For several years, one of the major themes in B2B marketing and sales has been the emergence of empowered and independent buyers. Numerous research studies have shown that many business buyers are now using the wealth of easily-accessible information to perform their own research regarding potential purchases, and that they are delaying conversations with vendor sales reps until fairly late in the buying process.
SiriusDecisions says that 67% of the B2B buyer's journey is now done digitally. CEB goes even further and says that a typical B2B customer is 57% through the purchasing process before they engage with a potential supplier's sales rep.
The perceived independence of buyers has driven several profound changes in the practice of B2B marketing. It has provided much of the impetus for the use of inbound marketing and content marketing by B2B companies, and it has led many companies to expand the role of marketing in the demand generation process.
The idea that B2B buyers are self-educating and postponing conversations with sales reps until late in the buying process has become part of the conventional wisdom of B2B marketing. And as a general rule, this view of buyer behavior works reasonably well. Today's buyers are more empowered that ever before, and most business buyers are performing more research on their own.
But this model of buyer behavior was always an oversimplified representation of reality. It was never universally true or completely accurate. For one thing, not all B2B purchases are the same. Some are far more complex, require significantly higher investments, and entail substantially more risk than others. These differences mean that business buyers don't use the same process for all purchases. Plus, B2B buyers are not all alike with it comes to how they prefer to research and evaluate potential purchases.
The reality is that B2B buyer preferences and behaviors aren't as simple as the conventional view would suggest, and recent research is beginning to make the nuances visible. Last year for example, SiriusDecisions published the results of its 2015 B-to-B Buying Study, which was based on the behaviors of 1,000 business executives. The study found that business buyers are interacting with sales reps more than 50% of the time in the earlier stages of the buying process.
The Altify Buyer/Seller Value Index 2016 study also found that most business buyers are engaging with suppliers early in their buying process. This study involved more than 1.200 participants, about 25% of whom were business buyers. Over two-thirds (67%) of the buyer participants said they seek input from potential suppliers before they begin to evaluate solutions. In addition, 19% of the buyer participants said that sales reps add value before a project is identified, and over 20% said that sales reps add value when requirements are being defined.
The bottom line is that many B2B buyers are not as "self-directed" as we may have thought, which means that both marketing and sales must focus on early buyer engagement.
Image courtesy of Meaghan O'Malley via Flickr CC.