The Myth of the DIY Business Buyer

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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.

4 COMMENTS

  1. What you’ve pointed out, more than anything, is that some of the B2B purchase dynamics have changed because of digital and mobile information availability. But, at core, B2B prospects and customers still need and want some assured level of interaction with a vendor under consideration. B2B purchasing behavior is, indeed, often more nuanced and complex than B2C; and, for this reason if no other, there will be more direct and indirect information gathering from vendors. Vendors can and should be using these touch opportunities to build relationships and trust.

  2. David is quite correct. Once the product becomes somewhat complex, or if it involves a “new” technology, then smart business buyers are actually talking with sellers. They are finding our the areas when they know what they don’t know and getting answers. Also, they are forming opinions about the people and companies they are interacting with. They hear who know her stuff (and can be trusted) and who is full of B.S.

    Businesses will be well served to make sure all their customer facing employees are trained in the consultative selling methodology and to have a good CRM system so people can continue advancing these discussions.

  3. David, thanks for sharing some highlights from this study.

    I think you’re right that the SiriusDecisions and CEB findings have been oversimplified. Mainly by the marketing automation industry using the stats to promote technology investments (lead generation) due to later/lower engagement with sales reps.

    Some time ago (a year or two, at least) I spoke with SiriusDecisions directly about the “67%” statistic and learned it is not time-based like the CEB stat. It doesn’t mean two-thirds of the sales cycle is over. Buyers can collect digital information before, during, and after sales rep contact.

    They also told me that, in general, the first sales contact *was* happening later, but it depends on the “demand type”:
    * if an established (mature) solution, contact will come later after self education
    * if replacement with new solution – prospect will talk to sales earlier
    * if a completely new idea – sales engagement is key to education

    And one other thing, higher level buyers are less likely to self-educate.

    So, yes, the DIY buyer is a myth, but these studies never said that. It is also a myth that all buyers want to rely solely on sales people early and throughout the process.

    I guess the point of Altify study is to say — “hey, sales reps still are needed.” No argument there, and I’m sure the results will be used by those in the sales development industry to make that point.

    Here’s one of the findings prominently displayed early in the report:
    “Contrary to some other analysis, most buyers are looking to the market for help early in their buying journey. According to this study, 67 percent of buyers engage suppliers early in their buying process before they get to the Solution Evaluation stage of the buying process. A full 35 percent choose to bring sellers to the table even before a project has been fully initiated.”

    OK, but this isn’t necessarily inconsistent with the CEB or SD research. For example, if — on average — 57% of buying process is completed before contacting sales means that there are plenty of buyers contacting sales earlier and later.

    The Altify report says “As evidenced by the data, buyers need sellers early.” But the report goes on to clarify what that means:

    “This does not mean that buyers are not more educated, or that the world has remained the same, or that buyers rely on sellers to communicate what can be learned from their companies’ websites. Buyers need sellers to create, not just communicate, value – but to do that they need to engage early.”

    Based on the Altify study, it would seem that sales professionals have a lot of work to do to add value in these early engagements:

    “The perception by sellers of the value they deliver in meetings with their buyers is 40 percent higher than the buyers believe. In that same vein, sellers have a much more positive interpretation of how well they educate buyers on potential solutions or business issues than the buyer observe.”

    I wonder how many sales organizations will get this part — when they engage early, they need to do so differently? Or will they use the Altify study to rationalize another myth: “67% of buyers want me to continue to call them early to do what I’ve always been doing.”

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