Facts: “My sale is 57% of the way through the sales cycle and

67% of my buyer’s journey is now done digitally.”

Really?

Luckily, I’ve not heard any salespeople say such rubbish but that doesn’t stop some consultancies creating these statistics:

  • “57% of the purchase decision is complete before a customer even calls a supplier.” (CEB)
  • “67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally.” (SiriusDecisions)

These are often used to justify a new software tool, sales technique or social media service. And some marketers repeat these ‘facts‘ as well, to support various arguments about marketing.  But they are meaningless. [Credit to Sirius Decisions in going some way to undermining these myths].

What’s wrong with the stats above? Here are four reasons, from my own experience, why the 57%, or 67% are not very useful:

One: They are averages

Even if the information is correct, and we can measure how far the buyer is through the buying cycle, these are averages across very different sales. To take two extreme examples; if you are selling Nuclear Power Plants, it’s unlikely that the decision making will be complete before suppliers are engaged, whereas if you are selling office consumables, it’s likely that 100% of the sale will be sold digitally. So the truth is that for each of these statistics, for your specific sales, the percentages will be between 0% and 100%!

Two: Percentages for progress don’t work

Although most CRM/SFA platforms include a percentage which indicates progress through a sales cycle, those are only really useful for giving some indication of the deal flow when averaged over a large number of similar deals. For a specific deal, they are not very helpful. Why do I say that? Well, have you ever seen a deal that’s lost when it’s at the closing stage (say 90%) or won at the first meeting (say 10%)? Well, I have and don’t believe that’s unique. So progress through a sales cycle is very difficult to measure. Buyer decision making can be altered at all stages and if you think that 57% of the purchase decision is complete before a customer even calls a supplier you should probably make your salespeople redundant.

Three: There’s no standard sales or buyer cycle

Unfortunately, or perhaps, fortunately, sales cycles are not all the same, they’re not linear and many are recursive. That’s true even if you have great salespeople! The ‘57%’ doesn’t apply to a specific product/market combination (or even a specific sale).  Every company should map their own unique buyer journey. In fact, in my experience, every solution can have a unique buyer journey.

Four: Buyer cycles can be disrupted

Surely, one of the sales person’s jobs is to disrupt the ‘buyer cycle’? So accepting the pre-determined route set by the buyer is not acceptable. Salespeople solve the fuzzy problem of helping the customer select the right solution and proceed to a sale. They close the gap between what is being communicated and offered by the vendor and what they actually need. For many more complex solutions, this can’t currently be done automatically; that’s the sales person’s role.

Conclusion

Don’t base any strategy or tactics on a generalised view of the sales or buyer cycle. Get Marketing and Sales to work closely together (with Sales Enablement if you have it). Understand what your customer’s need and how they prefer to buy… and don’t be afraid of disrupting it.