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). Following suit, B2B buying has become less linear as business customers call upon their consumer experiences during the process of research, evaluation, and selection.
Let’s look at a few more factors that have transformed B2B buying in recent years:
1. The Buyers Have Changed
Over the past two years, 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.
Back in 2012, there was a pretty even mix across age groups. In 2014, however, 18- to 34-year-olds accounted for almost half of all researchers, an increase of 70%. 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.
Additionally, more people within the organization are playing pivotal roles in sizing up offerings, making the path to closing sales much more complicated. Research from Google shows that while 64% of the C-suite have final sign off, so do almost a quarter (24%) of the non-C-suite. Even more revealing is the fact that the latter group has the most influence: 81% of non-C-suite employees have a say in purchase decisions. These statistics highlight how critical it has become to cater your sales and marketing tactics to this new wave of B2B buyers.
2. Their Expectations Have Changed
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. 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, easy-to-use 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.
3. The Channels Have Changed
Enabling these expectations are the unprecedented number of communication channels that are now at our disposal. These days, buyers are much more likely to find you in a Google search than on the golf course. B2B decision-makers are researching purchase decisions using Google, referencing your website, and checking to see what others are saying about you.
About 71% of buyers start with a generic query first. That means that they’re looking for a solution to their problem, rather than for your business specifically. Based on data from Google’s Customer Journey tool, we know that generic paid search factors strongly in the beginning part of the business path to purchase. Additionally, business buyers have moved to mobile. As of May 2015, more people are using their mobile devices to search for things online than using their desktop computers — your prospective customers included.
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: