B2B buyers have always needed trust, confidence, and validation in the pre-purchase process — but, increasingly, they are finding those things online.
B2B buying has become less linear as business customers call upon their consumer experiences during the process of research, evaluation, and selection. The digital revolution has transformed the consumer purchasing journey from a predictable path (into storefronts or with a salesperson) into a more “circular pattern of touch points” (website, social media, and brand advocates).
At this point, the “new” B2B buyer journey isn’t so new anymore. You know that buyers are finding you online and demanding convenient, tech-driven experiences. The big question: how exactly to do that. Let’s take a look at some of the well-researched changes in the buyer journey and how B2B companies can adjust their marketing strategies accordingly.
1. Get to Know Your Millennial Buyer
There has been a dramatic shift in the B2B researcher demographic. Many more influencers are now involved in the purchasing process, and they don’t look the way you might traditionally picture C-suite decision-makers. They are younger, more digitally-savvy, and they hold more diverse positions within the company. Are you building your strategy with them in mind?
There are 80 million millennials in America alone and they represent about a fourth of the entire population. Nearly half the U.S. workforce is millennial and by 2025, they will account for 75% of the workforce. The millennial age runs through early 20s to mid-30s so, in addition to younger executives in decision-making roles, many B2B support staffers are millennial.
As digital natives who have grown up online, millennial-aged buyers expect that they will be able to find the information they need when they need it and without having to talk to a salesperson in the process. This is a demographic who is adept at using digital channels both personally and professionally, and it has become critical to cater your sales and marketing tactics to this new wave of B2B buyers.
What it means for your strategy:
The first time a prospect visits your website is the most critical conversion point in the decision journey. Whether a prospect goes directly to your site or finds you via search, the experience they have there will create a lasting impression of your brand. Ensure that those digital touchpoints represent the sophistication of your solution, the expertise of your team, and your ability to solve the buyer’s problem. This happens through strong branding systems, beautiful web design, and a clear understanding of what the user is looking to learn as they navigate your site.
2. Meet Their Demand for Self-Service Sales
The new B2B buyer brings along new expectations as well. Research shows that expectations shaped by B2C interactions are rapidly making their way into B2B decision-making. The majority of buyer journeys start on the web: 61% begin with a broad web search and 56% start on specific vendor websites. This shows that buyers are continuing to self-navigate through early stages of the buying journey — which makes digital touch points even more influential in forming impressions of potential solution providers.
Let’s look at Hilton’s digital floor plan initiative as an example. Hilton has mapped their hotels using digital floor plans, allowing guests to reserve specific rooms, unlocked via digital keys on their smart phones, negating the need to see or interface with a single Hilton person when staying in a Hilton hotel. Their success with this technology reveals a fundamental truth about buyer expectations: they are demanding convenient, digital, streamlined processes that don’t require a middle man. They want self-service sales.
Business buyers, shaped by their experience as consumers, look to B2B organizations to understand and cater to their specific needs — both online and off. As modern business buyers demand rich digital experiences when making work-related purchases, B2B companies must respond with convenient and sophisticated consumer-inspired buying experiences.
What it means for your strategy:
Make sure that you are providing a user experience that reflects the way your buyers prefer to consume information. Your UX is essential to point visitors in the direction that you want them to go, all while making the process completely seamless. When asking visitors to fill out a form, for example, make sure that you’re asking for the minimal amount of information that you’re willing to trade for a piece of content. Calls to action should be clear to help users get from A to B with the least friction possible.
3. Help Them Make the Business Case
Due to factors such as budget cuts, company growth and changes in leadership, many buyers are feeling increased pressure to select a solution that will deliver results quickly. As companies grow, each purchase carries more weight, more risk and requires a bigger investment. Because of these higher stakes, buyers are referencing more resources before making a decision — and they expect you to provide those resources.
Even with a high percentage of web visits being conducted anonymously (71% of buyers said they conducted anonymous research during the first 3 months), decision makers still expect an experience tailored to their interests and needs. In fact, 75% of survey respondents said relevant content that spoke directly to their company was very important when they visited vendor websites, and 66% said a website addressing their specific industry was very important.
When asked why their preferred vendor won out, 75% of buyers said the winning vendor’s content had a significant impact on their buying decisions. More specifically, 89% of respondents said that winning vendors provided content that made it easier to show ROI and/or build a business case for the purchase.
What it means for your strategy:
Although a majority of B2B buyers are conducting initial research without filling out any forms or talking with a salesperson, they are still expecting a tailored experience relevant to their interests and needs.
If you want to engage prospects, it’s important to offer high-value content based on deep insights into a buyer’s behaviors. As they get further down the sales funnel, they will need content that helps them make the business case for your solution. Invest time and resources into gated pieces, like white papers or templates, that help your buyer do their job better while reinforcing your competence and expertise as a potential partner.
The B2B buying landscape has changed quickly and dramatically. We call this consumerization of business buying the “self-service” model and it speaks to the growing importance of digital for selling to the new B2B buyer. This new model begs the question: How should B2B companies position themselves for success in the new self-service universe? Find the answers in our white paper on the subject: