How a Vatican Tour Enlightened Me about the B2B Buyer’s Journey (and the Value of the Sales Executive)

By Joe Terry, Chief Executive Officer

November 28, 2016


You have seen the headlines over the last couple years about how buyers are more informed, and as a result (depending on the statistic being thrown around) are somewhere between 57-65 percent of the way through the buying process before they engage with a sales executive. Really?

Curators of these statistics have suggested that because buyers can go online to research vendors, products and services, they “know” what they want. You sure?

And because the buyer has so much information at their fingertips, these statistics have led to proclamations that the role of the sales executive is dead, dying or less relevant. Wow, that’s some conclusion!

Not so fast. Here’s a personal story from my travel files that may give you a different view than what you’ve been reading in recent headlines.

I stood in line with my wife and two daughters on a sunny day in Rome. I stared up at the historic building in front of me and imagined what the most famous works by Leonardo da Vinci would look like in person. When we reached the ticket office for the Vatican, we weighed two options: A private tour with a professional guide or a self-guided tour.

We had educated ourselves about the Vatican before our trip and believed we knew what we wanted to see. So I opted for the self-guided audio tour.

As we went through the guided tour, I thought how overwhelming the experience was. So much information. The art was amazing, but I must admit, as beautiful as it was, we were exhausted, and by the end of the tour everything started to look the same.

We left tired but satisfied. We had completed the Vatican tour, box checked! Now off to the Coliseum.

Fast forward to a couple years later. We were back in Rome and decided to visit the Vatican for a second time. Once again we had done our own research and thought we knew what we wanted to see. However, this time my daughters really wanted a professional guide (twin teenage daughters know how to work dad!), so I agreed and ponied up for the private tour. I was reluctant at first. I just didn’t see or believe in the value of a private tour guide and suspected those Euros would be better spent at an outdoor café enjoying a wonderful Italian lunch and a glass of wine. But as every parent knows, you have to pick your battles. So, on with the private tour!

The moment we stepped through the Vatican gate, our guide, a good-natured Italian woman named Lillian, set the stage for our four hours together, taking us back on a journey through time. We were mesmerized as we walked with her while she told us the stories of the buildings, the art, the people, and the connection to each era in history. She had us. I was all in, visualizing the stories she was telling and loving every minute of it. We asked questions and engaged with each other conversationally as we went along. Remember, we had been here before. Four hours later, I was actually disappointed that it was over.

Later that evening we were sitting at an outdoor café on the square of the Pantheon. While enjoying a wonderful Italian dinner and finally a little wine, we reflected on our incredible Vatican experience. We couldn’t stop talking about Lillian, the tour and how she transformed our experience along our journey and how much different this was from the last time we saw the Vatican. This, hands down, was the best tour we ever had!

And yet it was the exact same place we’d toured a couple years earlier. The buildings, the architecture, the art work—none of these things had changed. The only thing different was Lillian. So why was the value and experience we received so much greater?

The difference was the guided story, the compelling story, providing context and insight, led by a person who was knowledgeable, curious and thought provoking.

It is the same in business with your customer conversations. Is the buyer’s journey different today? Absolutely! However, If you base your marketing and sales strategy on the best-practice that the buyer has all the information on your company from their research, and if you believe the hype that they are a “majority” of the way through the buying process, you are making a fatal mistake. In a world of information overload, your message, marketing and sales teams are now the only thing standing between commoditization and differentiation. It is both your marketing and sales teams, armed with your story, who can set the early buying vision, create the urgency to change, connect your solutions to what’s important to your prospects and help them understand why they should choose you. In other words, your marketing and sales teams are more important than ever before. It’s your own guided story that differentiates you from everyone else and brings your value to life. That starts from the very first interaction (online or in person) and flows throughout the buyer’s journey, no matter when a sales executive shows up.

Understanding this reality, and the value it can bring to the buyer experience, is your opportunity to change the game in your customer conversations. From the moment a buyer engages with your company, it’s your story that will shift the buying vision in your favor to the area of “unconsidered needs,”—the area where you can create urgency and uniqueness, helping the buyer where no one else can. See it here. As my experience with Lilian at the Vatican illustrates, even with “all the information,” a well-built story, told with differentiation, passion, and conviction, will win every time!