How B2B marketers can help sales overcome customer indecision

Customer indecision is now a leading reason for missing B2B marketing and sales pipeline and revenue targets. Historically, the status quo — doing nothing — was the ultimate competitor. But new research uncovers customer indecision, not customer indifference, is a major roadblock costing companies millions of dollars in new revenue.

That’s a whole bundle of opportunities stuck in your funnel, clogging your pipeline and baffling your stakeholders.  

But there are things B2B marketers can do to help sales teams and their prospects overcome purchase indecision and win more customers faster. For proper context, and crafting the right strategies and tactics, let’s frame the challenge and the opportunity based on why and how business professionals and their organizations buy. 

B2B buyers are dealing with FOMU, not FOMO

Authors Matt Dixon and Ted McKenna analyzed more than 2.5 million sales-customer engagements for their recently released book, “The JOLT Effect,” and discovered that:

  • 56% of the customers who expressed the intent to purchase were lost due to customer indecision. 
  • Only 44% were lost due to sticking with the status quo — what the prospect has been doing or using. 

Making the case to move off the status quo has been a popular sales and marketing strategy for several years. When a deal got stuck, status quo-busting was done primarily through “fear of missing out” (FOMO) tactics, including:

  • Reconvincing the buying committee of the benefits of the solution by demonstrating ROI.
  • Using fear, uncertainty and doubt tactics, emphasizing the cost of inaction.
  • The xx% discount urgency play: “This deal is only good for this quarter.”

These tried-and-true sales and marketing tactics and all the tools and content created to bust the status quo are no longer working. Why? The authors emphasize that human beings — even successful business and technology leaders — are wired to avoid loss. 

The fear of messing up (FOMU) is a major barrier for B2B buyers to pull the trigger on a purchase, no matter how compelling. Inaction is guiltless and perceived as less harmful than acting and making a mistake. 

“The pandemic and volatile economy are certainly factors, but not the underlying cause of what’s stalling a large percentage of business-to-business purchases and deals companies were confident they had closed-won,” said Dixon. “Upon further discovery, we found what is holding companies and their decision makers back is the ‘fear of failure,’ something often missed by sales teams.”

Customers change in seconds, markets shift in minutes and business threats and opportunities appear daily. Betting on a technology, platform or service provider in a world where the pace of change is relentless has many organizations and their decision-makers stuck. 

Dig deeper: Scarcity marketing: Does it still work?

How marketing can help overcome customer FOMU in the sales + purchase process

The “JOLT” thinking outlined in Dixon and McKenna’s book provides a strong foundation for marketing to lock arms with sales, product, ops and customer success colleagues to overcome prospects’ FOMU. 

To do this, the GTM team must have a strategy and playbook on how to help their customers tackle the status quo (i.e., why change now) and then focus on customer indecision (i.e., how to change now). 

Let’s break down the framework and outline prescriptive strategies and tactics marketing teams can use to work alongside their colleagues. 

J: Judging the situation to create the right game plan for each customer

First, as marketers, we need to know the pipeline and the best opportunities as well as our sales colleagues. As equal owners of revenue generation, marketers should work closely with sales and other major account resources to qualify based not just on their ability to buy but their “ability to decide.”

This is where your 1-to-1 and 1-to-few account-based marketing (ABM) strategies can have a true impact. In your ABM efforts, marketing can create tools and forums to get customers to talk about their fear of failure. Think therapy and organizing and breaking down information in your communications, webinars, small roundtable or meet-up you organize in the field. 

Over time using data, you will find patterns in the types of customer indecision, so you can more rapidly anticipate and put strategies into practice at the point of the prospect. Starting with hands-on work to test and learn the best plays is the right move for now. Efficiency and automation can come later.

O: Offering recommendations to simplify options for overwhelmed customers 

The market is filled with noise. Many buyers and buying committees suffer from being overwhelmed by too many choices. Our natural reaction as marketers to convince somebody is to throw more options their way. 

For example, integrations and configurations can easily overwhelm the decision team. A smart approach is to help them choose a path and a solution. Marketing can work with product, sales and ops colleagues to build and simplify packages based on their use case(s). 

We can also increase our sales enablement effort to help structure and equip salespeople to guide the customer to proven, popular choices that have worked for other customers. Note that more case studies are not enough. 

Dig deeper: Buying group marketing: The next evolution of ABM

L: Limiting exploration addresses customer information overload

The best sellers and marketers know that the more information the prospect consumes, the lower the probability they will find the answers they seek. We found that when teams continue to indulge the customer’s requests for additional information throughout the sale, win rates are only in the 16% range. 

This is our natural tendency: create and send more content, shoot over more emails, etc. Stop! This may work early on in initial engagement but rarely works later as they move toward a decision.

Today, we have the data and tools to identify and take action when a prospect or customer is putting off a decision and why. One strategy is to limit the information by, for example, curating a recommended reading list or compiling a simple tool kit. This limits the overwhelming amount of info and demonstrates you get their needs and that you are a valued partner who will be there through the relationship lifecycle. 

T: Taking risks off the table by instilling buyer confidence and creating a safety net 

De-risking versus simply discounting price is another smart strategy to combat customer indecision. For example, marketing can work with sales,  customer success and finance to:

  • Craft a mutual value map, identifying key areas of ownership and accountable milestones and metrics.
  • Co-create solutions and implementation roadmaps for the organization to bolster confidence with defined steps. 
  • Adapt contracts that include services, incentives, and/or safety-net clauses to take FOMU points off the table. 

Marketing’s opportunity to shine by focusing on all stages of customer generation

Marketing can play a significant role in the full customer lifecycle by infusing customer indecision-busting strategies into their demand-to-revenue approach. The focus on defeating customer indecision also pushes us marketers to stop obsessing about generating mounds of new leads and trying to score and qualify only for sales to ignore them. 

The most successful marketing teams don’t stay in their swim lane. Instead, as part of GTM and account-based strategies, marketers can capitalize on this revenue generation need to impact all stages of creating and expanding customer relationships and revenue. 

Congratulations to Dixon and McKenna for their eye-opening research and instructive book for B2B sales, marketing and revenue professionals. 

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