The state of the B2B buying experience is rife with dissatisfaction over seller’s engagement strategies. Indeed, when making business-to-business purchases for work, buyers are increasingly frustrated by the level of service they encounter. More and more, these frustrated buyers are pointing to a single area where B2B sellers fail to facilitate positive engagement: live interactions.

For some of you in B2B sales, this may come as a surprise. After all, for years pundits have been predicting “the death of the B2B salesman,” while others share data that shows buyers’ desire to engage with salespeople moving later and later in the decision cycle, diminishing the seller’s ability to connect and influence a purchase. But there’s an important distinction. What’s changing is not necessarily a buyer’s need to engage with a seller before making a purchase, but rather the terms on which that engagement is fulfilled.

In short: empowered buyers are in the proverbial driver’s seat, but sellers need to be prepared for that inevitable pit stop, armed with the right tools – both digital and human – to ensure the fastest roadway leads to their door and not the competition’s.

The Value of Blending Digital & Human Channels

We know that B2B buyers often require pre-sales assistance from knowledgeable employees regarding potential purchases, particularly when the solution under consideration is more complex, or presents a significant risk to the buying organization. This requirement is particularly important for today’s on-demand consumers, who now expect the same frictionless, personalized buying experience in B2B settings that they routinely enjoy when purchasing from leading B2C brands like Amazon or Netflix.

Given the findings of TimeTrade’s recent buyer experience survey, sellers would be wise to adopt a hybrid engagement approach that blends both digital-only and human interactions. Fortunately, increasing live interactions – whether virtual or in-person – has an easy remedy, and for many, it starts with the scheduling of an appointment.

Imagine this scenario: a potential customer visits your web site with the express intention of initiating a purchase. Essentially, this prospect is screaming, “Sell to me!” And yet, sellers often let that prospect slip away without ever receiving a response.

Impossible to believe? This is the exact experience of an overwhelming number of respondents to our recent survey. In fact, 84% of professional buyers reported that they “Always” or “Frequently” do not receive responses to their questions related to a purchase. Post-sale, the numbers were equally stark: 76% of buyers reported that they “Always” or “Frequently” do not receive a response when making support or service-related inquiries after a purchase.

While many prospects will head to a company’s web site first, our surveyed B2B buyers specifically called out voicemail as a common offender, with 78% reporting the voicemail loop as “Very or “Somewhat Frustrating.”

Accelerating & Easing the Buyer’s Journey

Given the growing importance of customer experience in today’s marketplace, as well as the increased complexity of many B2B purchase cycles, these numbers are a significant red flag for B2B seller companies. How much are companies leaving on the table when these pre-sale questions go unanswered, and what’s the impact to post-sale customer loyalty when service levels fall below buyers’ expectations?

Sellers can readily make buying easier by offering the option of setting live appointments, either virtually or in-person. But it’s not just about connecting with anyone in an organization – it’s about connecting with the right someone – someone who’s informed, armed with the right level of authority, and empowered to address a buyer’s specific needs. And the pay-off is real: in the same survey, 94% of B2B buyers agreed that they tend to buy more from a company when they have live interactions with a “knowledgeable” employee.

Clearly, B2B sellers must close this costly gap and make it easier for buyers to interact with them via the channel of their choice. But are there specific preferences? 83% of buyers we surveyed said their top channel for interacting with a company when purchasing for work is to schedule a pre-arranged time for a phone call or virtual meeting, making appointment scheduling the top choice above online chat, email or phone.

Still think B2B salespeople are on their way to extinction? Here’s the good news: Our survey indicates that yes, indeed, there is significant buyer interest in increased engagement with seller companies, and the power of an authentic human connection is not to be underestimated. The bad news? B2B organizations have some significant work to do in terms of the timeliness, variety and quality of those interactions to win buyers’ dollars and long-term loyalty. Consider this your H2H selling wake-up call.

This week’s post is by guest author, Deidre Moore, Director of Demand Generation for TimeTrade, an intelligent appointment scheduling software that lets customers book appointments at their convenience, via mobile devices, voice, text, web or your customer-facing app. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.