The Coming Era Of The Self-Qualified B2B Buyer

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Tony Zambito

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B2B buyers are about to enter new territory.  Giving B2B CMO’s and CSO’s new challenges as they strive to keep pace with evolving buying behaviors.  The “always on” nature of consumerism has bled over to B2B.  Unleashing a new powerful element in the ongoing buyer revolution.

We are about to enter an era of the self-qualified B2B buyer.

The 3 Phases Of The Buyer Revolution

If we look back at what has been taking place, we find a habitual form of B2B buying power as a result of new digital technologies.  This means B2B buyers also want to fulfill desires to translate consumer power into buyer power.  To understand where such evolution is headed, one must look at where it originated.

The coming era represents a third phase of B2B buying behavior transformation, which is challenging all traditional thinking about marketing and sales.  Buying behavior began to change with the advent of the Internet and introduced the first shift we can call:

The Self-Directed Buyer:  In the early to mid-part of the new decade of the 2000’s, we began to see an awakening among buyers.  The ability to research information about products, services, and solutions began to change the sole reliance on a company’s sales department.  Providing B2B buyers with a new sense of empowerment to conduct basic research and gather information.

The second phase embodied a more pronounced shift in buying behavior.  One I began to see more and more in qualitative buyer interviews.  More advanced web capabilities and the rise of social media ushered in a phase we can call:

The Self-Informed Buyer:  The financial crisis of 2008 and the rise of social media in the past few years combined to create a powerful shift in buying behavior.  Newly empowered B2B buyers no longer found it sufficient to just research.  With new rules of buying in place and wider availability of information, B2B buyers began to have expectations to be more informed.  Buying teams with tighter constraints due to the financial crisis raised their level of expectations.   They wanted to be better informed in making smart decisions about products, services, and solutions.  Stakes were higher and dollars limited.

The coming era will introduce more dramatic shifts in buying behaviors.  Recent qualitative buyer interviews indicate buyers are eager to adopt more decisive behaviors, which are found in the consumer world.  Increased analytics and modeling tools are leading to a phase we can call:

The Self-Qualified Buyer:  As we see the increase in analytics and modeling tools combined with consumer-like user reviews for B2B products or services, B2B buyers are now focus on making qualified decisions.  Buying behavior is shifting towards desires to make both quantifiable as well as qualified decisions about the fit of an organization.   B2B buyers not only want to be more informed, but also now are increasing expectations to make qualified decisions about a B2B company’s ability to fit into theirs.  And, by fit, we must view this word holistically.  As B2B buyers become more informed about products and services, the focus is shifting towards supporting their future goals.  Here is a sampling for you:

“Once we determined the product was what we were looking for and appeared to fit our needs, we began to look into the company.  We wanted to know more about the long-term if you will.  Looking into what people had to say about their experience with them and their ability to perform.”  Senior Director, Enterprise Business Intelligence

More Than Informing

What will this mean to marketing and sales for B2B companies in the near future?  For decades, the focus has been on qualifying buyers.  Giving little thought to how buyers may actually be doing the qualifying themselves.  This era is coming.  B2B organizations will need to think about how to enable B2B buyers to qualify their organization for being the right fit.  It will mean moving beyond the idea of offering compelling information to that of demonstrating fit.   Here are suggestions on how CMO’s and CSO’s can adapt to this coming era:

Gain insight into situational context.  While over the years, traditional sales and product management has focused on buying criteria, this will need to change.  It will be important for B2B organizations to have deep insights into the situational context, or scenarios, by which buyers are seeking fit.

Focus on brand experience.  Closely related to overall fit, is the notion of a holistic brand experience.  B2B buyers are looking for a reflection of brand experience as experienced by others.  Seeking reviews from peers and through social media channels.  Qualifying companies, when products or services differences are viewed as minimal, based on organizational values, which fit theirs and can contribute to their growth.

Remove qualification barriers.  Oftentimes, in offering compelling information, it can still lack in giving B2B buyers the ability to make qualification decisions on fit.  This can be related to both products and organization information.  B2B companies will need to reexamine whether they truly give their customers and prospect buyers the ability to make an assessment on fit.

Provide analytics, modeling tools, and reviews.  Where it is appropriate, enable buyers to experience what they normally may at the consumer level.  Offer analytics and modeling tools designed to give B2B buyers the power to make an assessment and to see how your organization qualifies.  Support with user reviews, the good and the bad.   Allowing for an open and transparent reflection of experience.

Future Forward

Buying behavior shifts continue to take place as buyers discover new avenues of empowerment.  This coming era will unfold during the next year and beyond.  B2B companies today must look to the future on how to embrace new B2B buying dynamics focused on qualification.  Helping the new Self-Qualified B2B Buyer to make decisions about the fit of your organization.

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5 thoughts on “The Coming Era Of The Self-Qualified B2B Buyer”

  1. Pingback: Why B2B Should Invest In Branding

  2. Tony – I love your framework. We’ve heard a lot about how B2B buyers are completing a higher proportion of the purchasing process before contacting a vendor, but you bring a nice framework to the evolution that we’re witnessing.

    1. Hello Vinay,

      Thank you kindly for commenting. And, I like what is happening with TrustRadius, which is fostering the evolution in the area of peer and user reviews. This movement will continue to grow and will undoubtedly cause of a ripple effect in terms of changing buying behaviors. We should certainly connect as well!

      Many thanks,

  3. Tony, I agree that the power is shifting to the “self-directed, self-informed, and self-qualified” B2B buyer. Seems like enterprise buyers are now expecting to buy more like they do in their consumer lives. We recently shared some similar thoughts on changes in B2B buying in Wired

    1. Hello Godard,

      Thanks for the comment. It is true – more and more consumer like buying behaviors are entering the B2B world. Your wired article also highlights these trend about what buyers expect from software. The work you are doing at G2 Crowd certainly helps foster B2B enablement to engage in consumer like reviews. Thanks again!

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