Teams, Streams, and Provider Dreams

Hank Barnes

Research Vice President, Tech Go-to-Market and Sales Strategies


Getting a handle on today’s technology buyer is an ongoing challenge.  Many providers dream of the days where they were in control–leading buyers through a well organized decision process to their products and services.  Those days are gone.  Today, the buyer is in control.

Much has been written about the consumer buying process, with one of the most cited works coming from McKinsey (The consumer decision journey).   They outlined a decision journey for consumers that was interactive and dynamic, with consumers adjusting their preferences and brands under consideration over time.   Some of these characteristics apply to B2B buyers, but there are some differences.

Recently, Gartner surveyed 503 technology buyers in companies with 1000 or more employees in North America, Europe, and China.  The results of that survey are starting to appear in various research notes, including a recent one I wrote on Advocacy Marketing (subscription or fee required).  

Additionally, by looking at the results in aggregate, we were able to see some key characteristics of the B2B Buying Process that define today’s B2B buying process.  Gartner depicts it graphically as:

Buying Cycle of Tech Solutions


Some key elements of this model include:

  • Teams – B2B Buying is done by teams, with diferent people leading different elements of the decision process.  As a result, there are often many activities going on concurrently.
  • Streams – These concurrent actions should be thought of as activity streams, rather than distinct phases.  The big difference is that aspects of the each stream continue throughout the entire cycle.   What varies is which steam is most prominent at any point in time.  With this continuous model, prior decisions may be revisited in the face of new information. 
  • 4 E’s – The streams can be though of as Exploring, Evaluating, Engaging, and Experiencing.   These streams involve a mix of personal information search and live interactions with sellers.  Since they operate concurrently, direct contact does not always wait until the buyer is well into their purchase cycle–it can occur early or late based on the situation.
  • Self-driven, but interactive – Much of the activitiy in the Exploring and Evaluating streams are done by buyers on their own, without directly engaging with providers.  But as they move closer to a purchase decision,  they want direct interaction with people in the provider organization–and those interactions better add value, rather than rehashing stuff they have already discovered for themselves.

We cover this buying cycle in much more detail in the research note, Tech Go-to-Market: The B2B Buying Cycle for Technology Products and Services (subscription/fee required).

Both marketers and sellers in provider organizations need to understand this model and learn how to adapt their marketing activities and sales approach in response.  

Gartner will be covering this topic in much greater detail this summer on both fronts.  You will see much more research revealing the results of our survey that will help guide prioritization of marketing spending.  I will also be highlighting some of it in a High Tech Tuesday Webinar on July 16.

Additionally, the Future of Sales will be covered in depth in a special report launching in July, with a series of research notes covering a wide variety of sales related topics.  I will be blogging about some of these here and we will be promoting them in social channels using the hashtag #GartnerFOS.   I’m confident you’ll find value in following the discussion, and use it to understand how to deal with buying teams and activity streams to have better provider dreams. :)

Jul 12, 2015