IT sales prospects used to be a captive audience with sales reps dictating the flow of information with corporate marketing literature, sales presentations and meetings. But like everything else, the internet’s Pandora’s Box has caused a shift in the IT sales process. That’s according to a new report from Gartner, written by Tiffani Bova, VP and distinguished analyst and Hank Barnes research director at the analyst firm.

"Now customers are deciding when and where the sales engagement will actually begin as well as how and where that interaction will take place in more of a pull model,” Barnes writes.

Gartner confirms these conclusions in a new primary research study across 503 organizations in North America, Europe and China, conducted to understand how the marketing activities of IT providers influence organizations' decisions to select certain technologies and services, as well as the providers that supply them. The survey found that 56 percent of respondents considered direct interaction with the provider of high importance, 42 percent of medium importance, while three percent considered it of low importance. 

"Personal interactions with providers are still the most influential activity in B2B buying decisions," said Bova, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. "However, buyers do not value their interactions with salespeople as much as they did in the past. As a result, sales teams must adjust processes and skills to learn to guide buyers through their purchase cycle." 

This change in customer engagement means it’s time to re-evaluate go-to-market and sales models. Gartner advises marketing and sales leaders to continue to invest in improving sales enablement, sales training and sales processes as buyers look to the quality of their interactions as a primary influence during technology buying cycles. 

"Providers have been fairly consistent in how they train their sales force for decades," said Bova. "However, these practices are now at odds with the way customers actually explore, evaluate, engage and experience a provider along their buying journey.

“The sales force of the future will need to intimately understand the customers' environment with a greater sense of the decision levers across IT and the business units. It will also need to translate technology into industry solutions and value propositions, and guide the customers to use cases they may not have considered.”

With that in mind, Gartner is recommending the following four changes to sales organizations to improve customer purchase experiences.

  • Shadow Your Customers and Prospects Across Multiple Mediums
    Customers have access to more information than ever before, giving them tremendous power of choice. That means sales organizations must address many different customer activities in various mediums to address buyer questions and concerns. Gartner expects the multichannel approach to continue and sales teams need to be aware of all these activities. 
  • Reorient Sales as a Knowledgeable Guide
    Buyers place importance on direct interaction with technical and industry experts, not sales staff, according to Gartner’s survey of buyer preferences. (When exploring and evaluating options, 81 percent of respondents most valued interaction is with a technical expert whereas only 38 percent said their most valued interaction is with a member of the sales team. Similar results were recorded at other stages in the buying cycle, Gartner says.) Barnes describes the role of the sales rep this way: "The best sales reps will coordinate a range of activities and interactions to touch various members of the buying teams and guide the customer along their buying journey versus forcing them to follow the internally preferred process to address their questions and concerns." 
  • Make Sales Presentations About the Customers and Their Needs, Not About You
    Buyers prefer to do their own initial information gathering, according to Gartner. Indeed, sales presentations rank fifth on the list of most influential marketing activities according to the survey, and make the biggest impact when buyers are already evaluating and engaging or looking to deepen engagement and experience. Gartner says that his means that sales presentations should be used with already engaged prospects as way to develop a custom interaction above and beyond what they can find on their own, rather than the primary tool by sales to educate the buyer. These presentations can become a competitive weapon as sales organizations look to separate themselves from the competition.
  • Plan for Change
    Gartner says that today’s buyers have higher expectations, and sales needs to lead change efforts in their organizations in partnership with marketing.

"Sales matters as much now as it always has; however, it appears to have lost some of its customer influence," said Ms. Bova. "Creating a strong sales team that can orchestrate technical and industry resources is critical. These teams need to develop methods, both by questioning and through the use of technology, to understand the work buyers have done on their own and add value to that work to guide them toward a successful purchase. Sales teams that do this will help themselves and the providers they work for stand apart from their competition." 

More information on the survey and Gartner’s new report is available at Gartner’s web site here.