Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published in September 2016 and has been updated with recent research findings on B2B buying preferences.
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.
Based on some recent survey findings on B2B buyers, it’s become clear that now is the time for B2B marketers to take a step back, reevaluate our strategy and make sure that we are truly engaging our buyers.
Below, we’ve highlighted some recent research on B2B buyers that marketers should pay attention to. Then, we’ll discuss the implications of these findings.
B2B buyers are now more risk averse, and number of stakeholders involved in buying decisions is increasing
According to the findings of Demand Gen Report’s 7th Annual B2B Buyer’s Survey, B2B buyers in 2017 are increasingly focused on risk mitigation. Because buyers are becoming more risk averse, they are adding more checkpoints and decision makers in any purchasing decision.
Consider these data points from the 2017 survey:
- 59% of people say that they now have formal buying groups or buying committees in place to review purchases;
- 52 % say the number of buying group members increased significantly
- 86% say purchase decisions are often accelerated or put on hold based on changing business needs/priorities.
As a company continues to grow and more pressure is put on the marketing organization to show positive ROI, each purchase carries more weight, more risk and costs more. As a result, companies are now using more resources and analyzing more data to measure ROI. The same report found that:
- 77% of people agreed that they conduct a more detailed ROI analysis before making a final decision.
- 75 % agreed that they “use more sources to research and evaluate purchases.”
Personalization is 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 for solution providers. 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 choose the winning vendor versus other vendors considered, the top five answers were:
- Demonstrated a strong knowledge of our company and its needs – 72%
- Demonstrated a stronger knowledge of the solution area and the business landscape – 70%
- Provided content that made it easier to show ROI and/or build a business case for the purchase – 60%.
- Sales team had more insights about our company and needs – 59%
- Demonstrated a stronger knowledge of our company and its needs – 57%
At this point, buyers are looking for specific analysis and data about why a particular vendor is the best option. They are expecting a vendor to come to the table with a proposal on what a project plan could look like and call out the details of what to watch out for during an implementation process.
Buyers continue to self-navigate through the earlier stages of the buying journey
Instead of picking up the phone to talk to a sales person, the majority of buyers are choosing to self-navigate through early stages of the buying journey. The research done by Demand Gen Report saw that the vast majority of buyer journeys are starting on the web, with 61% indicating they started with a broad web search and 56% saying they started on specific vendor websites.
This survey asked buyers about the types of activities they conduct during a buying process and their timeline. Note that the overwhelming majority of buyers (71%) are conducting anonymous research in the first 0-3 three months!
[Source: 2017 B2B Buyer’s Survey Report. By DemandGen Report. Sponsored by DemandBase]
The data also showed that when buyers visit a vendor’s website, they expect to find relevant content that speak directly to their company and the needs of their specific industry.
Peers now have more influence on purchase decisions
Because today’s B2B buyers tend to be more risk averse, peer reviews or recommendations are gaining influence. Thanks to increasing availability of insights on social media and review sites, this finding isn’t a surprise.
This study found that in total, 67% of B2B buyers agreed that they relied more on peer recommendations when making a final purchase decision, citing that their peers and colleagues as the third most important resource (behind “web search” and “vendor websites”) that helped inform them during the start of the purchase process.
42% listed peers and colleagues as their top source of information.
Company specific and buyer specific insights are key to final vendor selection
Although digital channels such as vendor websites and peer review sites are shaping early impressions of solution providers, this study found that sales reps still play a critical role on the final vendor selection.
Buyer insights serve as the competitive differentiator in a sales experience. For example, 94% of buyers sought sales teams that demonstrated specific insights into their company’s problems and needs.
Buyers want faster response times from vendors
Buyers’ business needs can change at the drop of a hat. This study found that 86% of respondents agreed that “purchase decisions are often accelerated or put on hold based on changing business needs/priorities.”
When buying decisions are accelerated, buyers are expecting vendors to respond away.
In this study, 97% of respondents said that the “timeliness of a vendor’s response to inquiries” was an important aspect of the purchasing process.
Based on this data, here are the implications for marketers.
1. All messaging and content needs to be relevant and serve the needs of a buying committee
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 marketers.
If you haven’t already done so, be sure to spend the time getting to know who are the key members in the buying committee and what the the decision-making process looks like in your target accounts.
You’ll want to map out the needs and priorities of each person so that you can develop content that answers their questions and concerns. Prospects don’t care about what your product does – they care about how it can solve their problems.
Gathering behavioral intent data on your targets can help you pinpoint the issues or topics you should develop content around. At this point, there are data providers including Socedo that provide external intent data – what people are reading, searching and talking about outside of your owned digital properties – so that you can identify which topics are resonating with your target audience.
For example, with data from Socedo, you can answer these kinds of questions:
- What issues does your target audience care about?
- What are the hot topics in your industry?
- What keywords do they use when they search for solutions in your space?
- What events does your target audience attend?
- What industry publications do they trust?
- Who are the influencers your target audience turns to for educational content?
- Who are your top competitors?
- If you’re marketing to other businesses, what solutions are in their technology stack? Do they use products that are complementary to your products?
In addition, make sure you have relevant content for all stages of the buying process. More and more, B2B buyers are looking to vendors to provide competitive analysis and better data about why they are the best option.
Develop a Plan to Turn Your Existing Customers into Your Brand Advocates
At this point, peer reviews and recommendations have a growing influence on purchase decisions. As a marketer, you should develop a plan in place to identify your most loyal customers and encourage them to write reviews about your product.
Work closely with your Customer Success Team and Product Team to figure out who your most successful customers are and find creative ways to get them to share their stories online and offline.
For example, if you have a SaaS product, you can use product telemetry to identify power users of your software, set up triggers to automatically email power users who have used particular features and achieved certain outcomes, congratulate them on how well they are using your product and ask for a review.
Share best practices and benchmarking data
As buyers look to more data to benchmark their decision-making, consider working with an analyst firm (or do it in-house) to 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.
For example, FunnelWise, which provides a funnel intelligence solution to help marketing and sales teams determine future outcomes and set attainable business goals – knows that marketing and sales leaders are looking for revenue funnel metrics to determine their own performance.
They gathered revenue funnel metrics for 50 different companies and published benchmarking data insights on conversion rates, win rates and win rate variance and sales process consistency.
This type of content helps FunnelWise’s target audience understand where they stack against industry peers. A sales rep can easily start a conversation with anyone who reads this report and focus on how their product can help diagnose funnel problems.
Use contextual data in your marketing and sales workflows to increase the speed of response
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 follows one of your competitors on Twitter, it’s a good sign that they are entering a buying cycle. Can you put them into a “competitive takeover” campaign right away and send them an analyst report highlighting your strengths vis-a-vis the competitor?
- 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 to creating opportunities.
Instead of waiting for buyers to self-identify on your website by filling out a form, you can tap into external intent data to identify individuals and companies who are in-market.
With Socedo, you can build a list of target prospects based on people’s recent activities on Twitter. For example, you can find prospects who just mentioned one of your competitors, or just followed an industry influence in your space.
Additionally, Socedo lets you monitor the behavior of your existing leads on Twitter, so that you can reach out to a lead as soon as they do something you care about, such as Tweeting about an upcoming event you are sponsoring.
There are lots of different ways you can leverage intent data to engage your target audience in near real-time. If you want to learn more, you can check out resources on our blog, including:
Given the exponential rise of business software and 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.