hands handshake partnership Image credit pixabay/rawpixelsThis week, 6sense published a lengthy and fascinating report. The 2023 B2B Buyer Experience Report. It is available in an online-only version that looks at the role of marketing in the B2B buyer’s journey. The report’s key finding is that marketing plays a key role in teeing up deals, with 84% of deals decided upon first contact.

The reason is that buyers have access to far more information before contacting the sales team. The report indicates that sellers are already 70% of the way through their buying journey before they make contact. The authors believe that organisations that leverage AI will have greater success. It will help focus B2B sellers on the right opportunities and can also help surface the right information at the right time for buyers at scale.

Kerry Cunningham, Head of Research & Thought Leadership at 6sense
Kerry Cunningham, Head of Research & Thought Leadership at 6sense

Kerry Cunningham, Head of Research & Thought Leadership at 6sense, former Forrester Analyst, commented, “AI has been a great enabler for sales and marketing teams. We’re in an age where immense amounts of data is at our fingertips. Armed with that data, go-to-market organizations can cover prospects in the pre-decision phase of their journeys and direct their very best efforts where those efforts are likely to produce the best result.”

The report is based on a survey of over 900 B2B buyers that was conducted between June and July 2023. While this data is a little older, the findings are still valid. It does seem to have taken 6sense a little longer than usual to put together the report. Having read the report, Enterprise Times also asked Cunningham a few questions about the findings.

What is in the report

The report itself is divided into three chapters after a brief introduction. With an appendix that provides further details of the statistical analysis used and the demographics of the respondents by function, industry and seniority.

The report contains a mix of highlights, data visualisations and analysis. The data visualisations are used sparingly, and varied graph types are used more appropriately than other research studies; though the animated data visualisations are pretty, they add little value. The report does not appear to be available as a PDF download, which is a shame.

Unusually, each chapter is a different version of the report for readers who have a varied amount of time to consume it. The third chapter provides the fullest breakdown of the study and goes into the most detail.

The three chapters are as follows:

  • The Big Picture (245 words, about 1 minute read) – the executive summary
  • A Closer Look (690 words, about a 3.5-minute read) – an abbreviated version
  • The Deep Dive (6,800 words, about 34 minutes read) – the full version

The findings

The report has several interesting findings and is well worth a read for whichever section one has time for. However, the real value is found in the deep dive sections. B2B buying relationships appeared to have changed. With organisations often having a clear understanding of their requirements before they make a purchase, 39% of whom were completely set, and only 4% changed requirements substantially after contact. More importantly, 84% of buyers were the first to contact the organisations that they eventually bought from.

The authors pose two reasons for this: first, that sellers that make first contact are in pole position, or that the buyers are now so well informed they make contact with the sellers they have almost decided on. The inference is that sellers must interact with buyers before they purchase.

The buying team’s average size is just over nine people. The report looks at the factors that influence the buying team size. It is useful information for sellers that only have a single contact but need to understand the size of those influencing the decision.

The report also looked at the influence of external parties on buying decisions and also identified the likelihood of external support for each purchasing decision.

There is also a look at the relationship between the length of the purchasing process and different factors. Not surprisingly, higher-priced solutions generally result in longer sales cycles. The more important the solution, the shorter the buying cycle. One factor that also influenced the length of time taken was the number of competitors in the market. The more there are, the longer it takes.

Interactions count

The study also looked at the importance of different interactions. Physical meetings are still seen as the most helpful, despite virtual meetings being the most commonplace interaction. Virtual interactions were only the fifth most helpful. They were lower than Meetings with analysts/consultants, reading analyst reports, and internal meetings of the buying team. Where interactions do happen, those with senior leadership have the most impact.

The report concludes with a look at the contracting process and satisfaction with the overall buying journey. As in some of the other sections, the meat of the statistics is found within the appendix, where the most notable findings were:

  • There is no statistically reliable correlation between the length of the buying cycle and buyer’s satisfaction with the contracting process.
  • Company funding has a meaningful impact on how the contracting process is viewed. Private company responders tend to have a slightly rosier view of the contracting process than others.
  • A higher rating of the contracting process is associated with a reliably higher rating of the overall buying process, suggesting that as a process that takes place at the end of the purchase, it does have an important role in shaping how buyers think about the overall buying process.

What is missing?

There seems little in this report about personal relationships. In some buying relationships, people buy products and services from people, and trust is an important dimension of that. I asked Cunningham whether this was missing from the survey and how important is it in the buying decision?

Cunningham replied, “That is true. One indirect measure is looking at differences in purchase types – net new vs renew/continue or add-on. Interestingly, there are only minimal differences in how those buying processes play out. We have a whole report coming out on just those differences, though.

“But more to your point, one of the recommendations I make in my presentations and conversations with practitioners, is that you have to find ways of developing relationships with buying team members outside of, and often in advance of, the buying journey itself. My job as an in-house analyst is to be a resource for marketing practitioners, just as I was an analyst at Forrester and SiriusDecisions, and that’s one way to foster those relationships.

“A more scaled way is by sponsoring communities within your buyer audiences. For example, we sponsor CMO and BDR communities. Through those, we have relationships with many hundreds of our potential buyers and users, in a way where we are providing value to those communities completely outside of a buying process.

“So, I think this research supports the idea that you really need to 1) enable buyers as well as possible, and 2) develop those relationships where you as a vendor add value to your audience of buyers outside the buying process.”

The Importance of Artificial Intelligence

Another omission from the report is any question about artificial intelligence. For example, the type of interactions did not include any with bots. Though at the time of the survey these might have been minimal. In 2024 and 2025 these are likely to become a factor. Cunningham and 6sense advocate greater use of AI for marketers in the journey. I asked whether there is a risk that the use of AI de-personalises the relationship and risks a backlash.

Cunningham answered, The most important uses of AI right now are to identify and prioritize the audience of potential buyers. This is the most mature use of AI and the most important by a very long shot right now. The single best thing you can do to have good relationships with buyers is to service/enable the ones that are in market, and then provide value (via content, events, communities, etc) to those who are not in market, and then leave them alone.

“Literally, the best thing most B2B providers can do for most people who come to their websites is let them see whatever they want and then leave them alone. Most are not in market. 

“To do that, which is risky, because we are talking about not hounding everyone who comes to your website to see if they will meet with you, you have to know which accounts are in market. If folks from those accounts come to your website, enable them and invite them to connect. Enabling them, in this case, includes using AI tools that compute the interests of the buyers based on intent and their signals and interest, and ensures that they are presented with content that is relevant in a form that is useful.

“If their account is not in the market, leave them alone! That is the personal treatment most web visitors want most of the time. 

“So, think of AI primarily as a tool for making sure that we know which people from which accounts we should be trying to engage directly, and then doing so intelligently and thoughtfully. AI presents a massive opportunity to improve this. In truth, without AI helping us know who is in the market and what they are interested in, we have to treat everyone the same, and that is the opposite of personalized. 

“The Generative AI use cases of AI will probably generate some backlash among some people, just as every new interaction technology has. Automated phone attendants were once the scourge of consumers. Now we take them for granted and often prefer them.”

Enterprise Times: What does this mean?

This is a fascinating report that is well presented and displays the data in a similar way to academic papers. At times, it feels that more could have been drawn from the data analysis. Though that might have ended up with a book being written.

The approach taken of a light, medium and heavy read has merit. While some will want to look at the full report, those who are time-poor should consider reading through the first two sections for the insights they provide.

Is there anything ground-breaking in this report? Probably not. It does confirm what most suspect. The important thing is that organisations need to understand how to create those early interactions that happen before the relationship begins and/or focus on creating a relationship as quickly as possible.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here