A good analogy is the self-directed learning courses offered at many universities. The course requirements are spelled out, textbooks and other course materials are identified, and mileposts (required exams, papers, etc.) are established. Then students study at their own pace to complete the course. In the world of B2B marketing, we're now living in the age of the self-directed buyer.
The driving force behind the empowerment of business buyers is the Internet. The Web has put a huge volume of information about almost every conceivable product and service at the fingertips of business buyers, and they've become convinced that they can find whatever information they need, whenever they need it, on their terms. In fact, the Internet has become the primary source of information for many business buyers. According to a survey by Forbes Insights, 81 percent of business executives who are under 50 years of age use the Internet daily to gather business information.
Last fall, Adam Needles provided a detailed discussion of the changing nature of B2B buyers in an excellent post at his Propelling Brands blog. He identified four major characteristics of today's B2B buyer.
- B2B buyers are using online sources of information (especially early in the buying cycle) to research purchasing decisions, and they are delaying conversations with vendor's sales reps until late in the cycle.
- B2B buyers are leveraging social media to collect information and opinions about prospective vendors, products, and services.
- B2B buyers are using several communications channels to research purchasing decisions.
- B2B buyers are increasingly part of a "buying unit" rather than acting as a single decision-maker.
The bottom line is that easy access to information makes business buyers much less dependent on sellers than in the past, and this means that many traditional marketing and sales techniques and practices don't work as well as they once did.
What is working today? That's what we'll discuss in future posts.