them. To the degree that your customers are skeptical of the company — trust in the company, it turns out it’s not what matters and you know why? Because you already got it. It’s table stakes. They wouldn’t be talking to you if they didn’t trust you as a company, most likely. So, that doesn’t show, but it’s not trust and company that matters here. It’s literally trust in the person. It gets very personal and the degree that I am skeptical of your ability.
And so there’s a whole set of bullets that goes under this and the longer version I can walk you through, but this would be things like, I’m skeptical of the sales rep providing me the whole picture. I’m skeptical that I believe that the sales rep provided information that was only self-serving, that they only gave me their part of the story, that they didn’t help me understand the broader picture. As soon as you are seen as shilling or not even shilling, but the degree to which, maybe it’s insight, maybe it’s content, but it’s all self-serving. It’s like, I know what you’re doing. You’re trying to teach me something about me that leads back to you. As soon as I start feeling that way, I’m out. Which is really frustrating, right? That’s one.
I’ve got to find a way to decrease skepticism. The same thing. The other thing I’ve got to do is over on the right, this will look familiar now. The other thing I’ve got to do is I’ve got to boost customer’s confidence in their ability to make good decisions. Have we looked at the right questions? Have we looked at the information that matters most? Do we believe that this is the right course of action? I need to be less skeptical of you and I need to be more confident in myself. Does that sound familiar? This is the human story. This is what we’re seeing in all of our research this year.
What’s interesting is that this idea of this human story, is that the thing that’s getting in the way of a selling effectively is this idea of confidence. What we’re finding is it’s not that they don’t feel confident in you. They don’t feel confident in their ability to make big, bold decisions in a world that is so confusing, so overwhelming, so rapidly changing, and frankly just so confusing. And honestly, in this kind of world of spaghetti bowl buying, I often joke with our head of research, his name’s Eric, he’s a great guy. And I tell Eric all the time, I’m kind of amazed that commerce happens at all today. And he looks at me, he says, “Brent, you’re an idiot.” That’s how Eric talks. And he’s not wrong either. But the guy’s like, “of course commerce is going to happen”. I mean, you still have to buy replacement parts of your machines. You still have to buy health insurance plans for employees. There’s all sorts of things that you are still going to buy. Commerce will still happen. This is not the end of commerce, but it does nonetheless make me wonder how much more commerce could happen if your customers felt more comfortable, more confident in making bigger, broader decisions.
In many ways, I think that’s the bigger play for all of us today is not in fact to out go sell the competition or outperform the competition. It is actually to increase the pie, the overall pie of decision making, maintain your wedge and you will grow. By just getting your customers to feel more confident, to make bigger, bolder, broader decisions, and you think, well, how am I going to do that? What drives confidence? This is where it gets super interesting. I got nine minutes to do this. What are the attributes that drive confidence? These are the attributes that show up in our research. It is the degree to which customers say that we are confident, that we determine the right questions to consider. We are confident that we identified which information matters most. We are confident, we anticipated any message changes and we’re confident we’re making the right choice. The degree with which your customers can say, check, check, check, check. Yes. We feel good about that. They’re significantly more likely to make the kinds of purchases that you want to make.
You won’t notice anything weird about that list. There’s something right there hidden in plain view that is so mind-bending to me. Let me show it to you. We are confident. You sell more when your customers are confident. We are confident that we determined the right questions to consider. We’re going to buy more. We’re going to make bigger decisions. When we’re confident, we identify which information matters most, that we’re confident, we anticipate any necessary changes. Finally, that we’re confident that we’re making the right choice. Do you guys see it now? What’s weird about that list? Which questions are the right questions? I don’t know which questions. But did we anticipate all the necessary change? Is this the right choice? Alright. I’m just going to go crawl back into the corner and like rock back and forth in the fetal position because that’s like, I don’t know any of this stuff. It turns out none of this stuff is objective. What it tells you is something so fascinating, that B2B buying doesn’t have an objective finish line. B2B buying is not about what, B2B buying is all about how you feel. That’s when a purchase happens. Specifically, do you feel confident in those things.
And that goes back to your point, which is to what degree can we then as a supplier, as a sales rep, play the role of building that confidence? Are you guys the confidence creators for your customers? That’s what sense making is all about. I’ve watched this happen, I show this to the marketers and they go, “Oh, yay”. They get all excited and they say, we’ve been working on building our customer’s confidence in us for years. We know that’s not what we’re talking about. Notice that this is why such a human story is so interesting because what we’re talking about here is the question we’re answering here is not are your customers confident in you? The question we’ve got to answer is, are your customers confident in themselves? This gets into psychology, right? To what degree are you as a sales organization, as a sales rep, as a supplier, as a digital machine? To what degree are you building customer’s confidence in themselves? Decision confidence. The way they perceive themselves.
We’ve all focused on building customers’ confidence, one trusted customer at a time, where I want to be a trusted advisor so my customers trust me. It’s like, no, you want to be a sense making rep. Your customers trust themselves, because if they don’t trust themselves, it doesn’t matter if they trust you. And this is where this goes is such, so what is a confidence creation? Sales strategy. This is why we’re focused on these kinds of things today. Buyer enablement, sense-making.
Again, just to be super clear, it’s not the end of Challenger. I think if you’re still not doing Challenger, you start yesterday. But what we’re finding is in this world, just because you’re saying smart things that are teaching customers something different about their business, you need to bring it full circle and make them feel confident, not just to believe you, but feel confident that they can do something about it. And that’s where this goes.
I’ve got five minutes. Let me end with five questions. There’s five questions at the end of this deck. These are questions you guys can take back to your teams to start thinking about, to engage your colleagues with, to start thinking about how much you apply this in your organization. And the first one is this. This question goes up in your organization, not down. This is the question. You sit down with your executive leadership team, your CEO, and you ask him or her along with your C-suite officers, to what degree do we believe that our customers struggle to buy is directly impacting our company’s ability to grow? Because if they don’t believe that, and by the way, if they’re outside of sales, they’re not going to see this. I don’t mean this in any sort of mean way, but if someone in finance or IT or HR, they’re not really going to appreciate how hard your customers are struggling to make these kinds of decisions until you ask them to think about their own experience buying something for your company, and then they go, “God, tell me about it, it’s the worst thing ever.” Right? Because we’re all convinced we work at the world’s most dysfunctional company. It turns out we’re all correct. Who knew, right? Because we’re all human, right?
So, you have to get your senior leadership team bought into this question. To what degree do we believe our customers’ struggle to buy is directly impacting our company’s struggle to grow? Because you’re going to have to put some time behind this, some resources, some focus, some initiatives, and if you don’t have the company aligned behind this problem, it’s going to be really hard to make progress. And by the way, what will happen, I say this again with dear love for all CEOs in the world, but your CEOs. Gosh, love them. You know what they’re going to do? They’re going to modify this question. Here’s what they hear when you say this to them, here’s what they’re going to hear. To what degree is our customer struggle to buy from us directly impacting our ability to grow? They’re going to diagnose it, as we are. We need to fix ourselves. We need to be easier to buy from.
So then what? What happens is you build this, the customer experience team, and you bring in the six-sigma specialists and you reduce your call handle times, you reduce your contracting period. Right? And all I can buy, that’s all smart stuff to do. That will not solve what we’re talking about here. That will not touch the spaghetti bowl. The question you’ve got to ask yourself is not do our customers struggle to buy from us or do the our customer struggle to buy our solution? Here’s the better language. It’s not our customers are going to buy our solution, but through customers struggle to buy a solution like ours. Do you see the difference? It’s actually supplier agnostic. That’s what you got to solve for.
Question number two, are your current commercial efforts actually making things worse? Are you confusing your customers at a higher level? Do you have a marketing team with a dashboard out there saying something smart? We haven’t said anything smart in five days. Get another blog post out there. It’s a really interesting question. We have built a content marketing machine to exacerbate the very problem that’s getting in our way, our ability to go. It’s so interesting.
Question number three. Have you identified where your customers are least confident? Not confident you, but confident themselves. What’s hard about buying? Have you mapped your spaghetti bowl? We’ve got an interview guide, which a number of companies have actually taken and they take this interview guidance. It’s a whole series of questions. I’ll ask it again so you can take something away today, is like questions like, if you had to do this purchase all over again, what would you do differently? What was particularly hard about this? If you were to give someone advice about to go on a similar purchase journey, what would advice would you give them to make this easier for them? It’s an honor to sit down and to map what’s hard about buying a solution like ours. Where did you lose confidence? Which information was overwhelming? Because that’s where you can then begin to build a strategy for material help.
Second to last one, have you mapped the word that comes up and sense-make more? Then the other word for me is the word context. So, as much as you are all focused on the content that you create and deliver it to your customers, and that is critically important, what’s really become very clear to us this year is you’ve got to be aware of the context of all of the other information your customers are consuming from all of those other sources. It’s time to actually map the content ecosystem, not that you create, but that your customers swim in every single day. You can’t make sense out of all of it unless you’re aware of all of it. And to ask your individual sales reps to do that on their own is unfair.
This is probably a role for you guys to play. Have we sat down and began to map out not just the information we’re providing, but all the other information our customers are likely to encounter? Because you can start asking, where does it overlap? Where does it conflict? What are the questions that are likely to arise? How are we going to help them make sense of all that? What are the kinds of conversations we need to have to make them more confident that they’re making good decisions based on what they’re learning? And finally. Are you solving for customers confidence in you or are you solving for customers confidence in themselves? This is, I think, the single biggest opportunity that we all have in front of us today, and if I had to sum it all up, here’s the case.
This is a nice sort of quick way to think about everything I just walked you through. At the end of the day, what you’re trying to do is get your customers into a place, not where they think I am happy because I chose you as a spot man. You guys rock, right? I’m happy because I chose you. What you’re trying to do is create a sense among your customers who were saying, I’m happy because I’m a good chooser. That was a good choice. I’m pretty good at making decisions. You know what I need to do? Make more decisions. You solve for that, you will grow. That’s what we’re finding. That’s what I want to share with you guys, so hopefully that was interesting. There’s a lot more behind it, but always happy to walk you through it. I’ll stick around for questions, but it’s lunchtime.