B2B Buyers Remain Skeptical About Vendor Content

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Last month, TrustRadius published the findings of its third annual B2B buying disconnect research. The 2019 B2B Buying Disconnect report is based on a survey of 712 individuals who were involved in a significant purchase of business technology during the preceding year, and on a survey of 229 individuals who worked for technology vendors in a marketing or sales capacity.

In my last post, I described some of the characteristics of the technology buying process, as revealed by the TrustRadius research. In this post, I’ll discuss what the TrustRadius surveys discovered about how technology buyers research potential purchases, and where there are still significant disconnects between technology buyers and sellers.



Information Used to Support Buying Decisions

A primary objective of the TrustRadius surveys has been to identify what sources of information technology buyers use to support purchase decisions, and which sources they view as influential and trustworthy. The 2019 survey found that buyers used an average of 5.2 sources of information when they research potential purchases, up slightly from 4.9 in 2018 and 2017.

The most widely-used sources of information have changed little over the past three years. In the 2017, 2018, and 2019 surveys, the five most widely-used sources of information identified by buyers were:

  • Product Demos
  • Vendor/Product Website
  • User Reviews
  • Free Trial/Account
  • Vendor Representatives

Information Trust

TrustRadius also asked buyers to rate the trustworthiness of each source of information. (Note:  TrustRadius presented buyers with fifteen sources of information in 2019 and 2018, and twelve sources of information in 2017.) It turns out that buyers’ perceptions of trustworthiness haven’t changed much over the past three years.

The following table shows the five most trustworthy and the five least trustworthy sources of information identified by buyers in the 2019 survey. The table also shows how buyers ranked the trustworthiness of these information sources in the 2018 and 2017 surveys.

At first glance, these survey findings would seem to paint a fairly bleak picture for B2B marketers, given that vendor-provided sources of information were ranked as the least trustworthy by buyers. However, there are reasons to believe that the situation isn’t quite as bad as these survey results seem to indicate. The 2019 survey report contains several quotes from buyers that provide context for the survey results. Here are a few examples:

“Vendor collateral valuable for initial research but from there, really a matter of needing to actually see the functionality work as opposed to pretty pictures & glowing case studies.”



“Providers are known for their platitudes, and less for the substance of their claims, so I took their marketing materials with a grain of salt.”

“Any vendor can put up collateral and a good website, but trying the service for ourselves was crucial in understanding if the product was a fit for our team.”

I contend that what these quotations really indicate is that most business buyers are unwilling to trust vendor-provided information completely, or rely solely on such information when making purchase decisions.

In many cases, buyers view vendor-provided information as inherently biased (although not necessarily deceitful), and in some cases, vendor-provided information doesn’t adequately address some of the specific issues that a particular buyer may be concerned about. The quotations and the survey results also show that most buyers want direct experience with a produce via demos and free trials whenever possible.

A Major Disconnect Between Sellers and Buyers

One of the most significant disconnects between buyers and sellers revealed by the TrustRadius research relates to transparency about product limitations. Eighty-four percent of the vendor respondents in the 2019 survey said they aim to be clear about the capabilities and limitations of their product. However, only 36% of the buyers in the 2019 survey felt the vendor they selected was forthcoming about product limitations.

It appears that many vendors simply don’t recognize how important this issue is for buyers. Seventy-one percent of the buyer respondents in the 2019 survey said it is very important to understand product limitations before buying, but only 42% of the vendor respondents expressed this view.

Marketing content and sales communications rarely address product limitations directly. It’s not that B2B marketers and sales reps are intentionally dishonest, but they are conditioned by culture and training to emphasize the positives (and minimize the limitations) of their solutions. Unfortunately, this tendency causes buyers to view most vendor-provided information with a heavy dose of skepticism.



In my next post, I’ll discuss one way that B2B marketers can address the trust gap.

Top image courtesy of Terry Johnston via Flickr CC.

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