What More Than 100 Buyer Interviews Say About B2B Buyer Behavior In 2015

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As we hit the middle of this decade, B2B buying behavior is about to undergo more
significant changes.  It will change not only in whom we identify as buyers, but also in how B2B buyers interact to make purchases. Last year, in well over one hundred buyer interviews conducted on behalf of several B2B organizations involved in buyer persona research, noticeable changes began to emerge.

B2B Buyer

B2B Buyer – Getty Images

As opposed to a quantitative survey, this represents a qualitative narrative on what as well as how buyer behavior in 2015 may be different. And, what B2B marketers and sellers can prepare for.

Here are qualitative observations, which may help you in your planning for 2015:

Rise Of The B2B End User

Technology and flatter B2B organizations are reshaping the dynamics of the B2B end user. Leaders are left with little choice but to empower end-users to make more autonomous choices. We are seeing more and more virtual end-users as well. A snippet for you:

“We’ve had to streamline and this means more of our agents working from home virtually. What goes along with this territory is giving them more freedom to do what they see makes them more productive.” Senior Director, Support Services

And, as noted in previous articles, end users are now offering consumer-like reviews online on the use of services and systems.

Digital Prowess

Demographically, B2B buyers are shifting. According to a recent Google/Millward Brown Research study on B2B purchasing behavior, nearly 46% of B2B end user buyers are in the 18-34-age bracket. The research further concluded nearly 72% of influencers are under the age of 45. In my buyer interviews, while there was a distinct difference in the age of decision-makers, influencers and end users clearly exhibited a higher comfort level in digital interaction and prowess. Here is a snippet of insight for you:

“Keep in mind we’ve expanded quite a bit in the last few years. But in doing so, we’ve made our workforce much younger. And – I can tell you – there are differences. From an HR perspective, an unexpected dilemma, and I guess you can say we underestimated this, is that of how to make the digitally savvy younger employee work well with – say our long-term employees of 15 or 20 years.” VP, Human Resources

Soon, we will be dealing with B2B buyers who work without walls and conduct most of their work digitally. B2B businesses will need to be ready for more digital interaction as the younger end users mature into influencers and decision-makers.  And, being ready also means being ready for end-users, influencers, and decision-makers who make spontaneous searches for information with mobile devices.

Meaningful Information

B2B buyers want more meaningful information. The content marketing blitz of the last few years is having an impact.  And, it may not all be positive either.  Among influencers and decision-makers, the need as well as want for information is important. However, information lacking meaning creates frustration:

“I am bombarded with information and promotions daily. To the point you just have to ignore it. For some of the vendors we use, I have gotten into the habit of just deleting their emails automatically. When I need to know something I will just ask.”   VP, Operations

In 2014, I posed the question of: are you marketing content or are you content marketing? This is still a valid question heading into 2015.

Do Not Like Hurdles

What emerged out of these qualitative buyer interviews is B2B buyers want for meaningful information upfront and without having to jump hurdles. Part of B2B DNA over the last few decades has been to “reel” in the buyer slowly. Where it is presumed a stage-by-stage occurrence takes place each and every time. Where B2B buying behavior is heading is a demand for more openness and transparency – upfront. Here is some base level insight into this phenomenon:

“You know what I get sick and tired of? Either when I visit their web site or call, I feel like I have to go through an interrogation each time. To get the information I am looking for, I always have to fill out a form or answer a series of questions. Don’t they realize what a turn-off this is?” Senior Director, Integrated Services

What this and other types of statements indicate is B2B buyers are saying – stop making access to information like the 400 meters hurdles in track races.

Buying Processes and Buyer’s Journey Are Collapsing

B2B marketing and sales are fixated on processes, stages, and journeys. It provides a neat way to compartmentalize questions, sales approaches, and content. In the modern digital economy, these approaches are collapsing rapidly. The interesting B2B buyer behavior development is we have more people involved in complex B2B buying yet it is done in a flatter networked environment. Here is a snippet to provide a sense of what this means:

“We used to have this very complicated process before. We would have committees, forms, and dog and pony shows. Now, no one has time for that. We are all networked with shareable files and people can get their say in quickly. Obviously for very significant purchases, like $2 million, there is going to be due diligence and what not.   But, for the most part, we’ve tried to make purchasing networked and efficient.” VP, Supply Chain Management

B2B buying behavior is moving away from process-oriented buying to networked-oriented buying. Whereby B2B organizations are moving from committee-based decisions to networked-based decisions. This is a huge development, which will ultimately radically reshape current thinking in B2B Marketing and Sales.

What This All Means

One way we can summarize these buying behavior trends is through the term – networked collaboration. The B2B world is moving from a world of “us” and “them” to a world of “we together.” B2B marketing and selling organizations will need to adapt to new expectations of less hurdles, more transparency, networked interactions, and collaborative environments.

Not adapting to these new expectations could very well mean B2B companies can find themselves referred to as “them” instead of “we” – and that could be quite a lonely place.

(One of the dynamics B2B will be faced with is the changing dynamics of how work gets done.  Here is an entertaining video featuring Jason Fried, Co-Founder and President of 37Signals, on why we need to think differently about work in the 21st century.  Enjoy!)

5 COMMENTS

  1. The convenience of the company overtakes the convenience of the customer. Companies do what is important to them not the customer (unless these coincide). Efficiency and costs overtake the customer needs. So what if the journey is longer,
    No wonder some customers are reacting negativley

  2. Networked collaboration is an important evolving concept. In the b2b customer world, this trend suggests that there will be more reaching out, for relevant content and reinforcing perspectives, when decision-making takes place. It also indicates, to me at least, that there will be more opportunity to create customer advocacy behavior within b2b: http://customerthink.com/business-to-business-customer-advocacy-is-it-a-real-possibility-or-a-real-oxymoron/

  3. Gautam and Michael – thank you for your comments. Gautam – yes sometimes companies do what is convenient at the expense of customer convenience. Michael, I agree networked collaboration will be an evolving and important concept – and agree there will be a need for reinforcing perspectives and customer advocacy. Thanks! Tony

  4. Tony: some of these findings are revealing, and I like that you have supported them with real-world quotes. But when you write ‘information lacking meaning creates frustration,’ – hasn’t this always been the case in corporate communication, let alone, in any communication? Sometimes, I think that people take basic human behaviors and, under the digital umbrella, package them as something new or emerging.

    Also, I am confused on another matter about the buyer’s journey collapsing, and becoming less bureaucratic. Your points make sense, but when I hold that idea up to another commonly-shared observation that ‘buyers are more risk averse than ever,’ these seem contradictory, or at least, incongruent. What are your thoughts?

    One other question – when you describe ‘influencers’ and ‘decision makers,’ are these attributes which people have assigned to themselves, or which others have assigned to them. I have found from reading past research studies, that there are often significant differences because people are prone to misrepresenting their power and influence.

  5. Hi Andy,

    I always appreciate your great questions!

    The point about information lacking meaning comes more from the idea the marketplaces have been flooded with content – as if the purpose was to just get digital content out there. My point is the content marketing blitz of the past few years has amplified the exact point you make – poor communications will come back to bite you.

    Note the idea of buyer journey’s collapsing doesn’t make it less efficient or make it less risk averse. What it does is make buying more efficient and easier to assess risk. Note the quote with sharable files – they are sharing information and being more efficient by being what – less bureaucratic and using networked collaboration to reach decisions faster.

    Regarding the terms influencers and decision-makers – I used those in reference to the study as well as to point out the natural order of people maturing. My sense is as the digitally savvy users mature into decision-makers – buying as we know it today will change. I included the video because the very concept of how people work will undoubtedly change as well.

    Always good dialogue with Andy – many thanks!

    Tony

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