How to Adapt B2B Digital Marketing to the Buyer Journey in 2020

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Understanding how a B2B buyer’s journey naturally progresses is key to designing a digital marketing program that works in any economic climate. When we do this with our clients, it allows us to see their marketing as a whole, rather than looking at isolated marketing tactics and getting overly focused on minor issues.

Once we understand what’s already working for a client, we can then apply an informed strategy to amplify their successes. Occasionally, we may also recommend that a client step back from a few marketing tactics that might not be working well enough.

Given how quickly and completely the business environment has changed lately, now is an especially good time to think about the larger context of our marketing. It’s a good time to assess what our prospects and customers see as they interact with us. So if you find yourself with a little extra downtime right now, it’s a good time to ask:

  • How well are we meeting prospects’ informational needs?
  • How do they discover us?
  • What do they do to learn more about us?
  • Which information sources do they use to make their final decision?

A solid understanding of how prospects see a vendor’s business and their marketing (which can be very different than what the vendor sees) can make marketing budgets vastly more effective. It can help marketers know what to focus on in a time of uncertainty and upheaval.

Fortunately, there’s quite a lot of research available to help us see how B2B buyers are navigating their purchase process. Many things have changed in the last few years.

By the time a buyer contacts a Salesperson, their journey is largely complete.

We’ve all heard different statistics about how much of the buyer’s journey happens before the company is ever contacted. But it’s such a seismic change that it still bears repeating.

It’s also a trend that continues to accelerate. Research from Gartner has revealed that not only does most of the buyers’ journey happen before the company is ever contacted; only 17% of the cumulative time a buyer puts into making a purchase will be spent meeting with potential suppliers. That’s all of the potential suppliers, a buyer will assess, too, not just the one solution they ultimately purchase.

Per 2019 research from Gartner, “When buyers are comparing multiple suppliers‚ the amount of time spent with any one sales rep may be only 5% or 6%.”

What percent of time on the B2B buyer's journey is spent with SalesPeople during the buyer's journey

Clearly, with this minimal level of human-to-human interaction, B2B marketers need to step forward to support the buyer’s journey as much as they can. Accessible, personalized content that meets buyers’ needs is a good start, but that content must also be tailored for different personas, and for the different team members who typically decide which solution to purchase.

B2B purchases are often made by committee or by consensus.

While we may refer to “the buyers’ journey” frequently, let’s remember B2B purchases are usually a decision made by a group. This has several consequences:

  • The decision takes longer to make. The B2B buyers’ journey ranges from 6 to 12 months on average. This is in stark contrast to the B2C buyer’s journey, which can be as brief as a few minutes, though larger purchases can stretch into a few weeks or even a month or so for major purchases.
  • It’s no accident that Account Based Marketing (ABM) has been a successful model for many B2B companies. While much of B2B marketing is structured for the (B2C-based) idea of the solo buyer, ABM is built from the ground up with the implicit understanding of a team purchase.
  • B2B marketers may also do well to tailor content expressly for team members who already want to buy from them, but who need to convince their peers and senior reports that their company’s solution is the best choice.

Research from Sirius Decisions suggests that “buying by committee” and “consensus” has only become more common in the last few years. The chart below illustrates that in 2017, 41% of B2B buying scenarios could be categorized as “independent.” In 2019, only 34% could be.

More and more B2B purchases are being made by purchase committees or via team consensus

So most purchases are made by committee. But how big is the typical buying committee? The same Gartner research cited above indicates that “The typical buying group for a complex B2B solution involves six to 10 decision makers‚ each armed with four or five pieces of information they’ve gathered independently and must deconflict with the group.”
Not too surprisingly, buying committees or “groups” tend to be larger or smaller across enterprises. SiriusDecisions breaks out B2B buying purchase size and committees like this:

The B2B buyer's journey is largely done by committee now. That committee's size varies depending on the size of the business

The B2B buyer’s journey is increasingly done through mobile devices.

Internet users have almost universally shifted over to mobile devices in the last few years, and B2B buyers are no exception. As this excerpt from net solutions’ The State of B2B Ecommerce in 2020 infographic shows, 91% of buyers’ searches are done through a mobile device now.

B2B buyers' mobile usage

The B2B buyer’s journey also continues through mobile devices all the way to purchase. Any email communications marketers send, of course, are also largely read on mobile devices, and while lead nurturing may not be exclusively done through email, much of it is.

Content consumption, as well, is also increasingly mobile. As outlined in DemandGen’s 2020 Content Preferences Study, “content preferences have shifted to a higher preference in mobile-optimized content over the past 12 months” with 44% of the respondents surveyed answering the question, “How have your B2B content consumption habits changed over the past year?” with “I prefer mobile-optimized content to access on my smartphone or tablet.”

Finally, while it might seem like having a mobile website is something agencies and marketing experts have been recommending for years, there are still some companies who have not yet made their websites mobile-friendly. The 2020 CMO Survey reported that 14.5% of CMOs say “lack of a mobile-friendly website” is still hindering their mobile marketing efforts.

The B2B buyer’s journey is challenging.

Most marketers are committed to understanding their customers and prospects. We want to know how they see our offerings and our messaging. We might also do well to consider how B2B buyers view their jobs. And, increasingly, B2B buyers see their jobs as challenging.

As Gartner explains,

“… the set of options and solutions buying groups can consider is expanding as new technologies, products, suppliers and services emerge.
These dynamics make it increasingly difficult for customers to make purchases. In fact, more than three-quarters of the customers Gartner surveyed described their purchase as very complex or difficult.”

The B2B buyer's journey has become overly complex and difficult.

Simply making purchasing easier might help our buyers out a lot. This would include other trends we’ve mentioned here, such as making information more mobile-friendly, enabling easier B2B online purchases, and giving B2B buyers personalized, timely information so they can continue their deliberation process until (or if) they are ready to reach out to Sales for help.

Support after the purchase could ease new customers’ challenges, too. So marketers may also want to prioritize customer success and customer service, or, at least, work to coordinate with those departments.

The B2B buyer relies heavily on peer-to-peer information.

B2B buyers are inundated with information, and savvy enough to know that much of the information they’re given is biased. As a consequence of this, they are increasingly turning to each other as a reliable source of information.

Fortunately for them, there are plenty of options. Review sites, in particular, are an important part of the content buyers consume as they access different options. Because of this, B2B marketers need to view review sites and reviews as a marketing channel. This is how our customers are finding us and learning about our products.

As I wrote earlier this month, independent ratings and reviews are key to building relationships with customers. They are important both generating a new customer and in keeping that customer long-term.

Ratings Example

Company and product reviews often come up alongside branded search terms, which raises the issue of another channel to monitor: what’s appearing in search results for your branded terms. Some of this you can control, some you can’t, but we need to be aware of what people see when they query our company name.

Peer-to-peer information can also take the form of case studies and testimonials. These are high-value pieces of content every B2B marketer should use throughout the different touchpoints of the buyers’ journey. KoMarketing’s website employs testimonials on most pages of the site, and we’ve found our customer stories, aka case studies, to be particularly effective in late-stage decision-making.

Peer-to-peer content isn’t limited to case studies and testimonials, either. 39% of B2B buyers said “I get more of my content through social networks or peer recommendations” when asked “How have your B2B content consumption habits changed over the past year?” in DemandGen’s 2020 Content Preferences Study.

Ecommerce has become the norm.

B2B ecommerce is an under-recognized force in marketing, but that’s been changing in recent years, and it should continue to change. Frost & Sullivan predicts that B2B e-commerce will actually outgrow the B2C market by 2025.

Even now, 93% of B2B buyers search online before buying a product (also per Frost & Sullivan), and the same percentage of B2B buyers prefer to complete their purchases online once they’ve decided to buy.

93% of B2B buyers search online before buying a product

This once again forces B2B marketers to step up to how modern buying has shifted, this time towards automation. A human Sales contact was once the defacto order-taker. Now, customers often prefer to place orders themselves, either by mobile device or desktop, via a company website or an app.

The B2B buyer’s journey is not linear.

We’ve all seen many visual representations of the B2B buyer’s journey. Many look like this:

The B2B Buyer Journey

While these are useful illustrations (and are specifically designed to distill parts of the buyers’ journey down into their most essential), they do leave out a key aspect of the buyers’ journey: Complexity. This is especially true when we step back from the single buyer’s journey and think about all the different ways all of our different types of buyers purchase.

The buyers’ journey, simply put, is not linear. It is something more like this:

Myth Busting 101: Insights IntoThe B2B Buyer Journey

Any company that attempts to map the different paths their buyers take from first touch all the way to repeat buyer will be familiar with this. Any B2B marketer who has planned a lead nurturing sequence in a detailed way will also be familiar with how complex buyer paths can be. The buyer’s journey of today is in fact so complex that some have referred to it as a maze.

The B2B buyer's journey has become a maze.

Again, this does not dismiss the value of the more streamlined models. If anything, we may need to be reminded of the simpler diagrams to avoid becoming overwhelmed with buyer types, buyer paths, and buying channels. In fact, the vagaries of the buyer’s journey actually brings to mind the old wisdom of “not all who wander are lost.”

The complexity of the B2B buyers’ journey is only going to increase. Even before COVID-19, many buyers were shifting towards channels like online chat, Facebook messenger, and virtual events. Now, given recent events, B2B marketers are likely to have even more channels to manage.

Final Thoughts

Clearly, the entire B2B buyer’s journey is evolving rapidly. But even what we’ve covered so far may seem like incremental changes compared to how the buyer’s journey has shifted (if only temporarily) in early 2020.

Almost overnight, many of us were launched into an abrupt shift towards digital communication channels in every aspect of our jobs.

And while we do expect event marketing and in-person meetings to return, even a few months of having to rely exclusively on digital communication channels are likely to alter behavior going forward.

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