July 13th, 2017 | by

Deals aren’t won or lost on product features alone. As sales professionals know, the B2B buyer’s decision process is ultimately influenced by timing, office politics, budgets, vendor philosophy, and past experience – in addition to the quality and fit of the product or service itself.

Winners of this opaque process consider their product to be superior, but the reasons for closing a deal are hardly that simple.

“One of the most interesting parts of the sales process,” says noted sales linguist Steve W. Martin, “is learning why the competing salespeople lost. There’s a tendency to assume that the salesperson lost because their product was inferior in some way. However, in the majority of interviews, buyers rank all the feature sets of the competing products as being roughly equal. This suggests that other factors separate the winner from the losers, with some being out of the salesperson’s control.”

Rather than leave this large puzzle piece a mystery, DiscoverOrg partnered with Martin on a comprehensive study of 230 business decision-makers. We surveyed them to get their candid thoughts about how they made buying decisions, and why they select the vendors they do.

Insights from the study include:

  • Which departments and industries are part of the 35% who stick with the industry leader – and which are willing to take a chance on the newcomer.
  • Buyers who have a favorable view of salespeople are willing to take risks. Here’s who’s not.
  • When working with a buying committee, a salesperson has to convince just one person.
  • Buyer’s regret is real – but 92% of the time, it’s not the salesperson’s fault.

This is Part 2 of the study “Why Didn’t They Buy?” Click here to read Part 1.

Steve Martin study buyer industry and department

3. Vendor market position advantages

Different industries and departments are more likely to buy from underdog vendors rather than the goliath of their industry.

In most industries, a single company dominates the market.

different buyers are more willing to take risk

Compared to their competitors, they have a much larger market share, top-of-the-line products, greater marketing budget and reach, and more company caché. For salespeople who have to compete against these industry giants, life can be very intimidating indeed.

However, the study results provide some good news in this regard.

Buyers aren’t necessarily fixated on the market leader and are more than willing to select second-tier competitors than one might expect. In fact, only 33% of participants indicated they prefer the most prestigious, best-known brand with the highest functionality and cost. Conversely, 63% said they would select a fairly well-known brand with 85% of the functionality at 80% of the cost. However, only 5% would select a relatively unknown brand with 75% of the functionality at 60% of the cost of the best-known brand.

Not surprisingly, the answer to this question differed by industry. The Fashion and Finance verticals had the highest propensity to select the best-known, top-of-the-line product, while Manufacturing and Healthcare had the lowest.

Download the full report here.

Respondents from the Information Technology and Engineering departments were most likely to select the best-known, top-of-the-line product, while Manufacturing and Sales were least likely.

Some B2B buyers take a risk on vendors

Conversely, Manufacturing and Sales would be most likely to buy lesser-known brands with slightly reduced functionality if they were priced accordingly.

The impact of price in decision-making

Price plays an important role in every sales cycle. Since price is a frequent topic during buyer conversations, salespeople can become fixated on the price of their product and believe they have to be lowest. However, decision makers have different propensities to buy, and the importance of price falls into three categories. For “price-conscious” buyers, product price is a top decision-making factor. For “price-sensitive” buyers, product price is secondary to other decision-making factors such as functionality and vendor capability. For “price-immune” buyers, price becomes an issue only when the solution they want is priced far more than the others being considered.

Here are the industry and departmental pricing classifications based upon pricing decision scenarios and questions:

chart of buyers

4. What do B2B buyers want to see on vendor websites?

Reviews, testimonials, and competitor comparisons top the list of what buyers want to see on a vendor website.

Every major B2B purchase progresses through four sales cycle stages, and different types of influencers determine which vendor is in the lead at each stage. Vendor websites are most influential at the beginning of the sales cycle in the Buyer research stage. While the influence of internal politics and evaluation group dynamics become more important as the sales cycle progresses.

• Buyer research stage: The customer conducts independent research on the vendors, underlying technologies, and methodologies via the Internet, analyst reports, product reviews, industry news, member associations, and elsewhere.

• Product stage: Based upon their research, the buyer contacts a select number of vendors and meets with their salespeople to learn more about the products. The buyer is validating their initial research and augmenting their knowledge of the respective products through interactions with each salesperson competing for the business.

• Business stage: As the sales process progresses, buyers assess which vendors offer the best business value and are a philosophical fit for their business.

• Political stage: The last stage is making a final decision among the top two or three vendors. The final decision is typically influenced by many political factors beyond the attributes evaluated in the product and business stages.

Download the full report here.

During each stage, the importance of the vendor’s website varies. Early on, the website plays a pivotal role as buyers decide which vendors are qualified. In the Product stage, when the sales team provides most of the information directly to the buyer, the website serves as a validation check point. The website’s importance increases during the business and political stages, as senior-level executives who weren’t part of the evaluation team review the findings and recommendation.

With these four stages in mind, study participants were asked, “Do vendor websites influence the final vendor selection you make?” Overall, 61% of study participants said the website definitely influenced their final decision, while 37% indicated it somewhat influenced their final decision. Only 2% said it had no influence at all.

In addition, this ratio was nearly identical across each department.

What aspects of a website do buyers consider most influential, and does it differ by industry? Study participants were asked to rate how eight different website topics influence their purchase decisions. The top three items for Finance, Technology, and Consulting industries were customer testimonials and success stories, competitive comparisons by industry analysts, and positive reviews.

The top three items for Media and Fashion industries were the the look and feel of the website, competitive comparisons by industry analysts, and positive reviews.

Manufacturing and Healthcare prioritized the look and feel of the website, customer testimonials and success stories, and positive reviews.

The most important three aspects for Government were unique and included company background and history information, detailed technical information such as data sheets and manuals, and competitive comparisons by industry analysts.

Download: How Sales and Marketing Intelligence is Democratizing Growth and Driving Disruption

Finally, Real Estate was the only industry to include quality of the leadership team and interviews with key execs in their top three, along with competitive comparisons by industry analysts and positive reviews.

A website is more than an online reference platform; it’s an extension of the sales force. It sets the stage to ensure their sales teams are invited to participate in the customer’s evaluation. It provides validation while the sales team discusses products and business capabilities with prospective buyers. It provides affirmation to senior-level decision makers who may not meet the sales force that they can confidently move forward with their purchase.

some buyers want to be challenged

5. Buyers’ preferred selling style

Given the choice between salespeople who are personally cold but highly knowledgeable, friendly and moderately knowledgeable, or charismatic but not very knowledgeable – most buyers prefer the second style.

To see which departments and industries are more inclined to buy from newcomers and upstarts, and which like to play it safe with established brands, and more, download the entire study.

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Katie Bullard
About the author

Katie Bullard

As Chief Growth Officer (CGO), Katie brings 15 years of marketing, product, and strategy experience in global, high-growth technology businesses to her role at DiscoverOrg. She has a bachelor’s and masters degree from the University of Virginia.