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Straight line to concentric circles – The complex world of B2B buying in 2021

A business to business (B2B) buying process is the

nonlinear process

that B2B buying groups navigate to make purchase decisions. – Gartner definition.

But, aren’t we familiar with the B2B buying process as, a 5-step



  • NEED

    – Be aware of a need/problem >


    – Consider information, resources, qualified suppliers >


    – Decide by evaluating and comparing available solutions and suppliers >

  • BUY

    – Complete the purchase process >


    – Evaluate (post-purchase) the product or service to provide feedback.  

But this is 2021, there is a new process in town. Organisations need to change their sales strategy or be left behind.

Here’s what Sales reps need to know to navigate the B2B buying journey:

  • Buying progress isn’t measured as stages in a linear pipeline but as job completion:

    Earlier, marketing teams would generate and nurture demand of products or services. Then, to close a deal, organisations moved their sales opportunities linearly through stages in a pipeline, and thus organised their activities in the buying process. For example, a sales rep felt buyers were stuck in stage 3.
    Today, customers recognise job completion as progress in their purchase process, so there is no clue in a deal (of the linear-supplier-centric sales funnel) to point out where the customer is in a fix to complete the buying process. Deal progression of a sales person distorts the reality of buying because the buying process doesn’t follow a straight line.

  • “Handoffs” from marketing to sales no longer exists:

    Typically, sales and marketing teams are planned in a serial mode where marketing folks generate and nurture the demand early through digital channels. Sales folks take this ‘handoff’ of most-qualified opportunities to follow-up in person.
    Customers no longer buy this way. Customers use equal digital AND in-person channels to complete their B2B buying jobs. Today, this makes a disconnect between the legacy structures of suppliers’ organisation and the day-to-day workflow of the buying process.

  • Sales reps have a tiny window (5% of a customer’s time) to influence customer decisions

    : They must position a unique value-proposition that helps customers; they need to lessen uncertainty and give confidence to enable buyer’s decisions. Suppliers must take on the 

    role of a guide

     – help customers navigate the buying process, use their insight to help customers overcome or avoid obstacles they did not foresee.

  • B2B buyers spend only 17% of their time meeting with potential suppliers:

    As per Gartner research, the distribution of B2B buyer’s time in key buying activities include:

    • 18% offline independent research
    • 27% online independent research
    • 22% meet with buyer’s group
    • 17% meeting with potential suppliers
    • 16% other activities

And when they compare multiple suppliers‚ the amount of time spent with any sales rep maybe only 5% or 6%.

  • Seller dynamics has shifted:

    Sales reps are one-of-the channels and not the sole channel for a customer when looking for information to get their buying done i.e. customers are channel-agnostic. Alignment of in-person and digital channels is crucial for sales reps to support their customers.

The buying journey isn’t in a predictable or linear order any longer:

In a typical B2B purchase, Customers engage in “looping” i.e., they go back to each of the buying steps at least once. Also, these steps occur more or less simultaneously. So, today’s buying journey resembles a maze more than a linear path. It’s a parallel or simultaneous process and not a serial one, with no hand-offs.

concentric circles


  • This means sales reps have to change their strategic focus:

    Sales reps have to manoeuvre through their B2B buying journey for the next 5 years and fast-track toward AI-powered insights. Real INTENT data today provides one of the resource that could be leveraged to gain such insights.

  • B2B buyers prefer suppliers who provide information for ease in purchase, high-quality sales and buyer enablement:

    B2B buyers find it difficult to loop around all the different steps of buying, so when suppliers provide good information to enable ease of purchase, the buyers are more likely to value these suppliers.
    According to Gartner research, customers (who recognised supplier information as helpful to take them forward in the buying process) were 2.8 times more likely to experience a high degree of ease in purchase, and three times more likely to buy a bigger deal and have less regret.

  • Supplier focus

    help B2B customers complete critical buying jobs, also known as ‘buyer enablement’ by providing precisely-designed information

    : Buyer enablement simplifies the purchase process for buyers and empowers the sellers for value delivery.
    Buyer enablement content is identified by the following design principles:

  1. Relevant

    information to the buyers’ challenges.

  2. Easy

    and effective information for the buyer to use.

  3. Useful

    information for buyers to complete the buying process.

  4. Credible

    information that is backed by data and facts.

  5. Shareable

    information for the buyers to share in their groups easily.

  6. Provides confidence

    to buyers to enable them to take the content forward in their groups.

  7. Aligns customers’ emotional needs

    so that they identify with the solution for their specific need.

  8. Leads back to the unique differentiators

    so that the customers are convinced of this solution.

Now let’s look at the same buying process from a

Customer’s Perspective


As hard as it has become to sell in today’s world, it has become that much more difficult to buy. The single biggest challenge of selling today is not selling, it is actually our customers’ struggle to buy – Brent Adamson (Distinguished VP, Advisory, Gartner)

  • A buying group is typically made up of six to 10 decision makers for a complex B2B solution. Each buyer brings to the table four or five pieces of information (that they researched independently) and must persuade their group to consent.
  • 77% of the customers Gartner surveyed described their latest purchase as very complex or difficult.
  • The options and solutions that buying groups must take into account is increasing with emerging technologies, products, suppliers, and services.
  • Customer dynamics of buying has shifted rapidly: Customers gather information independently. B2B customers have a digital-buying behavior through digital channels and then go through in-person interactions as well. Hence, they need less access to the sellers (who would earlier have been able to influence their decisions).
    Customers have no clear preference for the channel they use: digital or in-person; they merely care about obtaining information to help them advance in their purchasing process.

With the looping of buying steps, in-person and digital discovery of solutions, and other activities, a buyer’s process is finalised when the following six B2B buying “jobs” are deemed purchase complete (from Gartner research):


  • Identify the problem: 

    “We need to do something.”

  • Look for a solution:

     “What’s out there to solve our problem?”

  • Build requirements: 

    “What exactly do we need the purchase to do?”

  • Select the supplier:

     “Does this do what we want it to do?”


  • Validate the solution: 

    “We think we know the right answer, but we need to be sure.”

  • Get consensus:

     “We need to get everyone on board.”


To be competitive in this new complex maze of buying world, seller organisations must have complete synchronisation between their marketing / sales / product development / delivery teams. The value proposition to potential customers must be seamless across the board including all their digital presence, their playbooks, their sales pitch, and their solution. The messaging must be clearly addressing the key problem statement of the buyer, the options for the solution, the pros and cons of each option and the recommendation. Information should be customised to provide clarity at each sales stage and to different stakeholders of the buyer’s organisation. The one size fits all approach will not work anymore. The era of wine and dine selling is over, it is now time for focused solution selling agents who can engage with buyers at all levels and provide relevant messaging for each of them.

Want to learn more about how to create world-class campaigns?

Why not check out Propolis, our exclusive community for B2B marketers? Propolis includes exclusive insight from industry-leading marketers, giving you actionable advice and guidance to help execute your campaigns to the highest level possible.

Check out Propolis here!

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