B2B Buyer Persona Research

BUYERS REVEAL KEY MISTAKES SALESPEOPLE MAKE



Research Overview

Many salespeople do not take the time to examine understand why they won a deal with a new customer. They assume it’s because of their sales prowess or their solution’s superior functionality - but this may or may not be the case. They really don’t know what was on the customer’s mind.

It’s also true that many salespeople don’t take the time to figure out why they lost a deal or long-time client. They either don’t know why they weren’t selected or reflexively blame it on factors out of their control. And again, they don’t really know what was on the customer’s mind.

The goal of this research project was to understand what’s really on customers’ minds. What are their perceptions of the salespeople they meet, and how do they ultimately choose between them? To accomplish these goals, over 230 business professionals who evaluate the products and services their companies use participated in this research project. Study participants completed an extensive 76-part survey on a variety of subjects to understand their personality tendencies and were asked to provide opinions on real-world sales scenarios. The questions were intended to discover what they like and dislike about different types of salespeople. The survey group was 59% men and 41% women who work within the following industries and departments:


REPORT TOPICS

BUYER PERCEPTIONS OF SALESPEOPLE
1. Buyers rate two-thirds of B2B salespeople as being average or poor
2. Just 18% of salespeople are classified by buyers as trusted advisors whom they respect
3. Only 31% of salespeople converse effectively with senior executives
4. 54% of salespeople clearly explain how their solution positively impacts a customer’s business

WHAT’S WRONG WITH SALESPEOPLE
5. Buyers sense the salesperson’s agenda to make the sale and can feel pressured
6. Salespeople give a canned pitch and don’t listen to buyer requirements
7. Differences in communication style and personality can alienate buyers
8. Salespeople don’t adapt their approach to differing gender perspectives
9. Salespeople want to develop relationships but buyers are too busy

UNDERSTANDING BUYER BEHAVIOR
10. The personalities of salespeople and buyers are quite different
11. Buyers are more instinctual than salespeople think
12. How buyers receive information influences their choice
13. Nearly every selection committee has a "bully with the juice"
14. Two-thirds of buyers try to avoid conflict as much as they can
15. Two-thirds of buyers avoid revealing the truth about their intent to salespeople
16. Nearly 70% of buyers exhibit obsessive-compulsive tendencies
17. Buyer’s remorse is the not the salesperson’s fault 70% of the time.
18. For buyers, silence is not agreement
19. How a salesperson dresses influences a buyer’s perception
20. The B2B sales cycle is predicated on risk mitigation
21. Buyers have different abilities to push purchases through their organization

HOW SALESPEOPLE CAN HAVE MEANINGFUL BUYER INTERACTIONS
22. When product functionality and price are equal, buyers pick a certain type of salesperson
23. 70% buyers prefer not to be challenged into new ways of thinking
24. “Hard” closing statements are least likely to resonate with buyers
25. 81% of buyers prefer to talk to someone with their same mannerisms
26. Half of buyers say email is the best way to land an initial meeting with them
27. Buyers say Tuesday is the best day of the week to reach them
28. Most buyers prefer salespeople wait several days before following up after an initial sales call
29. Two out of three buyers view a salesperson’s Linkedin profile prior to a meeting
30. Diversity among buyer personas means salespeople must adapt their approach with intuition

OVERALL PERCEPTIONS OF SALESPEOPLE

 

1. Buyers rate two-thirds of B2B salespeople as being average or poor

Put yourself in the position of the experienced  buyer who has met with hundreds of salespeople. What percentage of salespeople would you say are excellent, good, average or poor? The study participants were asked to categorize all of the salespeople they have met into four different categories. Overall, they rated 12% excellent, 23% good, 38% average, and 27% poor, as shown below.

What category are you in? Are you excellent, good, average, or poor? These three statistics will help you find your true standing. The first is your win-loss ratio over the past 12 months: The higher your ratio is, the higher your rating. The second is your annual quota performance for the previous year. The third is your quota performance average over the course of your sales career.


2. Just 18% of salespeople are classified by buyers as a trusted advisor whom the customer respects

Customers can think of a salesperson as someone who is trying to sell something, a supplier with whom they do business, a strategic partner who is of significant importance to their business, or a trusted advisor whose opinions on business and personal matters are sought out - and listened to. Obviously, a trusted advisor enjoys significant advantages over the competing salespeople. However, just 18% of the salespeople they met over the past year would be classified as trusted advisors whom they respect.


3. Only 31% of salespeople are able to converse effectively with senior executives

It’s likely that you frequently meet with lower-level and midlevel employees at companies whose business you’re trying to secure, but it’s the rare conversations you have with C-level decision makers that directly determine whether you win or lose the deal. Therefore, it is critical to understand how C-level executives think and communicate - and that you adapt your use of language to match theirs. Unfortunately, buyers report that fewer than one out of three salespeople can hold an effective conversation with senior executives.


4. 54% of salespeople can clearly explain how their solution positively impacts a buyer’s business

Buyers don’t just seek information to aid a strategic decision; they amass information that helps them justify their preconceived ideas of strategic value. In other words, your product’s strategic value comprises the reasons and arguments  buyers give to senior management and others in the company as to why the product should be purchased. There are seven basic types of strategic value, enabling customers to:

1. Gain a competitive advantage
2. Increase revenue
3. Decrease costs
4. Increase productivity and efficiency, and reduce risk
5. Improve customer satisfaction
6. Improve quality
7. Standardize operations

Buyers say just over half of salespeople they meet with can clearly explain how their solution impacts the business.


WHAT’S WRONG WITH SALESPEOPLE

5. Buyers sense the salesperson’s agenda to make the sale and can feel pressured

Study participants were asked to choose the primary reason they don’t like meeting with salespeople. Their answers reveal they feel pressured because salespeople are self-centered. In addition, buyers are uncomfortable because it is ingrained within every salesperson to ask for business at the end of a sales call - and most buyers don’t enjoy saying “No.”

Salespeople have a unique chance to start relationships with exceptional people who will become customers, and sometimes, friends. They have a set of abilities to accomplish this worthy goal; sometimes, a new attitude and demonstration of concern is required to open salespeople to the possibility of authentic relationships. Instead of focusing solely on revenue, concentrate more on helping others accomplish their goals.


6. Salespeople give a canned pitch and don’t listen to buyer requirements

Communication challenges and language-based deficiencies are the most frequent shortcomings cited by buyers when they meet with salespeople. The conversations salespeople have with buyers are quite complex. They consist of verbal and nonverbal messages sent consciously and subconsciously. Successful customer communications is the foundation of all sales; the words a salesperson speaks defines them. However, since salespeople talk all the time, they underestimate the complexity of communication and take the process for granted. As a result, they tend to repeat the same pitch to every prospect


7. Differences in communication style and personality can alienate buyers 

In every good sales call, there is an equilibrium point where the buyer respects the salesperson’s conviction and is not offended by persistence. Pushy salespeople quickly alienate prospective buyers because they don’t develop rapport. Rapport is a special relationship between individuals based upon harmonious communication. Buyers will choose to work with the salesperson who develops rapport over those who don’t.


8. Salespeople don’t adapt their approach to differing gender perspectives

All salespeople know there are subtle differences between selling to men and to women, and research results confirms it. One difference: Women think that one of the biggest mistakes a salesperson can make is to assume prospective buyers know less, not more, than they actually do. Men are evenly split on this subject. There are vastly different results when responses are analyzed by industry and department. The key takeaway is that every sales situation is uniquely influenced by a the buyer’s background, so it’s never wise to assume any two buyers are the same.


9. Salespeople want to develop relationships but buyers are too busy

 A sales call is a scheduled communication event in which each party has different goals. The salesperson’s main goal is to gain continued access to the prospective buyer and start a relationship. But the buyer has a different set of goals; relationships are expensive and involve investments of valuable time. Buyers have to spend time to determine whether a product’s characteristics are accurately represented, they must evaluate vendors to find the best possible partner to solve a business problem, and they must learn and implement the new product. Obviously, they’re very busy. Therefore, when salespeople meet with buyers, it’s best to provide a wealth of information in an economic amount of time.


UNDERSTANDING BUYER BEHAVIOR

10. The personalities of salespeople and  buyers are quite different

I’d like you to answer the following question, “Which of the following subjects would you say was your favorite when you were in school?” Your answer reveals a lot about how you process information, think, and make decisions. A recent study I conducted of over 1000 salespeople showed they prefer history, science, math, physical education, language and composition, and art.

History is based upon the recitation of important events, times, people and places from the past. Therefore, it’s not be surprising that history was the favorite selection for salespeople. In essence, history is based on a form of storytelling and this is indicative of a person’s high level of verbal orientation (by the way, salespeople talk for a living). Science is the process of discovery and exploration based upon a systematic methodology of observation, measurement, and testing. Through this process, science lovers attempt to organize the chaos that occurs naturally during the sales cycle. Math is based upon formulas, frameworks, and regimentation. Math lovers have an analytical orientation that is consumed with predictable outcomes based upon concrete terms. Physical education is indicative of someone who is action oriented and likes being part of team. Language and composition, and the arts, are based upon self-expression and tend to be associated with mental, spiritual, and out-of-the-box thinking.

Now examine buyers’ favorite subjects below, and compare them to those of salespeople. Take a moment to review the last sales call you made and who you met with. Was it like historian meeting with a mathematician? A scientist meeting with a linguist? A physical education enthusiast and an artist?


11. Buyers are more instinctual than salespeople think

Do salespeople understand the impact of human nature on the sales cycle?  What did buyers actually think when they were asked: “Let’s say you have to choose between two similar vendors with products that are very similar in features, functionality, and price. Would your final decision be based on logic or instinct?”Buyers are slightly more instinctive than salespeople believe. Furthermore, buyers’ responses can be divided into logical and instinctual decision making.

Two very important distinctions need to be made between the groups of logical and instinctual buyers: First, both groups conduct their evaluations in the same basic manner and with the same level of due diligence; therefore, it is difficult for the salesperson to determine which type of decision maker they are dealing with beforehand. Second, the groups gravitate to different types of vendors.

Secondly, it’s interesting to note that the instinctual decision maker has a higher tendency to select the better-known, top-of-the line goliath vendor, while the logical buyer is far more open to selecting the lesser-known choice. A theory behind this is that instinctual buyers play it safe and follow the herd within their industry. Conversely, reason and common sense motivate the logical buyers to purchase the most efficient solution.


12. How buyers receive information influences their choice

We represent our thoughts and experiences through language. We use words to represent the sensory experiences of sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Within the field of sales linguistics, the map we use to describe and interpret an experience is based on one of three neurolinguistics word catalogs: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Visual refers to pictures and imagery; auditory to sounds; and kinesthetic refers to touch and internal feelings (for example, nerve racking situations and being on guard are highly emotional states).

The most interesting aspect of the question below is not the actual responses; rather, it is that 50% of buyers selected a visual response, 44% selected an auditory response, and only 6% chose a kinesthetic response. Salespeople can gain great benefits in communication and persuasion they can recognize buyers’ word catalog usage and are able to adjust communication to fit the buyers’ world.


13. Nearly every selection committee has a “bully with the juice” 

Of the thousands of sales cycles I have analyzed, one finding is that one member of the selection team is able to exert their will and determine the vendor selected. I have coined the term “bully with the juice” for this person. This is not necessarily a negative term, nor does it mean that the person is physically intimidating. It is simply a description of a person who will tenaciously fight for their cause in order to get their way. This person isn’t afraid to be politically incorrect or ruffle some feathers to ensure their personal desire is met.

Simply put, this person has charisma and is a natural leader. These buyers are not always the highest-ranking people involved in an evaluation, but they are usually on the winning side. Typically, only one member of the customer’s evaluation team fits this description. Single-handedly, they impart their own will on the selection process by choosing the vendor and pushing the purchase through the procurement process.

In order to quantify the frequency of when there is a singularly dominant individual, from the buyers’ perspective, study participants were asked about their selection committee experiences. Overall, 90% of respondents confirmed that there is always or usually one member of the committee who tries to influence the decision their way.


14: Two-thirds of buyers try to avoid conflict as much as they can

Sixty-six percent of participants agreed with the statement “I try to avoid conflict as much as I can.” This desire to avoid conflict permeates sales calls as well. As a result, buyers say things they don’t mean, and mean things they don’t say. Therefore, it can be argued that it isn’t what buyers say during the sales call that is important - it’s what they don’t say. With this in mind, successful salespeople may consider giving the buyer ample opportunity to talk and voice concerns.


15: Two-thirds of buyers avoid revealing the truth about their intent to salespeople

Take a moment to read this scenario before you look at the how buyers responded:

You've just sat through hour-long presentations from three different salespeople who work for highly respected companies that are competing for your business. While each salesperson was professional and courteous, you have a favorite company that you would like to do business with. The next day, after the presentations, each salesperson contacts you in order to find out where they stand. What do you do?

For a moment, put yourself in the position of the buyer. You’re meeting with multiple vendors, watching their presentations, and read their marketing collateral. Each vendor has equally talented, friendly, and professional salespeople who come to your office. However, you can select only one product. How will you behave with each vendor? Will you tell each one the truth?

Probably not.

One way to interpret the study results is to say that 62% of prospective buyers are prone to lying. It is basic human nature to want to avoid confrontation (see finding 14). This is particularly true in in-person meetings. Additionally, consider society’s implicit guidelines of behavior: We are taught at an early age that if we have nothing nice to say, we shouldn’t say anything at all. If the prospective buyer is not interested in the product after the meeting, it is much more comfortable to offer false expectations to the salesperson over the phone - or just avoid them. Unfortunately, this means the competing salespeople continue to spend time and effort trying to win the business, when a decision in favor of one vendor was most likely made early on in the sales cycle.


16. Nearly 70% of buyers exhibit obsessive-compulsive tendencies

What is it that prevents a prospective buyer from making a purchase even after a lengthy evaluation process? The reasons may surprise you. Regardless of the prospective buyer’s confident demeanor, on the inside, they experience fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Most buyers exhibit obsessive compulsive tendencies in which they seek perfectionism and an excessive need to control their environment.

From a psychological perspective, buyer stress shortens attention spans, escalates mental exhaustion, and encourages poor decision making. From an organizational perspective, when anxious  buyers experience too much stress, it often results in analysis paralysis. They are too overwhelmed with information and contradictory evidence to make a decision. It’s the salesperson’s responsibility to anticipate and diffuse the main sources of buyer stress during the selection process; for example by making information like tech specs readily available.


17: Buyer’s remorse is the not the salesperson’s fault 70% of the time.

To better understand the impact of human nature on buyers, study participants were asked to recount the last time they experienced significant buyer’s remorse. Buyer’s remorse occurs after the purchase is made when the buyer feels a sense of regret, guilt, or anger, and second-guesses their decision. Most people mistakenly associate buyer’s remorse with an impulsive purchase, or assume it was caused by the pressure tactics of a salesperson.

However, when each example was laboriously analyzed, a pattern emerges. The source of buyer’s remorse can categorized into ten different root causes. Furthermore, it is the buyer’s own action which actually caused remorse in over 70% of examples - not the salesperson or the product that was sold.


18. For buyers, silence is not agreement

The collection negative sales experiences over the course of an buyer’s lifetime shapes how they buy and who they prefer to do business with. As a result, buyers experience a mental tug-of-war when deciding which product to select, and confusion about whether they should even make a purchase at all. Therefore, they adopt coping mechanisms when facing the stressful situation of selecting between salespeople and solutions.

Coping mechanisms are psychological and behavioral strategies used to manage stress and threatening situations. One of the most prevalent coping mechanisms used by buyers is silence.

Successful salespeople also continually catalogue successes and failures. They store patterns of individual and buyer committee behavior, and link them to the sales process. From this base of intuitive knowledge, salespeople are able to create and execute account strategies. They use sales intuition to integrate their spoken words with the particular sales situation. Their goal is to understand the core of the customer’s psyche and address the hidden biases and silent objections that are always in the back of buyer’s mind.


19. How the salesperson dresses influences the buyer’s perception

Buyers have innate personal biases. In fact, 91% of study participants agree with the statement that better-looking salespeople have an advantage.

The way a salesperson dresses, presents themselves, and represents their product provides important symbolism to the buyer. Customers have standards and certain expectations about the way salespeople act, look, and speak. These standards vary greatly among buyers, companies, industries, and places. Selling drilling equipment in Texas is different from selling computer chips in Silicon Valley, or hotel supplies in Hawaii. Each requires a salesperson to use a different presence and demeanor to build credibility and gain rapport. Therefore, it makes sense to dress like your buyers and express yourself in a manner they are comfortable with.


20. The B2B sales cycle is predicated on risk mitigation

B2B buyers are fixated on risk mitigation, because they have been conditioned to be skeptical about salespeople in general. Therefore, they make vendors respond to immense RFPs, complete laborious evaluation spreadsheets, and document each product feature and operation to prove it exists. The goal is risk mitigation and reducing the uncertainty associated with selecting a vendor and making the purchase.

Study results show that the tolerance for risk fluctuates by department. For example, the average risk tolerance rate for IT department buyers was the low at 5%. The average risk tolerance rate for Marketing buyers, on the other hand, was much higher, at 7.1%. It can be inferred from these metrics that these two departments interact with salespeople and analyze vendors in different ways, and with varying levels of due diligence.


21. Buyers have different abilities to push purchases through their organization

Do the departments of a company have different abilities to push through purchase decisions and defeat the company’s bureaucratic tendency not to buy? Let’s look at the profiles of the various departments in terms of how they ranked their group leadership tendencies as a predictor of their department’s ability to promote their internal agenda. The departments responded to the statement “I am often a leader in groups.”

Based on the results, you might expect Sales, IT, and Engineering to have more organizational clout than Accounting and Human Resources.


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The Buyer Persona Research is sponsored by DiscoverOrg, the leading global marketing and sales intelligence tool used by over 2,400 of the world’s fastest growing companies to accelerate growth. DiscoverOrg’s team of over 250 researchers refreshes every data point at minimum every 60 days – ensuring customers reach the right buyers with the right message at the right time. For more info, please visit www.discoverorg.com.

 

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