Today’s business buyers are awash in a deluge of online information. Virtually every business problem, process, product, and service, no matter how obscure, seems to have garnered at least one blog post or forum comment. One could debate the quality of this information, but not the quantity. Most business searches turn up thousands if not millions of results that include product descriptions, news articles, videos, podcasts, images, books, white papers, free trials, presentations, Wikipedia entries, rankings, blog posts, comments, tweets and so forth. Whatever your question, chances are someone online already has an answer.
B2B buyer behavior has evolved in adaptation to the Internet.
A new species of B2B buyer has arisen that is more connected, more impatient,
more elusive, more impulsive, and more informed than its pre-millennium ancestors.
The New Breed of B2B Buyer
The instant gratification of the Internet is so engrossing that it overshadows the long term changes it has fostered in the people that use it. People have not sat idly by as the Internet has evolved; their online knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors have evolved alongside it. As one of the most serious of Internet users, the B2B buyer has been transformed through adaptation to the new online environment. A new breed of B2B buyer has arisen, a species that is more connected, more impatient, more elusive, more impulsive, and more informed than its pre-millennium ancestors.
B2B Buying Process in the Pre-Millennium Era
The Internet has changed the B2B buying process so radically that it’s difficult to recollect exactly how the pre-Internet B2B buyer used to go about the business of making a purchase: paper, phone and people mostly. The process went something like this: ask the analysts about the next big thing, collect requirements into and RFP, get a list of vendors from a roundup in an industry magazine, go to a trade show and collect collateral, solicit and evaluate RFP responses by mail or fax, call in a short list of vendors to do a dog and pony show, follow up with a technical drill down meeting, maybe do a bake-off or a pilot, select a vendor, call a reference account, negotiate final pricing and contract terms, and wrap it all up by planning out phase 2 of the project: a complex and expensive implementation. It was a slow, arduous and expensive process for which consultants charged exorbitant fees that B2B buyers were happy to pay, because it wasn’t easy.
The New B2B Buyer Rules of Engagement
This is the first blog post in a series that discusses the behavioral traits that differentiate the new breed of B2B buyer that has evolved in adaptation to the Internet and explores new rules of engagement that mirror those behaviors to maximize B2B sales and marketing effectiveness.
|Connected||Publish Deep and Wide|
|Elusive||Measure, Model & Move|
Just as the new B2B buyer has evolved in adaptation to the Internet,
B2B sales and marketing professionals must adapt to the new B2B buyer
by mastering new rules of engagement.
The New Connected B2B Buyer
With such a treasure trove of information available online, the Internet is the 21st century B2B buyer’s first stop for researching products and services. It won’t be the only source of information for the savvy prospect, but the Internet now is a significant and recurring influence throughout the B2B buying process. The new species of B2B buyer is connected to the Internet physically, functionally, socially and frequently.
Moreover, the B2B buying process neither starts nor stops at your website. It is more likely to start at a major search engine, industry portal or social network. If you want your product or service to be considered, it’s critical that your content appear wherever the new B2B buyer goes online at every point in the decision making process. It isn’t enough to just write a blog or make a white paper available for download on your website, because your prospects may never find your website if you don’t show up in search and social media.
New B2B Buyer Rule of Engagement #1 – Publish Deep and Wide
To connect with the connected B2B buyer, you must publish deep and wide about the problems your prospect faces and the solutions your product offers. Your content must be relevant to your prospect at every stage of the buying process and be available whenever and wherever your prospect goes online. That means creating content for every depth of prospect interest and attention span from short tweets, comments and ads to detailed white papers and videos, and then redistributing that content across a wide array of online channels: websites, social networks, blogs, forums, directories, websites, ads, media sharing sites, etc.
It is important to remember that the basic needs of the B2B buyer remain unchanged, only the behavior for satisfying those needs have changed. The buyer will still need to recognize that there is a problem. The buyer will still need to investigate potential solutions to that problem. The solution will still need to fit within the business requirements and financial constraints of the buyer. And, the buyer will still look to reduce risk by getting a good price and validating both your company and your solution with independent third parties. The only difference is that much of this information now comes from the Internet. Your content should still reflect and address these buying needs, but it should be served up in the right location and the right media so it is easily found and digested online. For example, online demos and free trials replace the old-school dog-and-pony show for evaluating solution fit for SaaS and cloud providers. And, references may be solicited not just from your customers and analysts as before, but also from blogs, support forums, professional social networks, and pretty much anything anyone else has said online about your company or product.
The Impatient B2B Buyer’s Got No Time for You
The Internet has instilled the new breed of B2B buyer with far less patience than its pre-millennium ancestor. Sooner or later all that instant gratification turns into habits and expectations. If a prospect can’t find the right information on your website or figure out how to use your free trial, it’s usually goodbye. Today’s B2B buyer has to be pretty committed already to evaluating your product or service before picking up the telephone or sending in a support email. Oh, you’ll still get the early stage sales inquiry from the few remaining Internet laggards, but let’s face it, the phones just don’t ring like they used to. It’s our own fault; this is what we wanted, more self-service, lower acquisition costs, lower support costs, etc. The new impatient B2B buyer has simply adapted to the environment presented online.
New B2B Buyer Rule of Engagement #2 – Efficient Self-Service
What the new B2B buyer wants most from the Internet is independence and efficiency. When a prospect must rely on a salesperson as the primary source of information, both are lost. The Internet puts the new B2B buyer firmly in control of the buying process by allowing the prospect to regulate the flow of information. Fight this basic principle, and you’re back to goodbye. Your strongest strategy is to give the prospect efficient self-service access to your content.
New B2B Buyer Tech Tip
Despite the rising importance of social media, search is still the mainstay of online self-service efficiency. The impatient B2B buyer expects the instant gratification of search everywhere online: major search engines, social networks, discussion forums, your website, your blog, your knowledgebase, etc. Wherever you place your content, make sure that it can be easily searched. And when it’s found, make sure it can be quickly digested.
Second only to search is speed. Especially speed in combination with search. Google believes speed is so important to search that it spent untold millions developing Google Instant just to save 2-5 seconds per search. Pay constant attention to the speed at which your Web pages load and your heavy content downloads. The last thing you want is for the impatient B2B buyer to bail on you at the last minute after you’ve done all the work to create, produce and deliver your content, simply because the response time is too slow.
The self-service directive applies throughout the entire buying process from early education to stimulate latent demand to detailed product information to customer references to technical support to potential add-on purchases. Provided it is not confidential, information the new B2B buyer seeks should not be blindly hidden behind a main phone number or contact us form.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t require registration, login or some level of qualification and commitment on the part of the prospect before providing access to high value content. Creating touch points that measure buyer intent and open new channels of communication throughout the entire customer lifecycle are essential to B2B sales and marketing effectiveness. In fact, they are so important that they are deserving of much greater discussion and are the topics of the next two new B2B Buyer Rules of Engagement that will be covered in the upcoming post in this series. Stay tuned!