Many experts claim that B2B buyers have changed their habits and become more like B2C markets over recent years, with faster and simpler decision-making processes underlying their purchases.
Is this really true and if so, should business marketers change their approach?
We looked at recent literature from some reputable research-intensive organizations and found that while the B2B buyer’s journey may in fact be changing, there are varying views about how or why this may be happening.
Gartner: Buyers prefer self-directed research
A recent Gartner article, “New B2B Buying Journey & Its Implications for Sales,” asserts that the B2B buying process has indeed changed and describes how sales strategies should also change to accommodate the customer’s struggle to buy the best possible products.
Gartner points out how easily the business buyer can gather information online — much like the B2C buyer — offsetting the need for direct communication with sales departments. This can make it more difficult for a sales or marketing team to penetrate an account as buyers prefer to do their own research.
At the same time, a company’s B2B decision-making process can involve as many as ten group members, each with his or her own agenda of information to collect and collate. The number of stakeholders involved results in more than three-fourths of buyers stating that their most recent purchase was “very complex or difficult.”
The shifting preference for self-directed research coupled with the increased complexity of buying means that B2B sales and marketing professionals should be certain that their content meets the needs of committee members charged with evaluating various solutions.
Forrester: Many buyers don’t want to talk to sales
Forrester recently published “How to Make B2B Marketing Content More Like B2C,” which asserts that “the walls between B2B and B2C have come crumbling down” and that B2B marketers should model themselves more in the B2C format.
Forrester reports that 60 percent of B2B customers prefer not to communicate with sales as a chief source of information and that an even higher percentage of customers would rather conduct their own independent research online.
Both Forrester and Gartner seem to agree that salespeople are taking more of a back seat these days, with b2b content types that prospects can easily find and consume at their own pace becoming more important. They both encourage vendors to forge authentic connections with customers and win them over with valuable information that can be accessed when and where people prefer for maximum effectiveness.
Forbes: B2B and B2C markets are converging
Forbes cites the article “How B2B and B2C Marketing Are Converging Today,” which discusses how, after decades of separate strategies for B2B and B2C markets, audience behaviors and marketing strategies to reach potential buyers are starting to resemble one another.
In the Forbes article, the author describes the importance of rapid responsiveness to online inquiries, and gives substantial attribution to vendors simply for being early to the party. The Forbes article lists a whole host of ways in which B2B marketing has evolved to reap the benefits of marketing to B2C customers, including greater reliance on social media and peer referrals.
This article includes the oft-cited Harvard Business Review statistic that the number of stakeholders involved in B2B purchase decisions has grown from 5.4 in 2015 to 6.8 in 2017, supporting Gartner’s finding that B2B buying has only become more complex over the years.
Our research: Content marketing is increasingly important
Foleon’s research dovetails nicely with the Forrester analysis, contending that B2B buying habits are, in fact, becoming more like B2C buying habits. Our recent report “Time to rethink the B2B buyer journey,” is subtitled “A decade of digital upheaval has transformed B2B sales and marketing organizations” because we believe that these market changes are inescapable.
Whereas old-fashioned MQLs, selling and relationship-building used to move the needle, today’s businesses must rely on content marketing to do much of the selling for them. This content needs to be relevant to the buyer’s needs at that particular moment, and must also be shareable and accessible whenever the buyer might need it.
Now marketers are pitching their products and service to a growing proportion of younger buyers — or so-called digital natives — whose buying habits at work mirror their consumer habits at home — further blurring the lines between B2C and B2B purchasing behavior. For sellers, traditional strategies to capture leads and push them down-funnel are facing diminishing returns as channels saturate, buyer behaviors evolve and personalization becomes the norm.
As buyers continue to conduct independent research rather than quickly engage with sales, content will play an increasingly important role in B2B selling. But unlike in the B2C world, B2B buying groups remain large and complex, meaning buyers need a variety of content targeted towards various stakeholders within their target organizations. B2B marketers need to respond to this thirst for engaging content that can move buyers further along their journey.
Marketing should commit to making these content offerings engaging and vibrant, perhaps by including infographics, videos, simulator tools and data analyzers to reach customers. As B2B marketers, we can meet buyers on their journey where and when they need us. We just need to be savvy enough to capture their attention at the right moment with the right message.