Or, does most of your budget focus only on raising awareness and attracting leads?
Or, do you lose control of prospects once Sales gets involved?
Regardless of how you answered these questions, you’re not alone.
Here’s what the B2B buying journey looked like across buying and marketing tasks (Forrester):But the B2B customer playing field has changed according to B2B Buyer Research by Gartner.
Instead of speaking to sales executives, Gartner surveyed and listened to B2B buyers. They explained how they approach major B2B purchase decisions now.
As a result, it’s clear that the linear B2B Buyer Journey no longer exists!
Instead, the New B2B Purchase Process consists of 6 tasks. Together they increase buying complexity. Further, validation and consensus matter more than the order of function completion. So this makes the purchase flow difficult to map.77% of B2B buyers rate their purchase experience as extremely complex or difficult according to Gartner’s Sales Research. Click To Tweet
“Buying isn’t about progression, it’s about completion,” says Gartner’s Brent Adamson. “The organizations that will succeed going forward will be those that materially simplify the purchase process for customers.”
Let’s examine the research to figure out what you need to do going forward.
- What are the Top B2B Sales Challenges?
- What is the New B2B Purchase Process?
- How Does The New B2B Buyer Process Increase the Marketing Role?
- Does B2B Content Marketing Address Changing Buyer Behavior?
- How Do B2B Marketing and Sales On-board and Retain Customers?
- The New B2B Purchase Process Conclusion
What are the Top B2B Sales Challenges?
With half of B2B purchase decision-makers spend 1+ hours per week reading thought leadership (Edelman/LinkedIn):
One in 9 thinks that thought leadership is an effective way to introduce a business and its capabilities.
But often B2B Content Marketing hurts brands since:
- Less than 1 in 5 (or 17%) views the content as very good or excellent.
- Two thirds don’t get any valuable insights from the content according to Edelman.
The top 3 B2B sales challenges reveal the impact of Seismic Marketing Shift.
- 46% of teams face challenges using data and analytics to improve performance. This includes problems with missing or poor quality internal data. With increased use of AI, the need for additional and more complete data increases.
- 40% of teams have challenges with increasing specialization and coordination across marketing and sales functions. To prevent siloed activity and information, create cross-functional teams and get senior leadership buy-in.
- 38% of teams have problems aligning go-to-market strategies in light of dynamic buyer behavior.
Based on LinkedIn research, these content marketing assets influence B2B buyers:
- 65% of B2B buyers were influenced by online properties (or marketing activities). This includes websites, blogs, videos, and ebooks.
- 36% of B2B buyers were influenced by in-person events or webinars (or sales activities.)
What is the New B2B Purchase Process?
Instead of moving in a linear way from one buying phase to another, the New B2B Purchase process consists of 6 separate functions. They include:
- Problem identification
- Solution exploration
- Requirements building
- Supplier selection
- Consensus creation
Six to 10 B2B buyer stakeholders do each of these 6 tasks. Further, some of these functions may be done concurrently.
Within B2B buyer teams, each stakeholder consults 4 to 5 sources of information or 24 to 50 pieces of content. As a result, 55% of B2B buyers feel overwhelmed with the amount of information they have to review and evaluation.
Further 44% of B2B buyers get conflicting information. And to get consensus, they must decide how to resolve different facts and points of view.
As a result, 90% of B2B buyers revisit at least one function in the buying process.
Due to information overload and conflicting input, the B2B purchase process can increase as much as 15%. For a one year deal, this translates to 2 months.
Additionally, the need for B2B stakeholder consensus can lead to buyer’s remorse. Even worse, B2B purchase remorse happens in 2 out of 5 deals.
“The organizations that will succeed going forward will be those that materially simplify the purchase process for customers,” says Gartner’s Brent Adamson.
Actionable B2B Purchase Process Tips:
- Assess and address the differences between your organization and your competitors. Where possible, find points to difference to highlight.
- Examine B2B buying tasks to determine what content, information and data they need. Work across functions to assess existing content and gaps. Also, make the information easy-to-consume and share.
- Develop or update buyer personas. With the change in the B2B purchase process, make sure your marketing persona are still relevant.
How Does The New B2B Buyer Process Increase the Marketing Role?
The change in the B2B purchase process requires increased digital, content, search and social media marketing across the lifespan of a customer. Also, this expanded marketing role includes post-purchase functions. Further, it provides marketing with access to data necessary to improve tactics and results.
62% of B2B purchasers prefer to learn independently. So they want to find and consume information on their terms.
Further: 83% of B2B customers access digital channels during late purchase stages. So provide relevant content at every buyer stage.
Two-thirds of B2B content marketers tailor content to their customers and their needs (Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs).
By contrast, only half of B2B marketers offer content across all phases of the buying process!
As a result, move to an integrated marketing and sales process. Also, ensure content, information and data align across the buyer process.
- Provide prospects and customers with a variety of entryways to your information. Further, offer content in the format they prefer, on the device of their choice, and when they need it.
- Offer solutions to customers expressed in plain language and terms they understand.
- Help visitors, prospects and customers to achieve information goals on your owned and other digital platforms.
Actionable B2B Purchase Process Tips:
- Transform content marketing into video and audio. Help buyers consume your content during their commute time.
- Make it easy for buyer stakeholders to share your content with peers. Offer email, Flipboard, Slack, Pocket and print options.
- Tailor content marketing to help different buyer personas.
- Help guide prospects through content marketing quick. Add Table of Contents. Also include visuals and summaries to make information easy-to-digest.
- Offer access to support from across your teams. Let them choose their preferred method of communication and devices.
How Does B2B Content Marketing Address Changing Buyer Behavior?
To appreciate the power marketing has to attract, retain and grow B2B customer relationships, Content Marketing Institute’s Robert Rose put it best:
“[S]top thinking of content marketing as the thing that’s only worth investing in if it creates a lead or an opportunity. Instead, think about how to AMAZE your audiences. Treat your audiences as customers because that is the way you can lean into data acquisition and personalize your experiences.”
For B2B businesses, this translates to continuing to invest in branding over time.
Since B2B marketers must balance the use of long term branding with short term sales activation focused on “hot” prospects. Les Binet and Peter Fields recommend using a 45% branding and 55% activation mix.
In terms of quality B2B content marketing, thought leadership helps sales (Edelman/LinkedIn):
- 1/3 of B2B content marketers found original research performed best. So it’s no surprise research is a key form of pillar content.
- 2/5 of B2B content marketers received support from across their organization. And attributed this to their success.
- 3/5 of B2B content marketers used a variety of content distribution approaches. They included employees as part of their plans.
B2B marketers, especially those involved in content marketing, must reassess their priorities and better align them with revenue generating objectives. For example, why wouldn’t all content marketers support revenue generation?
Address Key B2B Buyer Questions
To accomplish this Gartner recommends addressing these 10 B2B Buyer Questions.
- Does your content marketing help your buyers to complete specific purchase functions?
- Do buyers have trouble with this purchase task?
- Does your content help buyer stakeholders to complete the task?
- Is your content marketing relevant to a large portion of your buyers?
- Do your buyers find this content easy-to-find and consume? Further, is this information available in different formats and across a variety of platforms?
- Do your prospects find your content useful to complete specific buying tasks?
- Can buyers easily share your content marketing internally with stakeholder peers?
- Is your content marketing aligned with your prospects’ emotional needs?
- Does your content marketing make purchasing stakeholders feel confident that they can complete specific tasks?
- Do your prospects view your content marketing as trustworthy and supplier agnostic? Also does it lead buyers to choose your firm?
How Sales Enablement Helps The New B2B Purchase Process
To deal with the new B2B purchase process, use Sales Enablement content and tools to help both sales and buyers. Among the options are:
- Calculators simplify data analysis.
- Advisors help with specific activities.
- Diagnostic frameworks and tools to identify buying options.
- Benchmarks spotlight peer comparisons.
- Connectors allow stakeholders to find common ground.
- Simulators show how the solutions would work in the buyer’s business.
- Recommenders provide a set of options based on a specific buyer function.
Actionable B2B Purchase Process Tips:
- Help sales and other departments to develop the content and information they need. For example, LinkedIn created the “Read Me” sales material series.
- Continue to distribute content marketing over time. Include different content formats and other distribution channels and platforms. Also add paid distribution where appropriate.
- Add calls-to-action (or CTAs) and tracking to improve content marketing metrics.
How Do B2B Marketing and Sales On-board and Retain Customers?
To improve B2B customer retention and expand revenues, sales professions must evolve from preventing account loss to growing accounts.
88% of B2B sales managers focus on providing superior customer service to grow account and revenues (Gartner November 2017). While this retains accounts and keeps customers happy, this approach doesn’t reveal new sales and growth opportunities.
Instead shift on-going B2B customer conversations from providing service to helping buyers to improve their results. (Gartner 2018) So B2B sales executives can:
- Increase their ability to grow accounts by 48% and
- Increase the likelihood of renewing or retaining the same level of spend by 94%.
Beyond sales skills, focus on customer improvement requires organizational support, sales enablement, tools and team design. Accomplishing this change allows sales to help customers by:
- Offering another perspective on their business.
- Showing them what business improvement will look like.
- Translating improvement into financial terms to make the case to change.
Actionable B2B Purchase Process Tips:
- Create improved customer on-boarding processes. Tailor information to help users who may not have been part of the purchase process. Also offer self-learning options.
- Support customers and end users with online and/or offline community and events. This distinguishes your offering and provides unique customer benefits.
The New B2B Purchase Process Conclusion
The B2B customer journey is dead because B2B buyers have changed their approach to purchasing.
To succeed in this dynamic environment, marketing and sales must work together to provide the information the new B2B Purchase Process requires. Otherwise your organization will face lower revenues and reduced customer retention.
Fortunately for marketers, this new buying process provides increased opportunity to get the maximum value out of your content marketing by keeping it up-to-date and accessible across platforms and formats.
Further, marketers can keep this content, information and data sustainable by continually adapting it to meet the needs of all of the buying stakeholders and endusers.
Get Heidi Cohen’s Actionable Marketing Guide by email:
Want to check it out before you subscribe? Visit the AMG Newsletter Archive.
A Revolutionary Approach to Content Marketing, and Today's Digital Consumer, 2nd Edition, by Marcus Sheridan.
I've written often about Marcus Sheridan's approach to marketing. His book is one of the must-have guides for every marketer.
Now, for a limited time, you can get the updated edition as an ebook absolutely free!
Read the AMG Interview with Marcus Sheridan on the first edition of They Ask You Answer.
Photo Credit: https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-of-hand-holding-text-over-black-background-326576/ cc zero