B2B buyers are frustrated, overwhelmed, and disappointed with their buying experiences. B2B companies think they’re customer-centric, but that’s not what buyers perceive. That nearly half of purchasing journeys stall and end with no decision is waving a red flag in the face of organizations that change is necessary.
Gartner customer research found disappointing reflections on digital experiences from buyers. Nearly half can’t tell the difference between most brands, 58% believe that most digital experiences don’t impact what they end up buying, and only 14% of buyers did something different after a recent digital experience. This all being said, 43% of B2B buyers say they prefer a “rep-free” buying experience if given the option.
Something needs to change if B2B companies are to continue to drive growth given this shift in buyer preferences. Buyers are choosing self-reliance and digital over in-person sales interactions for a majority of their buying process. This is a huge opportunity for marketers and sellers to put buyers front and center by creating buyer-driven experiences that inspire and advance purchase decisions.
A buyer-driven experience (BDX) is based on the consistent provision of relevance, context, choice, and simplicity — at every touchpoint. And what each of those represents in the moment may be different, depending on where your buyers are in their decision process. These experiences must focus on buyer enablement by making it simpler, faster, easier to find and understand, select, and buy.
But an experience is not just about one interaction at a time. It’s about orchestrating a continuum of experiences across the buying process and customer lifecycle.
When designing for the dynamism of buyer-driven experiences, there are five elements comprising a BDX that, when collectively present, provide assurance that you’re delivering on the requirements your buyers have put in place (relevance, context, choice, simplicity). Often unconsciously.
Many of us in B2B address the buying process in stages. We address each stage as a point in time, separate from the other interactions of the process. We’ve even gone as far as to stipulate which content formats work in each stage. But it’s not format that’s responsible for resonance. Effective B2B buyer-driven experiences depend on much more than this.
To become a favored, trusted resource for buyers working to solve a problem, we need to think more holistically. Therefore, it’s important to use a continuum as your framework and ensure that each interaction has the elements needed to give buyers license to drive their experiences. This way, you’ll naturally develop the consistency and repetition needed to create the mental anchors that prompt them to advance toward solving their problem — or reaching their objective — with your help.
Compelling Buyer-Driven Experiences
The components mentioned above — relevance, context, choice, and simplicity — are prevalent within each part of the continuum for buyer-driven experiences. If you keep your eye on each of them in relation to what BDXs must achieve, you’re giving your buyers the control they expect and prefer. But — and they’ll thank you for this — with guard rails to keep them from the damage that could result from not knowing what they don’t know.
1. Meeting Expectations
Buyers want what they want when they want it. Just like all of us. But 77% say they didn’t get that with their last buying experience. Buyer research confirms that 66% of B2B buyers find content biased toward the vendor and focused more on style than substance. Even worse, 51% of buyers say the content they receive from vendors is useless.
Buyers want simplicity and ease, to feel they’ve spent their time with you wisely, and to learn something they haven’t been able to learn somewhere else. And for outcome to happen, you need to understand your buyers’ context for exploring solutions like yours — in that moment.
- How will they find or arrive at your content?
Search, a link in your email, social media, display advertising, sales outreach.
- Does the content immediately orient them based on the way they found it?
Premise of the introduction matches the prompt that brought them.
- What is the content focused on?
Only one answer > the buyer and what they need to know based on the promise made.
- Is the content simple to access and consume?
White space, visually pleasing, scannable, conversational, ungated, in a format they prefer.
- What’s their takeaway?
The learning that will help them advance based on their implied context. What “job to be done” did your content help them accomplish?
- Is there guidance for what they should do next?
No dead-end interactions. What choices have you offered that build on what they just learned?
2. Irresistible Engagement
So, you’ve gotten their attention. How do you keep it?
Engagement is the holy grail. For without it, you have no chance to help them advance or to increase their preference for choosing to buy your solution or work with your company. Because buyers now prefer self-service engagement (only 21% engage with sales reps in the early buying stages), it’s critical to boost your ability to create self-service engagement.
Engagement isn’t only about clicks, views, or dwell time. And, with the growth of the “dark” web (the actions and behavior we can’t track and see) we need to get creative about how we assess engagement. While we may see engagement as them spending time with us, unless they’re gaining momentum by acting, there’s no advancement. Buyer-driven experiences must shift folks from interest to commitment.
- Do you see an uptake in reach across an account?
Perhaps one buyer is sharing content with others on the buying committee. Also, look for emails with high open and clicks indicating they’re likely sharing it. Note the topic and potential adjacencies for experiential expansion across the buying committee.
- Are they accessing your “what’s next” content?
If not, rethink your choice. Is it in service of the buyer’s context or your company? Such as a book demo CTA. Instead, consider the next question they’ll ask given what they learned.
- How frequently are they engaging and on which channels?
Social, email, website, events, webinars, ads… and do they do so proactively or is it only when you prompt them first?
- How are you inviting them to participate? Are they?
Engagement comes in levels: comments on your social posts, share your posts, ask questions on webinars, submit your forms, talk with you, customer success, or sales reps.
- Have you engaged them emotionally?
Buyers are human, logic comes second, even when acting in a professional capacity. Emotional investment also contributes to self-confidence, essential to the ability and willingness to make a buying decision in your favor.
3. Differentiated Enlightenment
B2B Buyers need to learn a lot to decide to buy something new and complex that disrupts the status quo. Basic information is a commodity. What can you enlighten them about that they can’t learn elsewhere?
It doesn’t need to be earth-shattering. Light-bulb moments often happen with a twist on point of view or simplifying what others make too complex. Buyers also want to know about the constraints, blips along the way, and how to prepare for them. The stuff most vendors don’t want to disclose.
Everyone who’s ever purchased a big-ticket item knows it’s not all sunshine and unicorns. Enlightenment is never about blah, blah, blah — so neither should be your content.
- Given your buyer and their context, did this experience teach them something new that they’re ready to learn?
If they can learn what you’re sharing somewhere else, rethink what you’re saying or how you’re saying it. If you see a lack of interest, maybe your content is in the wrong place in the sequence of their buying process. Are they ready for the information you’re sharing?
- Can they use the information? How?
To complete a “job to be done.” Jobs to be done are many. Some of them include: inform others on the buying committee, reduce perceived risk, gauge the disruption of implementation, gain consensus to change, and visualize their future with the problem solved.
- What complexity have you simplified?
Remember how much you know. What’s complex to them may seem simple to you. Conversely, even a highly educated audience doesn’t want to work hard to understand what you’re saying. Most won’t. Simplicity and clarity count.
- What choices have you offered?
Trying to push buyers on your agenda makes them dig in their heels in resistance. And buying a complex solution is not a cookie-cutter purchase. Given the different scenarios that can play out, what options have you presented to entice them to become further enlightened?
4. Buyer Enablement
Buying is first and foremost about willingness to change and moving to action. Without both, there is no sale. Buyer enablement might be better off labeled change enablement. It’s said that the first vendor to offer value is the one most likely to win. This means helping people on their way to becoming buyers, not just once they’ve decided to buy. At this point, you’re playing catch-up.
The reason most buyers don’t engage with sales early in the process is that there are so many facets of change to address before they can become buyers. And they need to be enabled at each step of their pre-buying, buying process, and customer lifecycle. The customer continuum, as I call it. The biggest change with buyer-driven experiences is the need for a compelling and consistent narrative that covers the entire lifecycle that’s all about them. And — given buyers’ preference for self-reliance — marketers have a big opportunity to step up to help orchestrate it.
- Is it easy for buyers to circle back to previous steps?
95% of buyers report revisiting decisions as new information emerges
- Do you provide content that helps individuals on the buying committee find common ground?
Each of them has a perspective. Find the commonalities they can rally around to build consensus. Do they even know if they have all the people necessary included?
- Are you helping buyers identify and overcome obstacles on their way to buying?
These may include Identifying all stakeholders involved, which workarounds to try first, the level of risk, and how to mitigate it, and more.
- Does your content answer buyers’ questions from A to Z?
Or do you jump from awareness to purchase without consideration for that messy middle where massive learning and commitment to change must happen?
- What should buyers do next to keep moving forward?
See Meeting Expectations above. You are the mentor and guide on this journey. Act accordingly.
5. Continuous Evolution
Buyer-driven experiences must continuously evolve. This is simply because your buyers continue to evolve, and markets continue to change. A case in point is that millennials are now becoming buyers and they’re leading the charge in the preference for self-reliance during the buying process. New channels appear and new technology and data-driven solutions, like intent data, enable us to learn, see, and do more — sometimes to our detriment.
Complacency is the kiss of death in the orchestration of B2B buyer-driven experiences. You’ll need a solid foundation that’s continually updated to help you stay the course to meet buyers’ expectations for relevance and perceived value exchange. It’s also the best way to build the trust you need for mutually beneficial relationships that help both you and your customers reach their goals for growth.
- When’s the last time you updated your buyer and customer personas?
Have the stakeholders on the buying committee changed? What market changes require content updates? Is there a preference for a new channel? Are they asking new questions you haven’t answered?
- What’s the status of your data?
Is it clean, current, integrated and can you gain intelligent insights from it?
- Is your narrative consistent across the organization concerning both points above?
Have you updated and revisited your content after noting changes in buyers, questions they ask, the market, or other factors? Content is not once and done if it’s to remain relevant and helpful. Are sellers and customer success singing from the same hymnal you are? Consistency is key to building and maintaining trust and relevance.
- Are you helping them anticipate future needs?
At the speed of change, the future comes fast – what do you see coming they may not?
Taking Action to Build Compelling Buyer-Driven Experiences
There are a lot of moving parts in a buyer-driven experience. Applying relevance, context, choice, and simplicity to the elements above that comprise BDX helps you evolve from where you are today to where you need to be to compel action from buyers that results in meeting business objectives.
Consider the gaps in the experiences you’re providing today. Where in the continuum do they fall? Address those first and then add more. It would be easy if you could pick off expectations first, then move to engagement, and so on.
But what you’ll see is that there are points across the continuum that apply to each experience. While Continuous Evolution falls at the end of the list, it also applies at the beginning as the foundation. Think of BDX as an infinity loop.
The key is to think about the experience. If you were to behave like a buyer and go through an experience you provide today just as they would and answer the questions above, what would you change to increase its effectiveness? What about its perception as “buyer-driven” rather than pushing your sales agenda under the idea of customer centricity that’s more about you than them?
Taking this approach will help shift your mindset to evaluating experiences, instead of one content asset at a time. Your content must work together to create outcomes. This is what’s required to put the buyer first and help them advance.
Random acts of content don’t build momentum. Rather, it’s the culmination of the overall experience that creates the mental anchors needed for buyers to become invested in solving their problems with your help. And it works best when buyer-driven.
 Lessons from Customers: What Marketers Need to Know to Make Digital Experiences Pay Off, Gartner for Marketing Leaders, 2021