Blog | Hugh Kennedy 04.22.19

Why Sales Stall in B2B – and What You Can Do About It

PJA first teamed up with its research partner Aberdeen in 2017 to field a global survey about what B2B buyers really wanted.

Our global survey highlighted three findings:

  • They want objective content to help frame their decisions
  • They want clarity about how different solutions will address their pain points
  • They want solutions that deliver competitive advantage

The most important takeaway? Even if you’re a small or emerging company, you can become a trusted guide to prospects and significantly increase your odds of winning. If, that is, you can provide those three things they value most.

Clearly, though, B2B buyers continue to struggle, and there’s more to it than being spoiled for choice in most categories.

To find out why, we decided to field more research in Q4 of 2018.

Our thesis question: Why do so many sales stall in B2B? (As a B2B agency we, too, sell B2B solutions, and despite a pretty decent win rate this is a topic we wonder about constantly. Did the client lose their budget? Did the company lose interest in the program? Did our client not know how to make a case? Was it all a dream?)

For this round of research we expanded our audience. Our survey touched 350 global B2B buyers, a third of them C-level and two-thirds VP or above. Their company size ranged from smaller start-ups to multibillion-dollar behemoths. Three-quarters of respondents reported being “the decision maker” in B2B purchases, and 90% had been involved in an enterprise-level purchase, more than half of them in purchases of $100,000 or more.

So what did we find? First of all, the pain in B2B buying is real:

  • 50% of B2B buyers say they have incomplete, poorly defined buying criteria
  • 53% say they postpone decisions on at least half of purchases
  • When buyers cancel or postpone a purchase, it’s because 66% see no differentiation between solutions, and 57% decide that no vendor meets their needs
    Whoa. Not a pretty picture on either side.


Figure 1: You can’t make a good purchase if you’re not sure what you want.


Figure 2: So that’s why everything went quiet.

The bright side?

For me, the three most powerful findings from the research were these.

  1. If you really want to break through, show your prospect that you have a new way to help them solve an established problem. Why did this reason score so high? From someone who has read far too many Gartner and Forrester reports for it to be healthy, it’s obvious that most companies in a category do what they do in more or less the same way, whether it’s protecting against email phishing or shipping temperature-sensitive drugs or processing vendor payments for hotel chains.

    What creates standout stories is when a vendor can apply their solution in a way that creates value the buyer might not have foreseen, especially when that solution rises all the way to address a nagging business problem. The dotted line to that conclusion may be there, or the vendor may have to uncover it, but buyers sit up and take notice when you do.


Figure 3: Hey, now! BtoB buyers are far more likely to engage with companies that deliver new approaches, especially when it comes solving existing problems in new ways.

  1. You don’t have to be a market leader to get noticed. What I really like about the next finding is that you don’t have to be an established vendor to get a place at the table. Peer recommendations and existing brand reputation still hold a lot of sway, but these factors diminish in importance behind companies that show new ways of solving existing problems, even if the buyer has never heard of you before.


Figure 4: New and insightful beats known but ordinary.

  1. When it comes to challenging a prospect’s thinking, the earlier the better. Despite the prognostications of inbound marketing gurus who claim that prospects are 75% into the sales process before they even reach out to a vendor, our data shows otherwise.

    If buyers are as unclear on buying criteria – or even true need – as they appear to be, reaching out to vendors seems like a no-brainer. That’s why nearly three-quarters of buyers do.


Figure 5: Hello! We weren’t expecting you so early.

This is an opportunity to be mined, but companies must be ready. If you can put the hard sell to the side and help a prospect define their needs, even if what they need isn’t ultimately your product, you are building your brand in a way that attracts future buyers. People talk to their peers about good experiences. Even better, if your solution is a good fit, any objective information you’ve provided to help them make the case functions as what we call a Champion’s Kit, a tool to help your prospect sell you up to their ultimate decision-maker, or to build consensus for a committee-based decision. 

Figure 6: Listen, collaborate, share, and increase your win rate.

Again, what can you do about the agonizingly slow pace of so many B2B sales?

  • Show how your solution solves an existing problem in a new way
  • Provide objective information to build their confidence
  • Help prospects define what they’re looking for early in the process

To see the full research report, just click on this link.