Most business-to-business (B2B) buyers—more than 70 percent—wait to contact sellers until late in the sales process, says a study by CSO Insights, the research division of Miller Heiman Group. The majority of buyers, the study notes, have fully defined their needs before engaging with a B2B sales representative, and almost half have identified specific solutions before reaching out.

“The Growing Buyer-Seller Gap: Results of the 2018 Buyer Preferences Study,” based on a global survey of 500 decision makers, also finds just 23 percent of B2B buyers view sellers as a top resource for solving business problems; only one third (32 percent) say sales reps exceed their expectations; and more than two thirds (68 percent) see little to no difference between vendors. CSO Insights describes the result of these perspectives as a B2B buyer apathy loop, and its report prescribes “selling with perspective” as the greatest opportunity to differentiate and exceed buyer expectations.

“As the consumer shopping experience moves to a model that cuts out salespeople, B2B sellers must adjust by bringing insights and expertise into the sales process,” says Seleste Lunsford, managing director of CSO Insights. “Sales reps today must add value beyond simply facilitating transactions, or they run the risk of being replaced by technology.”

However, buyers still want to engage with sales reps under the right circumstances. Almost two thirds of B2B buyers (65 percent) find value in discussing their needs with salespeople, while only three percent want to make all purchases online and never work with sellers again. In addition, 90 percent of buyers are open to engaging sellers earlier in the buying process, especially when facing a new, risky or complex situation.

The report also notes that buyers favor sales resources who demonstrate high levels of customer knowledge, leverage superior communications skills, present a results-orientation and educate buyers with perspective. While none of these register as new buyer requirements, CSO Insights’ annual studies of sales organizations show that few consistently excel at these competencies.

“Unfortunately, sales organizations continue to fall short,” Lunsford adds. “The ability to provide buyers with perspective offers the most promise for differentiation. Sellers must bring ideas, shape vision and make customers aware of solutions they hadn’t considered. There are no shortcuts. Educating the buyer needs to occur in addition to the other requirements, not replace them. And there is no one cookie-cutter approach for how and when to provide insights.”

The 2018 Buyer Preferences Study is based on a global survey of 500 B2B decision makers responsible for making purchases greater than $10,000 at companies with revenue of $250 million or more. Respondents represented 25 industries and a range of functions, including IT, accounting, operations, product, marketing, purchasing and HR. The survey included responses from North America (50 percent), Europe, the Middle East and Africa (30 percent), Asia Pacific (18 percent) and Latin America (2 percent).

For more information, download the full report here.