As B2B marketers, the better we understand our target buyers, the better job we can do in reaching them and winning their business. While many studies have been done showing that today’s consumers have very high expectations for brands, recent studies have shown that B2B buyers are becoming just as discerning, if not more so. As marketers, we need to step up our game and work smarter to understand our buyers if we want win and keep their business.
Below, we’ve highlighted some recent research on today’s B2B buyer that marketers should pay attention to.
B2B buyers are spending more time researching purchases
According to a 2016 study by Demand Gen Report , B2B buyers are spending a lot of time considering new purchases before committing. Almost half of respondents (48%) said their purchase cycle has increased somewhat since last year. Some of the key reasons are:
- Buyers are conducting a more detailed ROI analysis before making a purchase
- The number of people – especially executives – who participate in the B2B buying process has increased
- The solution marketplace continues to expand, leaving buyers with an increasing amount of work to do to figure out how products fit their needs. 80% of those surveyed said they are spending more time researching purchases than they did before.
Personalization and timeliness are the key to winning over today’s buyer
As the solution marketplace becomes more crowded, personalization has become the “make it” or “break it” factor in the competition. This same survey found that buyers overwhelmingly gravitated toward companies that demonstrated “a stronger knowledge of [their] company and its needs.”
When asked about why buyers chose the winning vendor, the top four answers were:
- Demonstrated a strong knowledge of our company and its needs – 94%
- Provided content that made it easier to show ROI and/or build a business case for the purchase – 90%.
- The timeline of a vendor’s response to inquiries – 98%
- Demonstrated a stronger knowledge of the solution area and the business landscape – 97%
The bar on marketing content and the sales experience is now higher than ever. Facing an increasing array of choices, buyers are now more discriminating than ever. They don’t have time to look at general, broad content, they want to know quickly how your product or solution will meet their specific needs, on their timeline.
According to a recent survey on b2b buyers’ content preferences, nearly three-quarters (73%) of buyers said they have less time to devote to reading and research than they did 12 months ago.
Today’s buyers tend to prefer shorter content formats. In fact, the same survey found that shorter content formats were cited as preferred by 88% of the audience. Since time is limited, buyers want to understand how vendors can address their specific needs (69%) and have access to pricing and competitive information quickly.
In the face of mounting pressure to prove the value of a purchase on the company’s bottom line, more buyers are eager to consume content that can help them benchmark their strategies from others facing similar challenges. The 2016 Content Preferences survey from Demand Gen Report found that 73% of B2B buyers viewed a case study during their research.
In 2016, interactive presentations, ROI calculators and assessments saw steady growth compared to 2015. Buyers are putting more value on independent research. In fact, third-party/analyst reports were cited as the most valued content type, by 77% of buyers. 96% of buyers want content with more input from industry thought leaders.
Seeing this data, here are the implications for marketers.
- Your content needs to get smarter
As marketers, we need to spend more time doing research so that we can develop winning content. We need to segment our buyers and develop content that speaks directly to their specific roles, challenges, industries, company stage and every stage of the buying process. As marketers, we naturally think about content for the top of the funnel, i.e. blog posts, e-books. But we need to keep in mind that we need to help our sales colleague’s close deals. Don’t forget content that help prospects make the business case for your product like ROI calculators or case studies with financial metrics.
Also, buyers are not going to be swayed only by your corporate content. They value independent research and proof from peers. Make it a priority to invest in industry research. Work with an analyst firm (or do it on your own), develop surveys to gather data insights and benchmarks for your industry. By sharing best practices based on primary research, you will gain new credibility in the eyes of your prospects.
- Reach prospects sooner
Buyers don’t have time to sit around and wait for days for you to respond. As soon as a buyer shows interest in you, take advantage of that moment and respond to them promptly. Consider these opportunities:
- When someone visits your pricing page but doesn’t fill out the contact form, are you following up with that person right away?
- When someone attends your webinar and asks a question, are you sending them resources right afterwards or having a sales rep follow up with them?
- When someone clicks on one piece of content in one of your nurture emails, why not create an experience so that they can keep on reading related content? Or even better, why not reach out to someone as soon as they express an intent to research solutions in your space?
Timeliness is key increasing connect rate on opportunities. In most organizations, marketing passes qualified leads to sales through a marketing automation system. When you run a new campaign and get a large uptick of leads, are you ensuring that you are sending the “right number of leads” and the most qualified leads to sales right away?
Ease of Use and Deployment Rises in Priority
Although buyers are spending more time researching products and services than last year (more on this later), the time they’re willing to spend with new products is now less than before. Today’s buyers are eager to know that solutions can be implemented easily and quickly. Once buyers reach a point of evaluating a shortlist of vendors, 83% said “deployment time/ease of use” was a very important variable (up from 49% in 2015).
[Source: The 2016 B2B Buyer’s Survey Report, Demand Gen Report]
The Purchasing Decision Comes Down to Proving ROI
Many buyers are facing a lot of pressure to prove new purchases will benefit their company financially, and as a result, becoming more disciplined on how they measure and review ROI. In the 2016 B2B Buyer survey from Demand Gen Report, 75% of buyers said pricing was a “very important” variable, up from 64.2% in 2015.
When asked this question point blank, 61% of buyers said they “conduct a more detailed ROI analysis before making a final decision.”
Today’s buyers are facing more scrutiny from their managers and executives than in the past. According to the same research, 75% of buyers said that pricing was a “very important” variable when choosing vendors, up from 64.2% in 2015. As buying teams get larger, it makes sense that the group will time trying to prove ROI upfront.
Implications: As buying teams get bigger and bigger, strategies that engage key members of an account – rather than simply targeting leads – will continue to pay off for B2B organizations. Consider deploying account-based campaigns to surround your prospects with your brand.
It’s up to you as a marketer to give buyers the necessary tools to “sell” your solution to their management team. Assessments that help buyers understand how their strategies and practices stack up against their peers, case studies from their industry, and ROI calculators become very powerful tools in closing the deal.
Buyers are Increasingly Turning to Their Peers to Make the Right Decision
In the 2016 B2B Buyer Survey, nearly half (49%) listed their peers and colleagues as a top source of information, up significantly from 20% in 2015.
Review sites — traditionally a powerful research tool in B2C purchasing decisions – continue to gain influence in the B2B space in 2016. Once buyers reach the point of evaluating a shortlist of solution providers, 55% said reviews were a “very important” consideration.
In 2016, social media continues to play a big role in the B2B purchasing process. An IDC study found that 3 out of 4 B2B buyers rely on social media to engage with peers about buying decisions, and Influitive data asserts that word-of-mouth recommendations from peers influence over 90% of all B2B buying decisions.
The role of LinkedIn as the go-to-platform for sharing content with colleagues and business contacts continues to expand. This year, 85% of buyers noted that they occasionally or frequently share content on LinkedIn, compared to 74% in 2015.
Twitter also saw a bump as a business content -sharing platform, with 62% of respondents saying they frequently or occasionally used the platform, compared to 58% in 2015.
Facebook also saw a big bump this year. In 2016, 38% of respondents said they shared content with business associates through Facebook, compared with 27% the previous year.
- Get your best customers to market for you
In many industries, there is really a herd mentality when it comes to adopting new solutions. Invest in case studies so that buyers can see how their industry peers are implementing your solution. Organize events, dinners and conferences. Getting your best customers in a room with your prospects is one of the fastest ways to close new business.
Realistically, you’ve only got so much time and resources to devote to events. Product review campaigns are another great way to generate credibility and new leads for your brand. Site like G2Crowd and TrustRadius are disrupting the traditional analyst model (i.e. Gartner Magic Quadrant) by crowdsourcing reviews from users of business software. As a marketer, you can work with them to get more customer reviews and capture interest from potential buyers.
- Reach out to your prospects on social media
Now is the time to be proactive with your social media efforts. Find your prospects based on buying signals from social media (i.e. the type of content they share, the groups they belong to, the events they tweet about, influencers they follow), nurture them on social media with a series of touches (i.e. follow someone on Twitter, viewing their LinkedIn profile, sending them a message) to get on their radar. Once someone shows interest in you (i.e. follow your brand handle, retweet your content, accept your LinkedIn request), build a relationship by sending them relevant content to capture their interest. You can do this manually or leverage technology such as Socedo to do this at scale.
Given the exponential rise of business software/technology, it’s no wonder that buyers are becoming increasingly scrupulous.
I am personally experiencing the very things that the research data is telling us. As a marketer myself, I am a highly desirable segment for many businesses. I’m getting more emails from vendors than ever before and many LinkedIn requests from sales people. I am tuning out most of the messages, only opening the ones that provide me with helpful tips that I can use right away in my job.
It’s on you and me as marketers to make sure that we understand our buyers better than anyone else, respond to them faster, and speak to them more intelligently than anyone else.
Do you have observations on how the b2b buying process has changed over the past year? If so, please let us know.