It used to be that the B2B buying journey was a specific, well-defined path set by marketers. But now, many buyers are ignoring the “road signs” to choose their own journey. Some may still go along the paved path, but others are cutting through side trails or stepping out into the woods by themselves. Buyer behavior is changing, and in fact, the entire B2B customer journey has been undergoing a transformation. So how do you adjust?
Recently I came across a Marketing Profs article that offers ideas on how marketers can align with the self-directed buying journey. But first, it’s important to understand some of the reasons driving this shift. A recent Forrester report points to four major factors:
- Access to Information: With more information available online than ever before, buyers have more control to choose a self-directed journey. Marketing Profs makes the point that by the time buyers “actually engage directly with a prospective vendor, they already have a strong sense of what they want.”
- Buyer Demographics: As a whole, business leaders have been talking about how to work with millennials for years, but now this generation isn’t just researching and supporting marketing teams – they’re the ones making decisions.
- Elevated Consumer Experiences: B2B buyers have grown to expect the high level of personalization and ease found in consumer purchases in their B2B buying journey as well.
- Lack of In-Person Events: Industry events have traditionally been the time and place to establish and grow business relationships. But with most major in-person events on hold due to the pandemic, those connections aren’t being built and must be forged another way.
With those reasons in mind, here are four of my insights on how the buyer journey is shifting and what marketers should be doing in response.
- This isn’t brand new, it’s just more pronounced. A shift to the self-directed journey has been happening for years, but it has been amplified in recent months by the ongoing pandemic. In many ways it’s reached a tipping point: if marketers don’t jump on, they’ll risk being left behind. Looking to the future, even as in-person events return, sales and marketing teams need to recognize that today’s buying journey is a digital-first experience and they must adjust accordingly to stay relevant.
- Buyers may be self-directed, but they still want support. Instead of someone trying to persuade them, buyers are looking for an “equal partner,” according to Forrester. The report indicates it’s no longer about convincing a buyer to buy, but rather, helping them buy. “With ready access to much of the information they need to make purchase decisions, they expect transparency, expediency, and partnership,” Forrester says.
- It’s good to know the what, but better to know the why. Your prospects have already demonstrated some level of interest, but why are they interested in your product or solution? This is where intent data can come into play and make a huge impact. Buyer intent signals indicate that a prospect may be ready to buy your solution or a similar one. The article points out that how people search for a solution says a lot about their needs. What were the search terms used that brought them to your site? Do they value reliability, speed, service, price, or another factor? Marketers can then use that insight to deliver even more personalized campaigns and content that speaks to those values.
- Anticipate needs. B2B marketers should aim to understand what their buyers want now, and what they may want next. The article mentions how consumer brands have set the bar for all buyers, and how “deep customer understanding not only improves existing customer relationships but also enables companies to understand what customers… will need next.” This is especially important as the Forrester report says that buyers are looking for experiences that are “open, connected and intuitive” – similar to many consumer purchases.
The bottom line is, the buyer journey is changing and so are buying relationships. Marketing and sales teams aren’t in control and can’t determine the path. Instead, marketers should align with where buyers are heading and start walking beside them as a partner with valuable resources.
How is your company aligning with your buyers’ and their needs?
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