When your company sets out to make an important purchase, what’s the process? Who determines the need? Who sets the budget? Who compares alternatives? Who decides the purchase timeframe? Who makes the final decision?
Chances are, you named a handful of different people in answering these questions. For example, your immediate boss might determine the need, the executive in charge of the department might set the budget, and you might be tasked with comparing alternatives.
It’s common to have these sort of buying duties distributed throughout a department or, possibly, an entire organization. Business buying looks very different in 2017 compared to that of even 5 or 10 years ago.
With these changes to the buying process come new challenges and opportunities for marketers. It’s imperative that marketers adapt their processes to align with the new and evolving needs of their prospective buyers.
What changed in B2B buying?
The first defining characteristic of today’s B2B purchases is group buying. Where purchases were traditionally driven by a lone executive or department head, they are now driven by consensus among a group of stakeholders. A study by CEB/Motista found the average B2B buying group now includes 5.4 people.
As companies continue to value the varied perspectives of group buying, the size of buying groups will only grow. According to a study by Demand Gen Survey Report, nearly half (45%) of the B2B buyers surveyed said the number of team members involved in the purchase process increased in the past year.
In addition to larger groups of buyers, the other major characteristic of business purchases is an increased in self-education. The classic sales and marketing approach emphasizes establishing contact with a key decision-maker early on and guiding them through the entire buying process to the ultimate sale. As content marketing has compelled brands to offer more in-depth content and tools, buyers have answered by collecting this information and guiding their own buying experience.
Many buyers simply want to avoid the pressure or expectations that come with contacting a sales rep. They are choosing to move further and further through the buying process without ever revealing themselves. In a study by Demand Metric, 53% of respondents said they reveal themselves when they are midway (after they have a short-list of solutions) through the buying process. Another 22% said they don’t reveal themselves until late in their process (when they’re ready to buy).
What does it mean for marketers?
Naturally, changes in buying come with changes in the appropriate way to sell and market. Both group buying and the trend toward self-education carry implications for marketing departments.
When purchases were driven by a lone decision-maker, the goal of marketing was to capture and develop a contact with the appropriate qualifications. We often hear the terminology BANT, standing for Budget, Authority, Need, and Time frame. The idea is that someone who meets all of those criteria has the power to drive a purchase.
As group buying takes hold, the idea of a single buyer driving the purchase has become less and less relevant. Even if one member of the buying team is captured and convinced, you’re relying on their ability to advocate on your behalf. As the buying group grows, the relative impact of each member on the purchase decision drops.
A more feasible way to influence a buying group is to seek out as many members of the buying group as possible. The more buyers who are aware of your offering and are considering it, the larger the footprint it has in group discussions.
With the goal of reaching diverse members of a buying group, enabling self-education becomes highly important. Marketers need to offer content that suits the variety of personas that make up a typical buying group. This mix of content must balance gated and ungated, high-level and in-depth, text and visual, static and interactive, and cover each stage of the purchase process.
The challenge for marketers is not only to understand the composition of buying groups and provide appropriate content but to tie together content interactions of the group as a whole and determine a composite level of activity. This becomes doubly hard when you consider that members of the buying group will share information, browse anonymously, and otherwise avoid identifying themselves individually.
What can we do?
The key to capturing a realistic picture of the buying group is tying the form completions to the self-education that occurs prior to capture and to all the other engagement activities at a given domain. Brands are able to create individualized histories of engagement for each visitor based on IP address or another unique identifier, then marry that information to the contact information collected through a form completion. Likewise, these histories can be rolled up by domain or location to find active groups.
Third-party engagement data adds another interesting dimension. Looking at domain-level interest across industries can spot active buying groups that your brand may not have reached yet. In a recent blog post, Sirius Decisions said on the topic, “Third-party intent data can help determine which demand units not only are in a ‘shopping’ mode, but also have experienced an identifiable event that means they could be in the market. This data then helps organizations determine where to aim their outbound marketing efforts.”
The modern buying process has created a need for engagement data outside of form completions. Users are simply doing too much independent research to ignore the activities taken before they identify themselves to a brand. In addition, growing buying groups mean it’s critical to pool this information at the domain level. How Engagement Data Can Help Realign Marketing and Buying Processes
In HIPB2B’s new white paper, The Demand Marketer’s Introduction to Early Engagement, we explore engagement data, the factors that enable it, and its applications in today’s businesses. To find out more about applying engagement information at your company, get your copy now.