If you’ve been paying attention to trends in the B2B sales profession for the past few years, you’ve probably noticed the term “buyer’s journey” slowly overtaking what used to be called “the sales cycle.”

That’s not to say the sales cycle no longer exists. But, since B2B buyers have moved online en masse to research offerings and make purchases, the language of the sales profession has shifted to reflect the fact that buyers have taken control of the sales cycle. Salespeople do not control access to information the way they used to. The buyer is now in the driver’s seat. Thus, we now talk about the buyer’s journey – not the sales cycle.

Has this rendered salespeople irrelevant? Much ink has been spilled debating this idea, and many thought leaders, analysts, and experts have cited a single statistic that originated with SiriusDecisions research: 67 percent of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally. Although SiriusDecisions never explicitly announced that salespeople were becoming obsolete (nor was that their underlying intent), many people misinterpreted their research.

How do I know this? I attended the recent SiriusDecisions Summit, where analysts Jennifer Ross and Marisa Kopec discussed results from the firm’s new survey, which was intended to expand on their original findings and clarify their position. Their research reflected responses from 1,000 B2B executives who had been involved in a significant B2B purchase decision within the previous six months. The data represents an estimated half-billion dollars in B2B purchases across North America and Europe.

I outlined six key takeaways from the survey in a separate post (“Yes, Sales Reps Still Matter to B2B Buyers: 6 Takeaways from #SDSummit 2015”). But one of the most interesting points that I want to highlight for sales leaders is that a single buyer’s journey does not exist. According to Ross and Kopec, there are actually three distinct buying scenarios. Here are the characteristics of each one.

Buying Scenario #1: Committee

  • Phased, hierarchical, and tiered
  • Typically involves a six-month sales cycle
  • Purchase price is greater than $500K

Buying Scenario #2: Consensus

  • Team based or cross functional
  • Purchase cycle takes less than six months
  • Purchase price is anywhere from $50K to $500K

Buying Scenario #3: Independent

  • Does not rely on a committee
  • Deals close in days or weeks
  • Transactional in nature
  • Purchase price is around $50K or less

It’s probably easy to see which category your offering falls into, but the further revelations from Ross and Kopec are what is truly interesting: each buying scenario has implications for whether – and when – you should pursue non-human (digital) interactions, or human-to-human (salespeople) interactions. According to their research, as price increases, human interactions become more important.

The implication is clear. Companies need a mix of digital and human interactions with their buyers, and they need to carefully consider which method they deploy based on their typical buying scenario.

Buyers today leave a rich digital footprint of what they want and need. Sales tools have evolved accordingly. Specifically, predictive intelligence tools can help you predict which customers are highly likely to buy; who is in the buying committee; what products they want and need; and when they are likely to buy. In other words, predictive intelligence tells you which of your prospects are “in market” – whatever their buying stage may be. Are they just beginning their research or leaning in to make a purchase in the next 90 days?

These are some fascinating trends and times for B2B. And we’ll be diving right into those at the upcoming INMarket conference, hosted by 6sense, in San Francisco on July 8. Executives from such companies as Box, Salesforce, LinkedIn, Cisco, Xactly, and Forrester will be speaking. We invite you to join us. Register here and use code BLOG for a special 25 percent discount.

Which buyer’s scenario best fits your offering? Share your thoughts in the comments section or tweet using the hashtag #InMarket15.