The cultural and digital transformation also impacts the behavior of B2B customers. If we look at current studies and how B2B customers act throughout their buying cycle it shows: times have changed. Summary:
The modern buying center is bigger and more diverse than ever. Decision cycles take longer and are more demanding.
Millennials are more and more part of the buying decision.
Especially early buying phases are more digital and mobile than ever.
Personal contact with a company is crucial but only in the later stages of the buying cycle. Not offering enough information for a digital research might lose potential opportunities.
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The customer journey starts digitally
61% of all B2B transactions start online. This means, that even stationary vendors might want to think about an online shop or website (source: Accenture, PDF). This includes presence on digital channels that are being used by customers to inform themselves. 58% of customers use social media for their research. If you don’t have any profile there, you might lose out on customers.
B2B customers do their research on their own
Before they contact you directly, most B2B customers have gone through the buying process by 57%. This means that personal conversations are not less crucial, but they are crucial at a later stage in the entire process. If you don’t know what your customers do and need in the early stages, you might not even make it to the personal conversation.
By the way: according to the same study, more than 90% of decision makers are not enthused about cold calls. Calls as well as emails as part of a cold acquisition mostly go unanswered.
The buying center is growing
According to Gartner, three thirds of all buying centers consist of people with different roles, teams and even offices (source: Gartner). Another survey by DemandGen from 2017 shows that more than half of all B2B buying centers have risen in the numbers of stakeholders involved (source: via Business 2 Community). Because of this, buying cycles take longer, since there are more detailed ROI analysis and research requirements.
What does this mean? B2B customers expect the same kind of personalized experience as many B2C customers already receive, meaning, not just during personal conversations but on all channels and throughout all buying phases. Marketing, sales and service therefore need to work on coherent, personalized and informative journeys that work for different personas, goals and needs.
Millennials do the research (and make the decisions)
Merit asked more than 2000 millennials in America regarding their influence on decision processes within their companies. Apparently, the majority is part of the decision making (PDF). Even more so, one third makes the final decision.
Millennials don’t necessarily have different needs when it comes to decision making. But they do use different methods and tools which need to be addressed by traditional B2B vendors. As digital natives, millennials prefer digital channels (especially search engines and websites) and they rather use their smartphones for research than for calling. 85% of all millennials use social media for their research.
*Surprisingly, most millennials aren’t teenagers or fresh out of college. Per definition, millennials were born in the early 80s till the late 90s. The youngest millennials are therefore already in the 20s and the oldest are far into their 30s. Fun fact: according to the definition, I am a millennial myself.
The modern customer journey happens on mobile
According to a study of the Boston Consulting Group the mobile use during research and for interactions with companies has inclined. Especially during the early stages of the buying cycle, the smartphone is a preferred tool for research. One of the reasons might be, that it’s a lot easier to use the smartphone to check on sudden ideas and impulses on the go or during a conversation.
E-Commerce is the future of B2B
Nearly 50% of all companies purchase goods and services in an online shop at least once a week (source: DigitalCommerce360). Experiences and use cases from private B2C shopping inform the expectations that B2B customers have. E-Commerce offers for B2B customers can create completely new customer experiences and help offering the right information for the decision-making even during early buying phases.
Additionally, bigger customers can get their own, individual shopping environments with their own customer branding, different user accounts, personalized product offerings, etc.
Inbound marketing will be crucial
If more customers do their own research, the relevance of content on digital platforms grows. A good inbound marketing strategy can help gaining the attention of customers who do their research on search engines or social media. Apart from a good SEO strategy, you need to create content that is informative, relevant and easy to use. The best Google ranking is worthless if website visitors don’t get the content they expected on your site.
A clear content strategy is the key for inbound marketing. According to a study by Showpad (source: via Biz Report), 86% of all B2B customers feel overwhelmed with the amount of content. In short: companies need to map their content according their customers’ individual needs and give clear instructions what to do next.
Use social media to reach the right customers. In our factsheet, we show you how LinkedIn lead Ads can help you with the right targeting for your lead generation.