The New B2B Buyer And The Collaborative Economy

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Tony Zambito

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b2b buyerIn the post-WW II decades through the 1990’s – and for many into the 2000’s, the business and world economy was focused on the mass “push-down” economic model. In simplistic terms, B2B was predicated on mass production and how many mass-produced products can be sold through marketing, sales, and distribution. Fortunes rose or fell based on whether B2B organizations were caught with inventory bloat or inability to meet demand. The post-WW II decade’s spawned market research, sales effectiveness, marketing communications, “push-down” hierarchal organization models, and more. All intended to “push-down” harder and faster than any other competitive organization.

Fifteen years into the new century, we have seen more changes occurring than in all the post-WW II sixty-five years leading up to the year 2000. Progressive as well as innovative B2B organizations are changing.   B2B buyers are changing as well. The old “push-down” models are no longer working. Giving way to new models revolving around sharing, collaboration, and networked capabilities. The implications for B2B marketing and organizations is they must relearn what it means to connect with B2B buyers.

The Old Ways Are Simply Not Working

An ongoing theme over the past few years has been the issue of ineffectiveness. Ineffectiveness runs rampantly in sales and content marketing. Ineffectiveness itself, as an issue, has spawned a cottage sub-economy of services, technologies, and consultants based on remedying ineffectiveness. We have seen this with the hyper growth of content marketing. Where, despite the hyper growth, survey after survey shows continued dissatisfaction. With satisfied effectiveness struggling to breakthrough thirty-eight percent.

My observations are based on a few hundred qualitative buyer interviews over the past few years. What is evident is the old ways are simply not working. When we look at the issue of ineffectiveness, there is an important factor many companies can be failing to realize. It is this: while companies adopt new tactics such as content marketing, they do so with old “push-down” frameworks and understanding of their B2B buyers.

We can generalize safely around this idea – B2B organizations that have grasped this profound dilemma and have adopted are succeeding while those who have yet to – are struggling.

The New B2B Buyer

With the old ways simply not working, we are beginning to see a new B2B Buyer emerge. There are several characteristics, after looking back at in-depth qualitative buyer interviews over the past few years, which are beginning to surface about the new B2B Buyer:

  • Work is done in a pervasive networked environment
  • Value is placed on sharing, not hoarding information
  • Disdain and have a workaround for content and information overload
  • Have a high degree of need for personalization and customization
  • Personal goal-directed behaviors are more pronounced
  • Networked collaboration capabilities are sought from vendors and partners
  • Prefer working in flatter organizations versus rigid hierarchal organizations
  • Use digital technology to be as virtual as possible and everywhere as possible
  • Buying decisions are made in networked collaborative circles, not according to a rigid process or journeys

As you can see with the above characteristics, a new B2B Buyer is emerging out of the thrashing and chaos, which followed the economic downturn beginning in 2008.  The rise in networked and social technologies over the past five years is certainly an underlying engine making these new B2B Buyer behaviors possible.

The Right Buyer Personas Matter

One of the pressing challenges for B2B marketing, sales, and strategy leaders is to figure out how to make their organizations fit for the 21st century and the new B2B Buyer. What separates this moment in time from those of the earlier decades following post-WW II is there is little room for trial and error. Getting it right the first time is critical for one wrong move can open the door for competitors to get a foothold, which will be hard to budge.

B2B companies have begun to look towards buyer persona development as one of the means to help them understand the new B2B Buyer and to inform how best to adapt. What matters now is for them to know they have the right buyer personas. The dizzying amount of content and consultants claiming buyer persona expertise is bound to cause confusion and disillusionment.

Buyer personas arose out of the need to have a sound methodology, rooted in design, to uncover new buying and thinking behaviors. Thus, allowing organizations the ability to make informed decisions on how to formulate marketing and selling strategies as well as to adapt to a changing world. Dismaying is the number of articles, trainings, research reports, and conference presentations, which continue to force-fit buyer personas into the old paradigms of the B2B buyer profile. Amounting to a profiling of older albeit fading perceptions of the B2B buyer most often found in product marketing and sales.

The new B2B Buyer is developing a new way of thinking, different terminologies, new languages, and comprises an altogether different way of working. Yet, companies are still rooted in profiling buyers, under the guise of buyer personas, in the old product marketing and sales language of pain points, buying criteria, (KSF’s) key success factors, (KPI’s) key performance indicators, risks, and buying processes. What B2B leaders must guard against is having a buyer persona of their B2B buyer who very well fits the profiling mold of a 1980’s product marketing or sales playbook.  Instead, B2B organizations can have a determined focus on deeply understanding the new narrative stories of their customers and buyers.

Which Economy Are You Prepared For?

The collaborative economy, sometimes referred to as the sharing as well as the networked economy, will continue to expand and strengthen throughout the rest of this present decade. In five years, the new B2B Buyer will be more commonplace and most likely only a resemblance of where they are today.

What B2B companies must wrestle with is this: do they continue to operate in the receding “push-down” economy or do they embrace the future of a collaborative economy?  Understanding the difference between the two and making the right choice – will be the difference between longevity and struggle.

As many readers and followers know, one of my favorite thinkers in the world is business thinker and futurist Don Tapscott. In this captivating video, he talks about how the collaborative economy is fundamentally changing business and the world as we know it:

Please share and support the collaborative economy.