Tag Archives: bad research

Numbers Can Lie

Did you ever play “Telephone” when you were little?  Remember what happened to that whispered message passed through 10 kids and how easily “Strawberry Jam” turned into “I am a banana”? It was funny then.

Research findings, passed via content marketing and social media are a lot like “Telephone” because once a number is repeated often enough, small changes in the interpretation can create a very different story. Even worse, every time something is repeated, it takes on a greater authority – even if it’s questionable to begin with.

Here is a finding from the CEB, MLC Customer Purchase Research Survey, 2011 which is quoted extensively by subject matter experts and in other reports including “The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing” among others.

It states that:

On average, customers progress nearly 60% of the way through the purchase decision- making process before engaging a sales rep.

This finding – fine tuned in an included chart in the report to show that almost 60 is actually 57% has surfaced, over and over and over in countless discussions and B2B studies. An additional comment about the response distribution indicates an upper limit of 70% so that number shows up quite frequently as well.

  • 57% being close to 60% is frequently represented as two thirds- once it hits 2/3’s  well, that’s  “almost 70%”
  • 70% – well that’s pretty darned close to three quarters, which is almost 80%

I’ve seen all of these numbers passed on as absolute fact.  I’ve also seen it written as 2/3-3/4  of companies have made the decision before calling in the vendor. (Just a little slant on the interpretation – It’s a “Telephone” thing)

But even the original number isn’t telling the whole truth.

In a direct quote from the Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing, about how this number came to be it states:

” To understand the scope of this issue in the B2B context, CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council (MLC) surveyed more than 1,500 customer contacts (decision makers and influencers in a recent major business purchase) for 22 large B2B organizations (spanning all major NAICS categories and 10 industries)….”

1500 contacts involved in a recent major business purchase sounds pretty impressive, but 22 companies?   What that means is the “recent major business purchase” involved an average of 68 decision makers and influencers. (1500/22=68.18)  A distribution chart in the original report clarifies that yes, indeed we are talking about only 22 companies, or a total of 22 purchases.

For 22 major purchases, each involving an average of 68 decision makers and influencers (and I’ll stick my neck out here to also suggest literally millions of dollars) the customers delayed engaging with sales reps until they were 57% through the process. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the first 50% of the process was about figuring out what each of the obviously many involved departments required- not to mention whose budget would be taking the hit. It’s hardly what I would describe as a “striking finding” – more like a bit of a snore. But look at the fuss that number has caused.

So, for most the the B2B vendors out there who are wondering what to do with your apparently antiquated sales team, may I suggest – “Turn them loose.”

Think of it like this – Does 68 decision makers and millions of dollars look like a representative B2B sale?

More to the point – does it look like one of yours?