What modern B2B buyers want… and how to deliver it

One of several thought leadership blogs written for strategic B2B marketing agency JPC to maintain engagement with media and clients, and populate their website…

“Yes, studies show how customers’ purchasing criteria are shifting and yes understanding the buyer journey is important, but accepting it and simply servicing it isn’t. It’s the job of sales to disrupt and divert it, introduce new ideas, recognise and overcome bias, and it’s the job of marketing to create the platform and tools to ensure they can achieve this,” says James Mollard – Growth and Strategy Director JPC…

In volatile global business-to-business markets, bombarded by rapidly changing and destabilising social, economic and political conditions – a pandemic, rising inflation and the Russia/Ukraine war to name but three – you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that cost would be king when it comes to companies deciding on suppliers. After all, isn’t it always? Aren’t marketers forever looking to deflect buyers’ attention away from price?

At first glance, this appears to be the case. When buyers were asked by the 2022 B2B Buyer Behaviour Survey recently to choose the top five factors determining their choice of supplier, pricing came first, with 83% of those surveyed including it in their selection.

However, although cost might be the most popular deciding factor, it is not the most important. A second report, B2B Services: Intelligence, Competition and Future by GoodFirms, revealed that when asked what was their BIGGEST influence on choosing a vendor, 30.2% of buyers cited the reputation of a business (both online and offline), while only 18.6% said price. Interestingly, online ratings also topped cost, selected by 20.9% of buyers, which is influenced by product/service quality and the customer experience, both of which determine reputation.

The moment of trust

Is this reflecting that in an uncertain world, trust and reliability is everything? Is it also illustrating that with competition at an all-time high, companies need the best quality products and services, rather than the cheapest, to ensure their offer to customers is as good as it can be? Are B2B customers realising that they are only as good as their suppliers?

More importantly, what does this mean for B2B vendors? Well, for one thing, they need to learn from their B2C counterparts and build a strong brand. And there’s clearly work to be done here, with another recent survey, The State of B2B Brand Building 2022, revealing that less than 30% of B2B marketing budgets go on developing a brand. Of course, this does present a key opportunity for those that act quickly to stand out against their rivals.

Second, with more choice than ever before, buyers are becoming increasingly demanding. Over a third (35.7%) consider a vendor’s knowledge of their company as a selection criterion, with 23.8% looking for detailed knowledge of the solutions vendor’s offer along with a comprehensive understanding of the current business landscape. Just like consumers, more and more buyers also want personalised B2B experiences, craving products that directly cater to their specific needs. Some 59.5% told GoodFirms that personalised experiences are very important.

The impossible choice

This also goes for how vendors communicate. With so many products and services to evaluate, modern buyers crave information to enable them to make the most informed choice. This is backed up by the 2022 B2B Buyer Behaviour Survey, with 84% of buyers stating that content had a positive influence on their buying decision. Beyond this, the top-five reasons that vendors were ultimately chosen include the ability to:

  • Demonstrate a stronger knowledge of our company and its needs (68%)
  • Provide higher-quality content (62%)
  • Demonstrate a stronger knowledge of the solution area and the business landscape (59%)
  • Provide a better mix of content to help us through each stage of our research and decision-making process (59%)
  • Provide content that makes it easier to show ROI and/or build a business case for the purchase (52%)

So, with price consideration less of a priority, B2B businesses are being presented with a golden opportunity to build deeper relationships with their customers by providing key insight, not just into their solutions, but also into their target markets. In fact, one of the top five demands on sales representatives from respondents to the survey was to “open a dialogue rather than pitch”.

The stuff sales dreams are made of

The offer to engage in dialogue should be manna from heaven for every sales team. But the question then arises how best to open the conversation, not to mention when, where and how to deliver all the content that customers are now demanding. And do it better than every other vendor.

Certainly, web content needs to reflect this new requirement, displaying the insight buyers need in an easily accessible way, using a variety of techniques, from blogs (video and written) to infographics to white papers. But to truly spark a valuable dialogue that will build trust, businesses need to go a stage further. Using a highly focused account-based marketing approach, vendors must pinpoint key target customers and formulate a value proposition specifically for each one, around which an engagement strategy is developed.

Then the key stakeholders in each organisation must be identified, with forensic research carried out into their business challenges and personal preferences, such as their communication channel of choice. Content should then be created to illustrate a clear understanding of these challenges and how the vendor can solve them. This should inspire and excite individual stakeholders, and be delivered at the most appropriate time and in the most relevant way. This should also reflect the fact that the number of influencers in a company is growing, with 77% of buying companies revealing that up to six people can be involved in the vendor selection process, according to the 2022 B2B Buyer Behaviour Survey.

Aligning the business around the customer

Developing individual buyer propositions and the appropriate content strategy demands not just aligning sales and marketing teams, but also drawing on expertise from across the business to capture the necessary insight, bringing the whole company together around the customer. What’s more, once dialogue has been initiated, engagement should be continued across the buyer journey, through account-based experiences that guide customers to purchase and beyond, aiding account development and retention by continually adding critical value at every stage. These could be blogs, white papers, workshops or immersive brand experiences that maintain contact, deliver key insight and guidance and ultimately build loyalty.

This approach gives your highest value buyers the attention they deserve and increasingly demand. It will show your commitment to them and prove the business-critical value of your products and services, building trust and loyalty, which are increasingly valuable commodities in a business landscape that will only get more competitive. Partnerships are the future of B2B and this is how you can start to build them. How long will it be before B2B becomes B4B? After all, everyone’s a buyer AND a vendor.

Catch up with more B2B marketing insight. Check out the other through leadership blogs we’ve written with JPC…