It’s hard to believe, but 2020 is almost here, and I’ve been thinking a lot about 2020 planning and B2B buyer trends while working on a research report about millennial B2B buyers, which we’ll be publishing soon with Demand Gen Report. My initial impression as I reviewed our survey results from this group is that a lot of information the respondents shared is similar to the information that’s been talked about a lot over the last few years at conferences, in LinkedIn posts and on blogs like this one.
The problem: Shifts in the B2B buying process and buyer expectations are real, but marketers continue to struggle to address them. As we all work diligently each day to advance our organizations’ goals, it can feel difficult to address bigger shifts that go beyond the daily grind.
Here are some key trends you must address in your 2020 go-to-market strategy to ensure you attract, engage and convert buyers with changing preferences.
Today’s Real Buyer’s Journey
“When B2B buyers are considering a purchase, they spend only 17% of that time meeting with potential suppliers. When buyers are comparing multiple suppliers, the amount of time spent with any one sales rep may be only 5% or 6%.” — Gartner, The New B2B Buying Journey
Today’s B2B buyers continue to prefer independent research that doesn’t involve salespeople throughout the entire buying process.
Even when Sales is engaged, it’s still your job is to make it easy for B2B buyers to gather information and complete their goals. You can do this by providing content that replaces or complements those final conversations your sales team used to have with top-level approvers. This content should be packaged and presented in a self-service manner online.
Take a moment to consider the conversations and content you’d like to share with buyers: raising awareness, providing comparisons, offering pricing and configuration options, justifying the purchase and “selling up” to the final approver. Make sure buyers have a way to seamlessly access these conversations online.
“Customers who perceived the information they received from suppliers to be helpful in advancing across their buying jobs were 2.8 times more likely to experience a high degree of purchase ease, and three times more likely to buy a bigger deal with less regret.” — Gartner, The New B2B Buying Journey
84% of B2B buyers say the experience a company provides during their B2B buying process is as important as its products and services, according to Salesforce.
Customer expectations are rising, and there’s more demand for companies to deliver a more unified, customer-centric experience across marketing, sales and customer service. To do this correctly you need effective, connected and accurate data to respond appropriately across the customer experience.
And you need a coordinated sales and marketing messaging strategy that creates a unified brand impression across the full cycle. In order to be successful, the messages and content you offer need to be laser-focused on delivering value to customers and helping them, rather than selling your products.
Buyers Are Going Direct
“Buyers continue to move spending away from distributors, instead purchasing directly from manufacturers or online marketplaces … Distributors lost seven points of purchase share (45 percent to 38 percent) to online marketplaces and manufacturers from 2017 to 2019.” — 2019 UPS Industrial Buying Dynamics Study.
While distributors still play an important role in B2B selling, this stat signals an important shift. B2B purchases from online marketplaces and directly from manufacturers will only continue to increase. More of today’s B2B buyers want to cut out the middle man and, in some cases, complete their own purchases online.
Perhaps 2020 needs to be the year you think about moving to an e-commerce model. Sure, you might think that e-commerce is the IT department’s job, and not yours. But guess what, fellow marketers? You’re closer to the customer and can bring an exceptional lens into the valuable experiences that must be provided. While partnership with IT and other departments is essential for a successful e-commerce implementation, no one is better positioned to champion the cause than Marketing.
Buyers Want Information That Matters
64% of B2B buyers want vendors who demonstrate knowledge of their company and offer insights into their problems, and 62% want salespeople to demonstrate experience with and knowledge of their industry, according to Demand Gen Report’s 2018 B2B Buyers Survey.
Buyers expect information during the B2B buying process that is relevant to them. They value interactions with companies that demonstrate they understand their industry, application or company.
You can’t get away with guessing anymore. If you’ve been trying to gain knowledge about your customers’ needs, pain points and motivations by taking Linda from Sales out for burgers every few months, or having a two-hour symposium with the C-suite once a year, it’s time to up your game.
In a recent reports by Salesforce, 73% of customers said they expect companies to understand their needs and expectations. But only 51% of customers said companies generally do understand their needs and expectations. That means that half of us — HALF — are missing the mark. It’s time to roll up your sleeves and do some voice of customer research, map the buyer’s journey and complete or refresh buyer personas for your organization.
The millennials are coming…
About 10,000 boomers turn 65 every day, according to Forbes. Millennials are ascending to higher positions, including roles with decision-making authority in B2B purchases. A recent study of industrial buyers conducted by UPS noted an increase of millennial respondents by almost 36% in the past two years. [UPS Industrial Buying Dynamics Study 2019].
This shift in demographics results in a shift in behaviors, which means B2B marketers are on the hook for delivering exceptional experiences to convert more seasoned B2B buyers. Plus, it’s crucial to reach newer millennial buyers by implementing social media practices and by increasing participation in peer review sites for your marketing mix.
I’m really excited to share our research findings on this influential group, with firsthand information about what they are really looking for from their B2B buying process. If you’d like to receive a copy of our Millennial B2B Buyer research report, subscribe to our blog or reach out to me at [email protected]!