Business-to-business (B2B) buyers are changing the ways they shop. They independently research products and services, get more people involved in the purchasing process, and buy all types of items, even big-ticket ones, online. Taken together, these developments have changed B2B purchasing significantly, even from just a few years ago. Back then, most business owners and other B2B shoppers were soloists who typically shopped in person and over the phone, through traditional outlets such as warehouse suppliers and big-box stores.
Speed and efficiency were critical to B2B shoppers, along with price.
How things have changed!
What’s Changed with B2B Buying?
Consider some recent research from Forrester. Since 2019, the average number of interactions required to make a B2B buying decision jumped from 17 to 27 – nearly a 60 percent increase. The same study also reports that more stakeholders are part of B2B decision-making. In 2017, 47 percent of purchases involved at least four people – this increased to 60 percent in 2021.
As purchasing groups have grown more significant, the individuals in them have become more self-reliant. Research from Gartner shows that people on sales teams have only about five percent of a B2B customer’s buyer journey time. The rest is largely spent by buyers conducting independent research and networking with coworkers.
The same is true for big- and small-ticket purchases. A 2020 McKinsey study found that seven of ten B2B buyers are open to making an entirely self-service or remote purchase valued over $50,000. More than one in four would spend more than $500,000 on a solo or remote business purchase.
What Should You Do About These B2B Changes?
If you’re a B2B seller, you may wonder what prospective customers might need to successfully shop independently and network in groups. The short answer: Good information. In most cases, content plays a more significant role in the sales process — and can create an even more significant impact on closing deals — than sales calls, meetings, and presentations. That’s quite a substantial change over traditional selling, which drove most purchase decisions just a few short years ago.
How will this impact your future content and marketing plans?
The answer is simple: Get to know your customers and their needs better than ever before and provide them with the information needed to buy from you instead of a competitor.
Get to Know Customers Better by Talking to Your Sales Team Members
In many companies, sales and marketing work in silos – they feel they do two separate things and speak different languages. The truth is that they’re after the same thing: Driving bottom-line business results.
Break through the silos by encouraging both groups to work together. You or a marketer should ask sales team members about your prospective customers and their needs. They likely know the gaps in your marketing efforts and sales collateral because they get questions related to them.
Plus, asking questions demonstrates that you respect and value the expertise of your salespeople. This recognition will encourage them to open up and help out.
Build on your conversation with follow-up questions, such as:
How do prospects enter your marketing and sales pipeline?
Has this changed over time?
What are the most popular and effective ways to attract quality leads?
What is an ideal client?
What roles do prospects have in larger buying groups, and how do they interact and share information?
Who do salespeople interact with, and who do they not?
What information do self-buyers and group buyers need to make a purchase decision?
Where are their information gaps?
What’s working well and not?
What questions do buyers typically have?
The discussion between marketing and sales isn’t one-and-done. Keep talking to salespeople to identify changes in the selling process and customer informational needs over time. Ongoing dialogue will help improve results month over month, year over year.
Marketers Must Experience the Sales Process
You and anyone doing marketing must take your questioning to the next level by shadowing a sales team member through the selling process with a prospective customer or client. Sit in on in-person meetings, virtual calls, and other interactions. Pay attention to what prospects say and what they don’t. Figure out what information the sales team member provides or may need. Listen to how salespeople respond to questions.
Avoid speaking while shadowing. You could end up preventing a sale or making salespeople uncomfortable, which will keep them from sharing critical information with you.
Update Your Buyer Personas
Once you’re equipped with information about your current buyers and how they connect with your brand and sales team, you can document it via buyer personas.
If you already have personas, you may discover that today’s new ways of buying and selling may require you to update them or add new ones. If you don’t have them yet, it’s time to create profiles of your buyers. If you have buying groups purchasing from you, you may need personas for the people within them who play different roles. Buying with less assistance means you may need to adjust your marketing and buying journeys so they reflect this new independence.
As you create or update the journeys in your personas, be sure to include all sales and marketing touchpoints, key messages, and the marketing content you need to move buyers through them. You may need to continue to make adjustments to your personas over time as you monitor the results of your sales and marketing efforts and find opportunities for improvement or need to respond to changes in how people prefer to purchase from you.
Increase Your Case Study Content
Salespeople often talk to prospective customers about current ones who are similar to them as part of the sales cycle. It’s an excellent way to demonstrate a business has experience working with similar types of customers.
With more and more B2B purchasers not working with salespeople, it’s a good idea to include case studies as part of the independent digital marketing and sales process to prove that you understand how to work with different types of customers in your prospect base.
Learn More From Your Forms
Most marketers try to keep online forms as simple as possible, often asking for just a name and email address. The belief is that the more information people have to input, the less likely they’ll complete the form. However, in today’s world of independent buying, a few more questions could help you get buyers the information needed to close the deal. Some possible ones include:
What is your title?
What is your role in the buying process?
How do you use the product or service?
What factors are you considering? Which are most important?
Explain the value of answering these questions: It will help you supply prospective buyers with the information they need to make informed B2B buying decisions.
Also, make it easy to complete forms by leveraging pull-downs and checkboxes.
Gathering more information on forms may cost you a few less-than-serious leads. However, in today’s independent and group-centric buying process, having additional data could help you close more deals.
B2B Marketing: Today’s Reality
Any worthwhile content marketing strategy revolves around your audience. So, it only makes sense to understand how the B2B buying revolution in the post-pandemic world has changed your audience’s information needs and do everything possible to meet them. It’s the only way your business can beat your responsive competitors who understand the changes happening in B2B marketing and sales.