The B2B selling space is evolving, funnel dynamics are shifting, and buyers are becoming better informed. Perhaps the most significant change is the shift in the balance of power in the B2B purchase process, from the vendor to the buyer, who is now in control. “The modern B2B buying process looks less like a linear path from first contact through to sales – it’s more like a spiderweb of social influences and research channels”, says Crimson Marketing.
It is important to understand these changes, why they are happening, what buyers expect, and how you can adapt your sales and marketing strategies to match the needs of the modern B2B buyer. Why? Well research from SAP reveals that only 52% of B2B buyers believe that their most recent purchase experience met their expectations, and 91% have increased their expectations of vendors and sales people in the past two years.
How Has the Buying Process Changed?
Today’s sales rep must deal with an increasing number of stakeholders in the decision-making process, giving rise to the ‘consensus sale’ and a wider variety of jobs, functions, and geographies that these individuals represent. A DemandGen report shows that in the past year, 34% of B2B buyers have increased the number of stakeholders involved in the purchase process. For any given sales situation, there could be anywhere from 7 to 20 people involved in a B2B buying decision. However, as the number of people involved increases, likelihood of purchase declines. Even worse, it takes five to six decision-makers to agree for a sale to even happen.
More Perceived Risk
Marketing agency Iconsive asserts, “The B2B buying process is changing out of a fundamental need to reduce risk…Customers are increasingly seeking out ways to identify risk factors and eliminate unknown variables”. B2B buyers fear reduction in job security, damage to professional credibility, inability of the software to technically perform as promised, and loss of monetary investments. Vendors can minimize this fear and reduce risk by building trust.
Greater Social Influence
Over the past several years, we have seen a significant rise in the importance of digital channels in the sales process>. Their dominance in the selling space is a clear indicator for how to effectively engage B2B prospects. In fact, an organization’s social presence (and that of its reps) plays a significant role in building brand trust with potential B2B buyers. Further, prospects are spending more time doing independent research and obtaining information from peers and other third party sources, with 54% of B2B buyers beginning their purchase process with informal research about their business problems. Crimson Marketing reports that over 70% of B2B buyers use social media as a research tool, and over half use social media networks to engage their peers in conversation about the brand.
What Do B2B Buyers Want?
So now we know that the B2B purchase process is changing, but what exactly are buyers expecting when they engage with vendors?
In this era of customization, B2B buyers expect an individualized purchase process and solution that takes into consideration their unique challenges and priorities. It is imperative to know who your audience is and how to best tailor the sales process for relevance.
Actionable Insight: Personalization goes beyond updating your standard sales deck with the prospect’s name and logo on the title slide. This archaic definition of ‘customization’ has given way to a scientifically-driven, metrics-based approach that matches content, messaging, and sales strategy based on factors such as persona, type of company, and stage in the purchase process. A sales enablement tool such as Savo can use predictive analytics to recommend winning content and best practice strategy based on the sales situation, helping to personalize the buyer experience.
Buyers don’t just want to hear a pitch – they want to learn something. A LinkedIn survey shows that B2B buyers are 5x more likely to engage with a sales professional who provides new insights about their business. Prospects want hard data and unique industry insights, rather than just sales messaging. According to Hank Barnes, Research Vice President at Garner, “Buyers have access to all this stuff from vendors, but making sense of it, interpreting it, understanding that they have the right stuff is where they’re really struggling”.
Actionable Insight: Because prospects can search online and find reviews, feedback, and all sorts of other information about a company and its product or services, the vendor has lost importance as a source of information. Instead, add value by turning your sales calls into consultative conversations – demonstrate that you understand the customer, their industry, and their unique challenges, goals, and priorities. Sales enablement software is able to recommend the appropriate content and talking points to guide these conversations.
More than ever, B2B buyers are relying on content to guide them through the complicated and confusing purchase process, from research to purchasing decision. B2B buyers review a minimum of 3 pieces of content in any buying situation; the more costly or complex the sale, the more pieces of content that are viewed. In a 2014 DemandGen report, 65% of buyers indicated that the winning vendor’s content had a significant impact on their purchase decision, and 68% indicated that they have increased the amount of content used to research and evaluate their purchases.
Actionable Insight: It’s not just about having content, but rather about having a variety of relevant and engaging content, which increases the likelihood of exciting, informing, and motivating the prospect. A Pardot survey shows that 76% of B2B customers prefer to receive content unique to their stage in the buying process. Use KnowledgeTree to surface recommended content based on the Salesforce record – right where reps work in the CRM.
It is unlikely that your prospect is making the decision to purchase on their own. You need to enable them sell your solution internally; help them market the idea of it, why there is a need, and how you solve the problem.
Actionable Insight: Leverage key proof points that will help your prospects to build the internal business case and sell it to decision-makers. Consider collateral such as case studies that showcase the success of similar companies, testimonials, ROI calculators that demonstrate the impact of the solution on the business, and product metrics compared against industry.
Your tool is competing for the buyer’s attention and with other projects and other vendors, not to mention the status quo. Why should your solution be a priority? Why should they not eliminate you from the running right now? Help the prospect validate their decision to consider you in the purchase process.
Actionable Insight: Be prepared with an ‘elevator pitch’ of under 100 words that clearly communicates your value and resonates with buyers. From there, if you successfully perform on steps 1-4, you are on your way to becoming a winning vendor!
Marketing agency Iconsive argues that “the job of businesses is no longer to harangue and coax people into a sales; it’s to educate, inform, and reassure”. As such, the B2B buyer model has shifted from a funnel (a one-and-done deal) to a life cycle, where the vendor continuously engages with the customer. It’s up to you now to take the steps necessary to adapt to this new model and set yourself up for success.
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