August 11th, 2017 | by

What affects a purchase decision?

The number of factors at play are too numerous to count – ranging from pricing, to product features, to reputation of the vendor, to the sales experience. The tendency is to focus on concrete failure points that are easy to explain, such as differences between product features – or to scapegoat the salespeople who lost the deal.

But what about the B2B buyers themselves?

With so much of the spotlight on what sales reps could do differently, examining and understanding the psyche of buyers often gets overlooked. It turns out that it’s buyers themselves and their attitude toward risk and change that drive their view of salespeople.

buyers' opinion of b2b sales professionals

We partnered with sales linguist Steve W. Martin on a comprehensive study of 230 B2B buyers, with the goal of pointing the spotlight on buyers themselves.

Download the free B2B Buyer Persona study in full.

B2B buyers’ opinion of salespeople

First, the bad news. Buyers share a common poor perception of salespeople. From the study:

“Overall, study participants rated 12% of salespeople excellent, 23% good, 38% average, and 27% poor.

“Think about those figures: What are the implications of nearly 2/3 of B2B salespeople being considered average or poor? Buyers have been conditioned to be skeptical and not to trust salespeople in general. Therefore many buyers have immense RFPs and laborious spreadsheets that vendors must complete. They require each product feature and operation to be fully documented, and meticulous hands-on evaluation of each product. The goal is risk mitigation: reducing the uncertainty associated with selecting a vendor and making the purchase.”

Otherwise stated, most (66%) sales professionals are considered average or poor. This is a disheartening statistic that no amount of product features or discounts will change. It’s also probably not a huge surprise to the sales development rep (SDR) who’s just gotten off the phone after the 45th rejection of the day.

However, a deeper look at these statistics reveals that buyers’ opinion of salespeople differs greatly by department and industry:

“When you look at ratings of salespeople from the perspective of departmental buyers, a pattern emerges.

“Evaluators who are part of IT, Engineering, and Accounting are more critical of the salespeople than those from less-scientific, process-oriented departments such as Marketing. Since analytical buyers are more likely to have advanced degrees in hard science, such as computers, finance, or engineering, they are more likely to be skeptical and consequently more demanding of salespeople.”

With variations by department and industry in mind, the study goes on to examine buyers’ willingness to take risks.

Read the whole B2B Buyers Persona study for free.

Buyers’ risk tolerance by department

The study found an interesting correlation between the buyers’ perception of salespeople and their risk aversion: Those buyers in departments that do have a positive opinion of salespeople are more willing to take a chance.

“An interesting pattern emerges when tolerance for risk is analyzed by department: There’s a correlation between the ratings of salespeople and tolerance for risk. Specifically, the higher negative rating of salespeople is inversely related to a department’s tolerance for risk; for example, IT buyers rated 37% of all salespeople as poor—higher than any other department – while their risk tolerance average was a low 5%.

“Conversely, Marketing rated 18% of salespeople as poor—the lowest “poor” rating in the group – while their tolerance for risk rating was much higher, at 7.1%.”

This means that sales professionals can boost success significantly by focusing their efforts on buyers in departments that are sales-friendly; and preparing to adapt their approach and work a whole lot harder when buyers are not.

Buyer risk aversion by industry

The same creative-analytical trend is true on an industry level.

“The tolerance for risk varies greatly by industry as well. Dynamic, creative, trend-oriented industries such as Fashion, Media, and Real Estate have the highest risk tolerance averages. More conservative, static, and process-oriented industries such as Government, Consulting, and Healthcare have the lowest risk tolerance averages.

“Again, this demonstrates that buyers interact with salespeople and analyze vendors with varying levels of due diligence based on the buyer’s industry and subsequent tolerance for risk.

“Buyers go to great lengths to reduce the risk of buying. They may list their needs in documents that are hundreds of pages long; they hire consultants to verify that they are making the right decisions; and they conduct lengthy evaluations to test products, talking to existing users and doing pilot tests—all in an effort to eliminate fear, uncertainty, and risk.”

The B2B buyer is fixated on risk mitigation—and your reception as a sales professional depends on the department you’re selling to.

Use your time wisely. Download the Sales Effectiveness Toolkit.

The good news in this report is that there are many buyers who are open and willing to take a chance on sales professionals and their products or services – particularly if sales can reach the right people.

The study goes on to identify buyers in which industries and departments prefer different selling styles such as friendliness, professionalism, and product knowledge – and which styles they don’t respond to.

Rather than try to be all things to all people, this study suggests that salespeople should focus on those industries and departments with a positive perception of vendors – and prepare to work harder in industries that don’t.

A purchase decision is a risk, after all; and all parties win when a calculated risk pays off.

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Charity Heller
About the author

Charity Heller

Content Strategist, DiscoverOrg

Charity Heller, DiscoverOrg's content strategy manager, has been developing, composing, and editing content since age 2. Before her dive into content marketing, she founded and operated a book-editing company for 10 years. Charity has a B.A. in English literature, Professional Editing Certification from U.C. Berkeley, and she's a certified Project Manager.