• May 19, 2022

What CSOs Need to Know About Sense Making, A Gartner Q&A

Sense making - or helping buyers understand the information they've already encountered - should be at the forefront for almost all sales teams, as it ensures a commercial advantage for sellers in an information-rich environment by increasing customers’ confidence in their decisions, according to Alice Walmesley, director of advisory in the Gartner Sales practice.

During an interactive Q&A session at the Gartner CSO & Sales Leader Conference this week, Walmesley answered the most pressing questions on how to apply sense making to teams in today's dynamic buying environment.

What are some of the fundamentals of sense making that all sales teams should know?

Walmesley: In today’s information era, sellers help customers make sense of the abundance of available information to find the answers needed to make their purchase decisions. When sense making, sellers essentially move their chair to the customer's side of the table, jointly look out at the market with the customer, noting the variety of good and possibly conflicting information and possibilities, and support them, even though the seller might admit it might seem like a mess. It drives high-quality deals by building customers' confidence and reducing customers' seller skepticism.

Sense making is based on an idea that originated from detailed analysis Gartner performed into B2B purchase interactions, which showed customers often felt awash in too much information. It isn’t just any information; this information is good, substantive, evidence-based, and highly credible from suppliers and other third parties.

In this regard, sense making is an overall approach to how sellers engage customers with information through the entirety of the purchase experience and not reliant on only an acute moment. It's a continuous mindset the seller takes with the customer, always helping the customer reconcile and rationalize the information, variables, and perspectives being encountered.

What are some traits sales leaders should look for when implementing a sense making-focused team?

Walmesley: Sense making requires specific skills and enablement support. Sales teams cannot rely on skills alone to make sense making a reality. Most organizations miss the opportunity to provide centrally created enablement resources that help sellers know what to look for and build an understanding of the information environment. Sales leaders shouldn't rely on the individual to do this alone.

Sales organizations need sellers capable of helping customers make sense of the information available to them. There are four competencies that Gartner has identified to look for in a candidate for a sense making-focused team: 

  1. Diagnose: First, determine the customer buying job and whether help is needed to complete the job. Next, identify information needs, challenges, and which intervention would best address that need.
  2. Connect: This is where sales team members select and provide information critical to buying job completion without overwhelming the buyer.
  3. Clarify: Team members should clarify and coordinate information to help customers reconcile competing claims made by different sources of information.
  4. Collaborate: Sales team members should help customers evaluate and verify the accuracy and relevance of information by connecting to verifiable sources.

How can sales leaders prioritize sense making in 2022 and beyond and implement a strong program?

Walmesley: The first thing managers should do is map their customers' buying and information journeys and help selling teams diagnose information dysfunction. This allows sales teams to provide sellers with a framework to help them map their customers' unique set of circumstances.

Next, managers should train their teams to identify the customer buying job. This can be done by pressure testing sales teams on their overall understanding of the job by asking why the seller believes the customer is in a certain buying job.

Finally, managers can teach how to determine seller intervention. This can be done by emphasizing collaboration and brainstorming strategies with the seller to actualize the identified solution within the customers' context.

CSOs and sales teams tailoring the entire selling approach according to a customer's context is necessary for an agile selling approach that drives buyer confidence and consensus. When done right, it can improve buyer decision making quality by more than 10 percent.

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