Tagged: buyer behavior

Three B2B Buyer Behavior Trends You Can’t Ignore

By Julie Schwartz, ITSMA. jschwartz@itsma.com

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Why Thought Leadership, Not Sales Enablement, Should be Your Top Marketing Priority

Thought leadership—also known as marketing with ideas—is no longer optional.  ITSMA research with buyers shows that thought leadership has become an integral part of the buying decision. Thought leadership is particularly critical to win the minds and hearts of the new B2B social buyer. Therefore, it is no surprise that nearly 60% of B2B services marketers are increasing their budget for content development.

But not everyone is on board. Some marketers I speak to are singularly focused on demand generation, lead generation, and enabling the sales force.  I understand: the economy is uncertain, budgets are tight, competition is stronger than ever, and marketing has to produce measurable results. But what these marketers are missing is the link between thought leadership and enabling sales .

Companies that sell primarily services get it. They know that thought leadership is the key ingredient to spark epiphanies, capture attention, create dialog, and the build trust that over time will lead to a sale.  Developing thought leadership content is a top priority for more than half the services firms we surveyed. However, at the product companies, the priority is enabling sales. While developing thought leadership content is still on the priority list, it’s not high enough. In my mind it should be #1.

2012 Marketing Priorities

ITSMA and RainToday surveyed 859 services marketers and based on the results we identified the seven lead generation best practices. Three of these seven best practices depend on thought leadership:

  1. Segment based on deep knowledge of their target markets
  2. Conduct formal research, in addition to other tactics, to gain a deep understanding of their
    target markets’ needs
  3. Proactively tap their network and current clients to create referrals
  4. Use content that is relevant, provide proof points, and build credibility
  5. Use offers and “live” experiences to generate leads
  6. Use two of the most effective tactics—presenting at events and making “warm” phone calls
  7. Measure their progress at each stage of the pipeline, in addition to the number of leads generated, closed deals, and revenue

Given the changes in buying behavior and the rise of the B2B social buyer, you can’t enable sales and generate demand and leads without thought leadership content.