This new era looks different for businesses
The era of giving is here. This also applies to the way we define our sales and marketing approach. Sales and marketing professionals should consider these changes. Let’s look at the 3 main areas of change that impact our way of working in businesses:
Trend 1: B2B Buying is like riding a roller coaster
In today’s complex buying journey we are moving away from the idea that one single buyer buys. Instead we should be looking at the entire buying group. At the same time we are moving away from the idea that a single buyer travels the linear buying process from a to b to c, or in other words from awareness to consideration to decision.
Gartner research finds that when B2B buyers are considering a purchase‚ they spend only 17% of that time meeting with potential suppliers. When buyers are comparing multiple suppliers‚ the amount of time spent with any one sales rep may be only 5% or 6%. (Gartner 2019).
Related to the struggle we face to ‘sell’, Gartner research found a different reality altogether. The problem is rooted far less in Sales’ struggles to sell and far more in customers’ struggles to buy.
“B2B buying doesn’t play out in any kind of predictable, linear order. Instead, customers engage in what one might call ‘looping’ across a typical B2B purchase, revisiting each of those six buying jobs at least once.” So here it is, single buyers do not go through every phase of the buyer’s journey in order to make a decision to buy.
When you look at the challenge of sales and marketing from a different angle you’d have to look at ‘buying’. What does a buyer want? Who is involved? How can I help? How can I enable the buyer? We call it buyer enablement.
The complex buying group
So, now we will have to adapt our approach to this new complex buying group. Sad to say, things have become even more complex. And as Ann Handley from Marketingprofs says: “That Millennials are bringing their consumer buying behaviors to their B2B work is not a surprise. What is surprising is that B2B marketers across all generations haven’t woken up yet to the fact that the old B2B marketing playbook is dead — or at the very least, it’s in hospice.”
To summarize the mind shift we have to make:
- a typical buying group in B2B consists of six to ten decision makers and
- we see that Millennials are showing
up in the DMU.
The good news is that we can relate more to the concept of customer experience. We are all consumers after all, and we know how it feels to be helped and to feel supported in buying. In B2B it’s no different, and with more decision makers and more Millennials involved, it brings us to the topic of customer experience.
Trend 2: Effectiveness, ease and emotion
Are the three parameters of the Customer Experience Index that was introduced by Forrester Research many years ago. The Forrester methodology measures how well a brand’s CX strengthens the loyalty of its customers. The brands participating in the survey are not necessarily B2B, but as customer experience is an overarching topic, whether in B2C of B2B, that seems irrelevant for the learnings we take out.
Interestingly enough we see a trend that emotion is the biggest differentiator in 2019 (over ease and effectiveness). As the Forrester report states: “Emotion holds the key to achieving CX differentiation: How an experience makes customers feel has a bigger influence on their loyalty to a brand than effectiveness or ease in every industry.”
Even though this research focusses on B2C companies, when we look at the three layers of ‘need’: at a company level, function level and personal level, we see the same patterns in B2B. For years we have been studying the impact of emotion on buying. Maybe you remember Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman when he outlines two ways we all make decisions:
- System 1 is intuitive, emotional and automatic. It goes on all the time in the subconscious, making value judgements and decisions quickly on gut instinct.
- System 2 is deliberate and logical. It takes longer and requires effort and thought.
And the really interesting part, for B2B marketers, is this: sometimes, when a question is very complex, System 1 quietly takes over – without us even realizing it has happened.
B2B stakeholders can be Millennials
When looking at customer experience from a different perspective, we need to understand that we should focus on making the lives of all the stakeholders in B2B buying easier, and we need to also take into account that stakeholders can be millennials. They want things fast, they are the ‘mobile-first generation’ and they are looking for convenience and loyalty from their suppliers.
According to Gui Costin, author of the book ‘Millennials are not aliens’ 60% of millennials state loyalty to brands they currently purchase from if treated well through customer-centric experience. In general they spend more on comforts and conveniences.
Reviews, word of mouth, conversations are key. Millennials, just like any other B2B buyer, will collect information online before approaching a supplier. Once they meet a supplier they would like to be helped, to be informed: ‘Convince me! How are you going to make my life easier?’ They are looking for suppliers that are easy to do business with.
So, here we are. We have more challenges in the new era of business; the buyer journey has changed and the buying group has changed. What does this mean for the way we should connect with our market? We need to get smarter about how we engage to our buyers and our customers. Quality trumps quantity, now more than ever. Customer experience enablement is built to nurture life-long customers.
Trend 3: Human touch and conversational marketing
The actual personal connection has a different meaning these days. Twenty years ago buyers and suppliers would mostly connect face-to-face. This changed dramatically with the rise of the Internet and e-commerce. The business landscape transformed to a digital landscape and in some areas, e.g. in marketing we haven’t always taken the step to digital in the right way.
By implementing clever e-mail or marketing automation systems we believed that contact and connections can be established by machines only. And, what’s more we have been pushing a lot of messages to our target buyers and customers, whether via email, advertising, and social.
The continued advent of greater privacy regulation around the globe made us think again, e-mail blasts without permission of the recipient, are no longer the way forward. Not from a legal perspective nor from a customer enablement perspective. And actually, what a great relief to see that customer experience is on the agenda finally. Businesses prefer to buy when they feel engaged with their supplier, when the emotion is right. Phew, we are allowed to be human again.
Conversational marketing is about interaction that will lead to growth
This means that we have to reconsider how we truly connect and engage with our buyers. Buyers are people, and people crave genuine human interaction. Online and offline are no longer separate worlds, we can frankly say that everything has become digital. So we have to change our way of working to an omnichannel approach that allows for real conversations with our market on and offline. Conversational marketing is all about interaction between buyers and suppliers that will help growth strategy. This can be with or without human interaction.
Conversational marketing however is not limited to social media and chatbots, there are many ways to connect to your buyers. It’s all about swift and timely communications, as today’s customers expect everything in real time. And last but not least it’s all about being relevant and personal. For B2B marketers it’s important to leverage all internal and external data sources to generate the relevant insights your buyer is actually going to care for.
To conclude: ‘Enablement’ is the magic word
In order to develop business and personal growth in B2B, we should be looking at creating meaningful interactions. As explained in this article prospects and customers in B2B are looking for seamless and fruitful experiences. And, marketing and sales professionals are actually looking for the same. This seems to be a win-win. When taking ‘enablement’ as a starting point, we can focus on business growth by:
- buyer enablement: enabling the buyer in buying,
- customer experience enablement: enabling the customer to have meaningful interactions, and
- sales enablement: enabling your colleagues to achieve better results.