15th July 2019

Is 70% of the sales decision really made before a face-to-face meeting?

Vic Reeves famously said 88.2% of statistics are made up on the spot. As one-liners go, it’s a good one, but it also points to a serious issue with the deluge of online information. There are countless blogs and articles full of facts and figures, particularly about sales, but it’s not always easy to pin down the truth.

The catchiest claims make the best headlines, so these tend to feature in more LinkedIn posts. One example is the idea that 70% of the sales decision is made before a face-to-face meeting, or 57% sometimes, or 67% here and there. It depends whose research you’re looking at…

The 57 variety

This version is all over the internet but the original 57% claim comes from a 2012 white paper by CEB and Google1. The report is also partly responsible for the 70% figure, which forms the upper reach of their findings. A quick look at the report shows very few of their respondents fell into this bracket, which suggests the case for the 70% variant is based on extremes.

In 2014, SiriusDecisions challenged Google’s findings and gave their own take on the idea. They believe the figures really show that most of the journey is done digitally, which isn’t surprising in 2017.2 As an aside, their figure of choice was 67%.

Rise of the millenials

That Google report is now six years old, so it’s getting on a bit, but in 2014 they conducted another study3 along similar lines and found some interesting developments. For one thing, of the 3,000 B2B researchers they asked about their purchasing habits, almost half were now aged 18-34. You guessed it, millenials – and that’s an increase of 70% in their numbers since 2011.

This is the first ‘digital native’ generation and they’re increasingly the norm in the workplace. Google also found that B2B researchers carry out an average of 12 searches before they visit a specific brand’s website and that 71% start with a generic search. That suggests they’re much more open to persuasion than the ‘already made their decision’ school of thought would have us believe.

Embracing the new sales path

It shouldn’t come as a surprise in 2017 that younger people who feel at home doing their own research before choosing a provider account for much of the buyer market. What can we do about it? Research from McKinsey4 suggests companies should embrace the new reality. They looked at over 100 B2B sales organisations and found sellers who are ready to meet customers at different points on their journeys – sooner rather than later – make better use of digital technologies.

In 2015, Crimson Marketing5 pegged social as the big game changer and found that over 70% of B2B buyers use social media as a research tool, following suppliers, reading their content and looking at social media feedback. On that last point, roughly 22% use the recommendations of their social media networks to inform purchasing decisions.

So how valuable are those statistics?

The numbers from Google are backed up by an extensive report and other studies into millennial search and buying habits suggest that we do need to move with the times. There’s a lesson here though – first, that initial 70% figure while not untrue, isn’t really representative. If you’re going to look at generalised sales statistics, make sure you read the reports they come from, to understand the context and what they’re really telling us.

Statistics shouldn’t be the only motivator behind how you conduct your business. These figures paint a broad picture – they’re averages, conducted using samples, however large, at a given moment in time. That doesn’t mean they’re not useful, but one size doesn’t necessarily fit all.

Study your situation, not generalisations

It’s easy to let statistics colour your views to the detriment of efforts that may yet be profitable. Even if 57% of people have made their decision before engaging with a supplier face to face, that leaves a not inconsiderable 43% up for grabs, so don’t let negative statistics seep too far into your consciousness. Besides, customers carrying out their own research isn’t the same thing as having made a decision. After all, it’s a salesperson’s job to engage people, not to wait for customers to make the first move.

Getting to know your own company, your customers and how your sales process actually functions in practice is what matters. By all means embrace social media, use video and engage early, but focus on your business and your customers. Don’t rely on the statistics alone – they’re a guide, not gospel.

1 https://www.cebglobal.com/content/dam/cebglobal/us/EN/best-practices-decision-support/marketing-communications/pdfs/CEB-Mktg-B2B-Digital-Evolution.pdf Page 2

2 https://www.siriusdecisions.com/blog/2013/jul/three-myths-of-the-67-percent-statistic

3 https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/articles/the-changing-face-b2b-marketing.html

4 http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/do-you-really-understand-how-your-business-customers-buy

5 http://crimsonmarketing.com/4-ways-the-b2b-buying-process-has-changed-in-2015/