Understanding the new breed of B2B buyer

It’s not earth-shattering news but it’s worth repeating: B2B buyers, and the personal habits they bring to purchasing, have changed dramatically over the past decade.

Some of the most relevant characteristics of the modern B2B buyer:

Very involved in the buying process

According to Pew Research, more than one-in-three labor force participants is now a digitally-native millennial, making them the largest generation in the US workforce. With large numbers come increased sway in purchasing decisions, as evidenced by a report from Merit which indicates that 73% of millennials reported being involved in purchasing decisions for their companies, with approximately one-third being the sole decision-makers.

Doing their own research online

B2B buyers are now accustomed to evaluating products and services through extensive independent research and analysis before ever contacting a sales rep or vendor. According to a 2018 CSO Insight buyer preference study, 70% of buyers contact a salesperson further along the customer journey, after having done their own online searches. These searches can begin with visiting a vendor's website and peer review sites, but less and less frequently do they begin by reaching out to a salesperson.

Less trusting and more skeptical of sales reps

With so much information being searched independently, and a wider swath of applicable data being available online to buyers, the expertise of the sales rep isn’t leaned on as early, or as often as it once was. This may be tough news to swallow, but it has to be taken in stride. The reality is, buyers' trust is harder to gain today, and the general weariness of sales material makes it more difficult to connect with buyers. In Salesforce’s 2019 Connected Customer Report 54 percent of survey respondents claimed it’s harder for companies to earn their trust than ever before, and 73 percent said that companies’ trustworthiness matters more than it did a year ago. But a disconnect still exists. A 2019 TrustRadius report reinforced this divide when 87% of vendors claimed to be transparent about their products’ limitations, and yet only 37% of buyers agreed.

Less patience and higher expectations

A deluge of content has stuffed the internet to the gills with things to look at and watch, raising customer expectations for what content — and the buying experience — can and should be. A higher bar in B2B expectations isn’t just from B2B content but from innovations in predictive and interactive customer experiences mainstreamed by powerful platforms such as Netflix, Amazon, and Spotify. According to Salesforces 2019 Connected Customer Report, 84% of customers say the experience a company offers is as important as its products and services, while 73% report that one extraordinary experience raises their expectations for other companies. As the buying experience has become less static and more bespoke in other areas of commerce, B2B buyers — a majority of whom are millennials — expect the same level of experience in their own buying journey. According to a 2019 DemandBase survey, 97% of buyers said that it was important that vendor websites have relevant content speaking directly to their company's needs.

Factor in that the average attention span sits around 8 seconds, and you have a B2B buyer with extreme confidence and comfort in their own ability to find information online, whose standards are raised, with a limited window of time to be reached.

B2B marketers facing a seemingly endless barrage of challenges are not without the resources and ideas needed to respond to the evolving needs of their customers. And it starts with rethinking how the content they use to engage with buyers is created, delivered, and optimized for success.

Up next:

Chapter 2: Strategic content that boosts buyer enablement