In 2011, ITSMA saw two big changes in buyer behavior in its annual How Buyers Consume Information study. One was the split between traditional buyers and an emerging segment we called “B2B Social Buyers.” The other was a sharp decline in the influence of peers and simultaneous rise of solution provider credibility.
This year’s survey confirms those trends and adds another: when purchasing large, complex, technology-based solutions, buyers rely on solution provider salespeople at all stages of the buying process, even early on.
Trend #1: The Decline of Peer Influence and Rise of Solution Provider Credibility
We’ve done this survey annually for many years. Peers were always the first group buyers turned to when trying to solve a technology problem. To our amazement, in 2011 peers dropped from first to ninth place!
The decline of peer influence continued in 2012. The big news, however, is that as a source of information, the websites of solution providers ranked first. Buyers are using search, looking on your site, and talking to your subject matter experts and salespeople. All are viewed as more credible than peers! Of course peers retain their supreme role when it comes to recommendations, referrals, and references. They just aren’t the best sources of information any more.
Trend #2: The Continued Rise of the B2B Social Buyer
We defined social and traditional buyers by how useful they find social media during the purchase process. Splitting the sample in this way yields some useful insights.
Last year, the only demographic difference of social buyers was the fact that they tended to be younger. This year, we saw that they’re also more likely to work in IT at a senior level and to consider themselves decision makers in the process of buying large, complex solutions. We say that the B2B social buyers are young, senior executives with clout.
Social buyers spend more time consuming content—6.5 hours per week compared to the traditional buyers at 4.3 hours per week. Both groups are online, but social buyers are more likely to be reading, listening, or watching on mobile devices. They’re also more hands-on: they don’t delegate; they do the work themselves. Social buyers engage online more actively, but two thirds of all respondents are joining online conversations at least sometimes.
Traditional buyers are more likely to turn to their peers for information during the buying process. Social buyers do too, but fewer of them do so and they’re more likely to turn to their social media networks. The traditionals like industry events and trade shows. Research reports are number one for the social buyer and number two for the traditional buyer—both groups seek out research, data, and validation.
Trend #3: Salespeople Enter the Process Early
It’s widely believed that 60-70% of the buying process is over before prospects want to engage with a salesperson. So much information is available online that salespeople are thought to be unnecessary in the early stages.
Our data says that this is a myth. In fact, we believe just the opposite: 70% of B2B technology solution buyers want to engage with sales reps before they identify their short list. That’s good news for providers. The earlier you engage, the more likely you are helping customers formulate their ideas on how to solve their problems. Earlier engagement means more wins.
But there is a catch! Sales has to add value during the buying process, especially during the early stages. Sales has to stop promoting and pitching and start educating and advising. Marketing has to pass the “thought leadership baton” to sales so they can do thought leadership selling.