Buyers’ Non-Linear Journey Requires New Sales Process Thinking

The traditional linear sales process—awareness, consideration, evaluation and purchase—no longer exists, and sales executives must adjust their management and forecasting to accommodate the non-linear journey that business-to-business buyers now follow. Analysis from research and advisory firm Gartner shows that with easy access to a wealth of quality information, buyers engage with sellers less frequently and often revisit buying tasks that were traditionally executed chronologically.

“The B2B buyer’s journey is not a linear process,” says Steve Rietberg, senior research director in Gartner's Sales practice. “Gartner research indicates that B2B buyers go through six distinct steps to successfully complete a purchase. Often, however, they execute and re-execute these steps in parallel, while sellers track deals using discrete stages in a linear sales process, creating a disconnect.”

Gartner says this disconnect reduces the accuracy of pipeline analytics and sales forecasts, and, as a result, sales managers cannot proactively identify stalled deals or seller needs because they lack a reliable method for gauging progress and identifying risk. Subsequently, they are unable to prescribe effective next steps to rescue stalled deals or know when to walk away.

“The traditional approach of determining an opportunity’s probability to close based on sales stage completion simply no longer applies,” adds Rietberg. “Sales leaders must provide sellers with an efficient method for navigating a nonlinear buyer’s journey and make changes to their pipeline management and forecasting to measure the progress of active opportunities more effectively.”

Gartner recommends sales executives increase the quality of their pipeline by measuring deal progress based on customer verifiers, as this will give them a standard method for scoring their opportunities with more precision than a sales process with artificially imposed linear sales stages. It also advises they improve sales analytics and lessen seller burden by integrating and automating opportunity scoring within customer relationship management (CRM)/sales force automation (SFA) systems. This allows selling organizations to evolve from a CRM/SFA based on a traditional linear sales process to one that assesses the pipeline with consideration for the actual buyer’s journey.

Gartner says sales staff should incorporate opportunity scoring into forecast analytics—opportunity scoring based on customer verifier completion and buyer job revisits offers a more accurate method for quantifying pipeline value and helps lay the foundation for artificial intelligence (AI) forecasting. Sales staff should also build analytics based on buyer job progress. This provides sellers and their managers with a powerful new set of sales metrics to help identify opportunity risk and areas of seller need.

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