Imagine for a moment that the year is 2008. B2B buyers, mostly of the Boomer generation, work collectively – often with 2-4 members of their team – to make major purchasing decisions for their companies. Before they come to their decision, they are ushered through their linear customer journey by a salesperson who’s tasked with closing the deal. B2B marketing teams are responsible for filling the funnel with quality leads, and the B2B sales teams are charged with converting those leads to customers. Information is available but hard to find for the average buyer, and they rely on the B2B sales teams to explain their solution options. In 2008, a typical B2B customer journey may have looked something like this:
Today, we see something completely different. B2B buyers have evolved significantly in the last ten years, and we see that modern B2B buyers generally belong to the millennial cohort that grew up in digitally-enabled environments. The power of the sale rests safely in the palms of the buyers - a manifestation of Forrester’s 2011 declaration of the “Age of the Customer”- and this balance of power is more evident than ever in today’s highly technologically-integrated society. This tectonic shift in power – caused by an eruption of technological innovation, instant accessibility to information, and an overhaul of the contemporary customer experience – has shaped B2B buyers into the independent, informed, experience-driven buyers we see today.
Consequently, modern B2B buyer journeys are far from linear. What we see today looks more like a labyrinth of choice in which the buyer moves cautiously between vendor websites, search engines, social media, and word-of-mouth to gather nearly all the information they need before ever even speaking to an actual salesperson. Today, a typical buyer journey might look something like this:
With this dramatic shift in buying behavior, how can B2B marketing & sales teams keep up?
Traditional B2B marketing strategies focused on generating quality leads which sales teams could then push through the funnel. This type of approach meant companies would gate content, gate demos, gate everything in return for a form fill-out and a lead’s contact information.
Today’s buyer hates gates. Ask yourself – truthfully – when was the last time you filled out a form to access a piece of content you wanted from a company you had no interest in purchasing from? It’s probably been a minute. Many of today’s B2B buyers are too savvy to get sucked into the funnel with gates and end up bouncing away without ever going through the rest of the journey. In fact, a recent report showed that 87% of buyers decided not to download content due to gating. In a world overflowing with available and accessible digital content, B2B buyers know they can avoid gates by simply looking elsewhere to find the information they seek.
What B2B marketers must do instead is focus on enhancing the customer experience. Unlock content that would have otherwise been gated. By making it easier for buyers to find the information they need directly from their websites, brands can provide answers to the questions their customers are asking without forcing them to interact with a salesperson. Ultimately, allowing customers to access as much thought leadership content as possible will result in a higher likelihood that they will purchase from the company that’s providing the content.
A DemandGen survey revealed that 87% of B2B buyers surveyed said that “the solution provider they chose provided ample content to help them through each stage of the decision-making process.” Additionally, according to Think with Google, if buyers are considering you during their research phase, 75% of them are only going to visit your site once. In other words, you only have one shot, so providing the right information paired with a great customer experience is crucial to attracting today’s B2B buyer.
Modern B2B buyers expect their enterprise buying experiences to match the ease and comfort of their consumer buying experiences. Their experiences as consumers in their personal lives have bled into their professional consumption preferences, and as a result, we see an entire generation of B2B buyers that expect B2B purchases to be as seamless and satisfactory as their B2C experiences.
They want autonomy prior to making the purchase but crave reliable support once the ink has dried. Since reviews, referrals, and word of mouth are some of the strongest influencers on B2B buying decisions, post-sale customer satisfaction is key to creating future brand advocates. According to the Harvard Business Review, 84% of B2B buyers begin the purchasing process with a referral, and “peer recommendations are influencing more than 90% of all B2B buying decisions.” Brand advocacy is crucial to the ongoing success of B2B marketers, and with 90% of buyers relying on peer recommendations, B2B companies would be wise to perfect the post-sales experience to encourage this type of loyalty.
The B2B buying experience has come a long way since 2008 and will undoubtedly continue to evolve. As marketers, we’re fortunate today to have a slew of tech tools to reach and influence our target prospects, but none of these tools will move the needle if B2B marketers do not offer buyers what they’re looking for. To keep up with the changing preferences of B2B buyers in today’s information-abundant digital landscape, B2B marketers must always be vigilant to their customers’ needs and embrace the new power of the sale.