Like a runaway train, B2B buyers continue to evolve and reshape their buying behaviors. Adapting to new channels as well as technologies to solve critical problems, reach goals, and accomplish more. My conversations with B2B marketing and sales leaders indicating it will be tougher for B2B Marketing and Sales to keep pace in both customer acquisition and retention.
After conducting a substantial amount of qualitative research-based buyer interviews in 2013 in several vertical markets, on behalf of B2B organizations, there are trends I see beginning to take root. Trends which suggest buyers are more inclusive, collaborative, and discerning than ever before. New technologies opening up the floodgates on purchase decisions becoming a collective organizational act.
What follows are trends taking shape, some which may gain significant ground in 2014:
1. Increase in user participation for purchasing decisions
Users in 2014 will have a stronger voice in purchase decisions, which directly affects their productivity. More and more, savvy leaders are surveying their users and including their evaluations in making decisions on technologies and platforms. We will also see the emergence of B2B user reviews mimicking those found in consumer marketplaces. Creating a crowdsource means of identifying and narrowing lists of potential vendors and solutions.
2. Swing back to earlier sales interactions for high stakes decisions
As purchasing power increases, after a restrictive 5-year post-recession period, buyers are seeking quality sales interactions to help them make high stakes decisions. While content and information research collection has increased, buyers still, if not more so, value sales professionals interaction. Filling in gaps content alone cannot fulfill. Watch for sales interactions to be brought in earlier into buying processes. What will increase in 2014 is the behavior of challenging vendor sales professionals with requests for detailed plans and expected contributions.
3. Push back on content and information overload
The tsunami of content and information overload experienced the past two years is beginning to draw side effects on buying behavior. Look for more B2B organizations to put formal screening and filtering processes in place when it comes to content consumption and sharing. Concerns about productivity drain as a result of content overload are being voiced. Watch for more delegation with respect to researching and information gathering when it comes to products, services, and solutions.
4. Increase use of analytics to streamline purchases
Watch for companies to begin to use analytics to streamline purchasing and avoid waste. Identifying best practices and predictors of the right level of volume, inventories, and materials needed to operate their businesses. Meaning, in some industries, centralized purchasing will have a stronger presence. Expect further requests for direct integration into supply chain systems.
5. Budget sharing negotiations becomes the norm
A result of the financial meltdown in 2008 was the tighter levels of purchasing approval limits. From frontline to senior management, the range of autonomy on purchasing became smaller. Causing department or division buyers to negotiate the sharing of purchases from each other’s budgets. Expect this practice to become the norm, particularly for high dollar investments. Resulting in wider participation within companies when it comes to making a purchase decision.
6. More purchasing collaboration amongst suppliers and partners
Increasingly, B2B organizations rely on a web of suppliers and partners to deliver products or services to their respective markets. So much so, when it comes to making purchase decisions on supplies or technologies, there are validations steps being taken with suppliers and partners. B2B companies are validating abilities to integrate into other forms of collaborative technologies or calling for the creation of new effective forms.
7. Lower barriers to entry via technology solutions and cost models
New technologies, such as cloud-based applications, are changing the mindset of buyers. They now seek alternative lower cost entry into solutions they seek. Evaluating options, which shift the focus away from large one-time investments to lower costs available via rental or subscription models. Assuaging the strong concern around high stakes hosted premise solutions becoming obsolete in shorter timeframes.
These trends will make 2014 a year of recalibration for B2B marketers and sellers. Calling for adjustments in how to make use of new digital media channels, content strategy, lead development, and sales interactions to attract, nurture, and convert buyers.
What we can be assured of is buying behavior will continue to reshape itself as new business models and technologies advance. The edge for B2B companies in today’s digital business dynamics will be gained by getting to know buyers and customers better than anyone else. It is the one path to making sure the recalibration of B2B marketing and sales is on target in 2014 and beyond.