More Evidence that Marketing to Out-of-Market Prospects Really Matters

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Source:  WSJ Intelligence/B2B International

Last September, I wrote a post discussing why B2B marketers shouldn't ignore "out-of-market" prospects. In a nutshell, my argument was as follows:

  • At any time, most of a company's "good-fit" prospects are not engaged in an active buying process.
  • Many of these out-of-market prospects are likely to be "in-market" at some time in the future.
  • The conventional view is that information gathering and evaluation all occur after an intentional buying process has begun.
  • But every day, business decision makers are forming impressions of companies, brands and products from ads, content resources, news reports, conversations with business colleagues and friends, and other interactions. 
  • When something triggers an intentional buying process, these accumulated impressions exert significant influence on the purchase decision.
  • If marketers focus solely on in-market prospects, they'll miss the opportunity to influence the perceptions and preferences of future potential buyers and likely miss future revenue growth opportunities.

The WSJ/B2B International Survey

Last month, WSJ Intelligence, the research unit of The Wall Street Journal/Barron's Group, and market research firm B2B International published the findings of a survey that provide strong evidence for the argument made in my September post.

The "Trust Your Decisions Study" was a survey of 1,601 business decision makers who had recently led or participated in the selection of a new vendor for their company. All survey respondents were director-level or above, and all were affiliated with companies having at least $250 million in annual revenue.

Survey respondents were located in the United States (50%), Europe (25%) and Asia (25%). The study evaluated four purchase categories - technology, finance, professional services, and marketing/marketing services. The survey was in the field from May 21-June 29, 2021.

The study divided the customer journey into three stages - Pre-Decision, Search, Evaluation and Shortlisting, and Final Decision. The survey results provide important insights about all three of these stages, but I'll focus here on those that relate to the Pre-Decision stage.

The researchers defined the Pre-Decision stage as, ". . . the time between when they last selected a supplier for the given [purchase] category and when the 'trigger' occurred that prompted them to actively begin searching for and deciding on a new supplier." So by definition, the Pre-Decision stage covers only potential customers that are out-of-market.

This survey contained several "behavioral recall" questions about a recent purchase decision. When answering these questions, each survey respondent was asked to reflect on the vendor that was ultimately selected (the "winning vendor") and on a vendor that was considered but not selected (the "losing vendor"). Respondents were also asked about their exposure to and impressions of various types of marketing content during their purchase journey.

Major Findings

The findings of the WSJ/B2B International study clearly demonstrate that familiarity and emotional connections that exist at the Pre-Decision stage have a significant impact on purchase decisions. Survey respondents were more than twice as likely (79% vs. 33%) to report that they were very familiar with the winning vendor versus the losing vendor before their active buying process began.

The survey results also showed that at the Pre-Decision stage, respondents had a higher level of pre-existing trust (57% vs. 37%) and confidence (52% vs. 37%) in the winning vendor than in the losing vendor.

One of the more surprising findings of the WSJ/B2B International research was the small number of potential vendors that were included in the initial consideration set for most potential purchases. Eighty-three percent of the survey respondents said they usually identify only two to four potential vendors at the first stage of their active buying process.

Lastly, the WSJ/B2B International study revealed that at least one in five out-of-market buyers are consumers of various kinds of marketing content resources, including case studies (30%), videos (28%), thought leadership/research (26%) and webinars (25%).

The Takeaway

Taken together, these findings clearly demonstrate the importance of marketing to all potential buyers, including those who aren't actively in-market. They show that companies can gain significant competitive advantage by consistently running marketing programs that are designed to increase brand awareness (familiarity) and enhance buyer trust and confidence.

These types of marketing programs can impact the final purchase decision, but equally important, they increase the odds that your company will be included in the buyer's initial consideration set. And as I've written before, you have to be invited to the party before you can be asked to dance.

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