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CHICAGO More than 70 percent of B2B buyers fully define their needs before engaging with a sales representative, and almost half identify specific solutions before reaching out, according to a new report from CSO Insights, the research division of Miller Heiman Group.

"The Growing Buyer-Seller Gap: Results of the 2018 Buyer Preferences Study," based on a global survey of 500 decision-makers, finds that most buyers wait to contact sellers until late in the sales process. In addition, 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.

This creates a B2B buyer apathy loop, according to the study. To break this cycle, sellers must understand their customers' businesses, demonstrate excellent communication skills, focus on post-sale success, and provide buyers with perspective. Selling with perspective offers the greatest opportunity to differentiate and exceed buyer expectations, the report finds.

“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,” said 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.”

The report finds that it’s not all bad news for sellers. 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, and only 3 percent want to make all their 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 said. “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 short-cuts. Educating the buyer needs to occur in addition to the other requirements, not as a replacement for 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), EMEA (30 percent), APAC (18 percent) and LATAM (2 percent).

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