B2B buyers are changing, creating some new challenges for entrepreneurs who sell to them. The sales cycle is lengthening, the number of people involved in purchasing is rising, and their expectations for salespeople are increasing.
Demand Gen Report’s latest B2B Buyer’s Survey has some valuable insights into how to sell to B2B buyers.
There are more people involved in the B2B buying process.
Some 79% of survey respondents say there are between one and six people involved in the purchase process at their companies, and 44% have formal buying groups or committees to review purchases. The more people you’re selling to, of course, the harder it is to sell them on your product or service. But even within a group of buyers, some people’s opinions carry more weight than others.
Use social media, online research, and real-world connections to get as much intelligence as you can about the individuals involved in the buying process at each company. The more you can find out about each individual’s demographics (age, seniority, job title) and psychology (pain points, goals, attitudes), the better you’ll understand what matters most to them, both during the sales process and in terms of the actual product or service. Once you’ve determined the most influential buyers in the group, you can work to help them make the case for buying your product or service to the rest of the team.
B2B sales cycles are longer…
More than six in 10 (61%) of B2B buyers say the length of their sales cycles has increased since last year. Perhaps that’s because 45% are spending more time researching purchases than last year; 45% are using more sources to research and evaluate purchases (45%); and 41% are conducting a more detailed ROI analysis before making final decisions.
Since B2B buyers now do much of their initial research online, without ever consulting a salesperson, you should create content tailored to each type of buyer and each stage of the decision-making process. Employees in different roles will seek different information—for example, a CFO will be most concerned about cost, while a CIO will care more about technology. In addition, each person has preferences for the way they consume information. Older buyers may want white papers they can print out and read at leisure, while younger buyers may prefer videos.
…but you still need to move quickly.
A longer sales cycles doesn’t mean your sales team can sit back and relax. Survey respondents say most of the research, outreach, and evaluation involved in making a decision takes place in the first three months of the sales cycle. And 41% of B2B buyers say their companies frequently accelerate purchases or put them on hold based on changing business needs and priorities.
Two-thirds of B2B buyers say the timeliness of a vendor’s response to inquiries is a deciding factor in the purchasing decision. The lesson? No matter what your prospective customers are doing, salespeople need to be quick on their feet with messaging and content tailored to the specific buyer’s needs, industry, and challenges.
B2B buyers use social media to shop
B2B buyers are increasingly shopping like consumers. When researching vendors and solutions, 65% say they are relying more on peer recommendations and review sites than last year, while 54% are relying more on social media. LinkedIn is the most influential social media channel, used by 52% of respondents to learn about solutions, while 42% use blogs. Buyers use social media to browse existing discussions and learn more about a topic, ask for suggestions and recommendations from other users, reach out to individual thought leaders to get their opinions, and connect directly with potential vendors.
Being proactive on social media will give your business a competitive edge. Listen to conversations, answer questions, and share thought leadership. Offering help will show you’re accessible and create a channel of communication. You should also create social media-specific content by sharing customer reviews or posting online videos of customer success stories.
B2B buyers want to be understood
B2B buyers expect salespeople to be informed about their needs and concerns before ever making contact. 64% of respondents say one of the most important factors in choosing vendors is a sales team that demonstrates knowledge of their company and has insights into their problems, while 62% wanted salespeople to demonstrate experience with or knowledge of their industry.
These days, there’s no excuse for not knowing what your prospective customer's pain points, needs, and concerns are. Information is widely available online and on social media. Don’t call them and expect them to tell you what they need; do your homework and find out. Then share ideas and thought leadership with them. Showing that you have a firm grasp of their industries, their competition, and the needs of their businesses will position you as a valuable ally, not just someone with something to sell.
Offer the information they need
Instead of wading through reams of information, B2B buyers want vendors to share relevant content that speaks directly to their needs. This is ranked as “very important” by 76% of respondents in the survey. What do B2B buyers want to see on your website?
Here’s what they say is “very important:”
- Easy access to pricing and competitive information (67%)
- Website that speaks directly to needs of our industry and shows expertise in our area (66%)
- Easy access to content (no long registration forms required) (64%)
- Vendor-focused content, such as case studies and product data sheets (62%)
Keep in mind that with so much information available, buyers can easily become overwhelmed. Once buyers actually make contact with your business, provide guidance by helping them pinpoint what is important to them and suggesting solutions. In particular, be prepared with case studies about businesses similar to theirs who have successfully chosen your product or service, as well as specific demonstrations of ROI.
After the B2B sale
Today’s B2B buyers are looking beyond actually making the purchase. Before they buy, they want to be confident that your business will be there for them after the sale. How easily can they integrate your product or service into their business operations? What type of support do you provide? What happens if there are hiccups along the way? Be ready to show how you will work with the customer to ensure they succeed long after they've signed the contract.