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 buying duties distributed throughout a department or, possibly, an entire organization. Business buying looks very different in 2017 compared to even 5 or 10 years ago.
With these changes to the buying process come new challenges and opportunities for marketers. Marketers must adapt their processes to align with prospective buyers’ new and evolving needs.
What changed in B2B buying?
The first defining characteristic of today’s B2B purchases is group buying. Where a lone executive or department head traditionally drove purchases, they are now driven by consensus among 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 Demand Gen Survey Report study, 69% indicated their budgets will increase between 1% and 20%.
In addition to larger groups of buyers, the other major characteristic of business purchases is an increase 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 want to avoid the pressure or expectations of contacting a sales rep. They choose to move 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, marketing aimed 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 buying team member is captured and convinced, you rely on their advocacy ability. 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 as possible. The more buyers are aware of your offering and are considering it, the larger the footprint it has in group discussions.
To reach diverse buying group members, 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 activity level. 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 before capture and to all the other engagement activities at a given domain. Brands can 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 your brand may not have yet reached. In a recent blog post, Sirius Decisions said, “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 helps organizations determine where to aim their outbound marketing efforts.”
The modern buying process has created a need for engagement data outside form completions. Users do too much independent research to ignore the activities before identifying with a brand. In addition, growing buying groups means it’s critical to pool this information at the domain level.
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. Get your copy now to learn more about applying engagement information at your company.