3 buying preferences that are transforming B2B
Just like consumers, business buyers have changed their behavior leading to a different environment for the middle market business-to-business (B2B) buying journey. The delivery of quality products and services at a fair price certainly matters, but other requisites hold equal importance along the often-winding path. The following three emerging buying patterns are demanding attention in today’s marketplace; smart businesses are taking note.
The research journey is long
According to Forrester, 74 percent of business buyers complete more than half of their research online before even considering an offline product or service purchase. And this sometimes involved information-gathering phase is one reason the buyer journey is longer these days as companies scan the horizon for relevant content to help in their decision-making. In fact, in a survey conducted by SiriusDecisions, the actual B2B sales process takes 22 percent longer than it did just five years ago.
Business leaders are getting more than thought-leadership content from web searches. They’re also leveraging social media to aid in their research and buying process. According to an IDC study, 84 percent of company senior leadership indicated they used social media as part of their information gathering before making a purchase for their business.
Smart companies selling products to other businesses must be mindful of this prolonged and involved buyer journey and provide necessary content and social engagement along each step of this exploratory and awareness-building stage. At the same time, businesses should be wary of creating information overload for their prospects. While comprehensive product information, issues insights, services pricing and comparisons, case studies, and demos are important, it’s essential for businesses to understand the unique needs of their consumers and offer relevant content and real solutions that meet those specific challenges or wishes.
It takes a village
In companies with 100 to 500 employees, an average of seven people are involved in most buying decisions, according to a recent Gartner study, and larger companies often involve even more decision-makers. This group of influencers hold various roles and functions in a company and can be located in a variety of geographies throughout the world. Because of this group’s diversity, there can be different and sometimes conflicting priorities related to the intended end products or services delivered.
For instance, a chief financial officer (CFO) may be focused on bottom-line results yet the chief technology officer (CTO) may be more attuned to the ongoing need for system upgrades to improve long-term efficiencies. Businesses and suppliers who sell to these leaders must bridge those perceived conflicts by addressing each individual’s needs. Understanding the dynamics of each decision-maker is important, but so is creating consensus among your buyers and developing a common perspective around business challenges. In the case of the CFO and CTO example, providing costs and savings forecasts are important for both buyers, along with gained efficiencies reporting as a result of a new system implementation, all pointing to the overall shared goal of operations improvement and growth. This negotiation effort can be a complex undertaking, but one that provides holistic value, additional long-range insights and awareness of concerns. Marketers and business developers must work in tandem to craft an all-important consensus approach to address this village of decision-makers.
Channeling the customer
Gone are the days of a basic, single-sales channel, like the cold call and pitch approach. Today’s B2B interactions must involve multichannel engagement. Taking a nod from the retail industry’s omnichannel approach, successful businesses must offer a robust interaction via multiple avenues providing industry insights, reviews, company information, social sharing, community networking, news and more for business-buyer interaction. The so-called Amazon effect has been an instigator of this transformation, too. With its e-commerce domination, Amazon has forced some businesses and inspired others to rethink traditional selling strategies, and instead use their trademark best practices of leveraging consumer data to engage, sell, rapidly deliver products, re-engage and build loyalty.
Whether via a website, webcast, social media, third-party review site, trade show, in-person sales call or on-site demo, a variety of entry points for business decision-makers to interact with your business is a must. Given the diverse needs of buyers, along with their hunger for relevant information, a multichannel approach is essential for growing middle market businesses. And, plan to be in it for the long haul. According to Edelman, 63 percent of consumers need to hear your company’s claims up to five times before believing them and that takes a variety of channels to deliver those critical messages that differentiate your business from others.
Whether you are a manufacturing supplier or a professional services organization, your B2B interactions are affected by ever-evolving buying patterns. It’s important for your business’ leaders, marketers and business developers to acknowledge (and adapt to) these emerging buying trends. From prolonged buying journeys to differing decision-makers and dynamic channel interactivity, thriving businesses are addressing these needs via consensus building, relevant insights and meaningful, tailored engagement.