How B2B Buyers Feel About Sales Reps: 6 Insights

May 2, 2018

How does sales outreach look and feel from the buyer’s side? That’s the question ValueSelling Associates wanted to tackle in its “Sales from the Buyer’s Perspective” study [download page], conducted with Training Industry, through a survey of 260 respondents with buying decision-making roles. Here are 6 takeaways from the report.

1. Buyers Are Willing to be Engaged Throughout the Buying Process

Interestingly, at least 8 in 10 buyers surveyed for the report said that they were willing to be contacted at different stages of their decision process. For example, almost 9 in 10 agreed that they’re open to engaging with vendors when they are identifying a need for a product/service (88%), and 86% likewise agreed that they’re open to interacting with vendors when they’re exploring options.

These results further call into question the accepted wisdom that buyers complete a majority of their research before interacting with vendors. Recent studies have indicated not only that more buyers are revealing themselves early in the sales process to vendors, but also that buyers are happy to hear from vendors early in their journey.

2. Reps Aren’t As Effective With Influencers as With Decision-Makers

The report demonstrates that “complex B2B sales has become a team selling activity,” as a majority of buyers report interacting with a variety of vendor representatives, from inside sales (63%) to outside sales (64%), channel sales (52%), sales engineers (56%), subject matter experts (68%) and demo coordinators (62%).

But the flip side of that is true, too: vendors need to interact with a variety of buyer roles to make the sale. And on this count it seems that, while they’re generally doing well, vendors could improve.

About one-third (34%) of buyers said that vendors are “always effective” in their conversations with decision-makers, and an equal 34% feel that vendors are “always effective” in their conversations with executives and the C-suite.

But vendors are not performing quite as well when it comes to their conversations with influencers within the buyer company: only one-quarter (24%) rated vendors “always effective” with these conversations.

3. Vendor Reps Could Improve Their Emailing Skills

One area where vendors could stand to up their game is in their written communications, per the report. While at least two-thirds of respondents believe that vendors are “always effective” or “almost always effective” at their spoken communication/presentation skills and at their PowerPoint proficiency, fewer than 6 in 10 feel that vendor representatives are that talented at their informal written communication quality (such as over email and social media).

In fact, buyers rated vendors worse at their informal communication skills than at a host of other communications, including formal written communications and demonstrating active listening when virtual.

The trouble with this is that email is by far the preferred vendor contact method for buyers, with 81% wanting contact this way.

4. Vendor Credibility is There, But Some Problems Persist

On a positive note, the vast majority (88%) of buyers agree that the point-of-contact sales representatives they interact with are credible, including almost (45%) who strongly agree that they’re credible.

Moreover, close to 9 in 10 agree that point-of-sale reps have a good reputation in their field, which is important given how critical brand reputations are to B2B buyers.

Fewer strongly agree that point-of-sale vendors are helpful throughout the buying process and provide relevant business information for buying decisions. Even so, a strong majority are satisfied with their vendors on those measures.

However, many buyers approach vendors’ credibility with some skepticism. Roughly 6 in 10 agreed that their salesperson sometimes gives false information in order to make a sale (58%), makes occasional exaggerated claims of their products (58%), alters the facts to get what they want (58%) and applies too much pressure trying to sell more (62%).

These questions surrounding sales representatives’ credibility are worrisome, as they can breach the trust that, along with reputation, is a key consideration for buyers.

5. Overall, the Relationship is Strong

Despite questioning their integrity, buyers overall have a healthy outlook regarding their relationships with vendor sales representatives. Fully 84% either strongly agreed (37%) or agree (47%) that they have a very good relationship with their salesperson. and about 8 in 10 likewise agreed that they continue to deal with their salesperson because they genuinely enjoy their relationship with them.

In fact, a majority (55%) of buyers are highly satisfied with the relationship between their company and the vendors they deal with, scoring their satisfaction in the 76-100 range on a 100-point scale. The average score among all buyers surveyed was 75.3, in the higher range of satisfaction.

6. Why Does the Relationship Matter? Buyers Are Looking for Partners

In summary, buyers have a positive outlook on their relationships with vendors and feel that they generally do a good job communicating with them. There are some questions surrounding the integrity of reps’ claims from time to time, but sales reps are generally seen as credible and helpful, which may explain why buyers are willing to engage with them throughout the buying journey.

Why does this all matter? One result stands out from the report. In rating the nature of their relationship preferences on a 100-point scale, where 0 refers to a purely Transactional relationship and 100 a fully Relationship-based one, buyers skewed strongly towards a Relationship-based arrangement (averaging a score of 69).

As the report notes, “this means that buyers are usually seeking to forge ‘trusted partner’ arrangements with vendors when possible rather than sourcing short-term solutions on an ‘as-needed’ basis.”

This is an important point as it confirms a notion that continues to crop up in research: that B2B buyers are looking for partners, not vendors. Given the choice, it seems, buyers (at least IT buyers, in this case) would prefer to buy from brands that focus on building a relationship versus securing a transaction deal.

Just make sure those email skills are well and truly honed…

About the Data: The results are based on a survey of 260 participants with buying decision-making roles, roughly two-thirds of whom are from companies with at least 1,000 employees.

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