Three Buyer Insights To Consider When Engaging B2B Buyers In A COVID-19 World

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Tony Zambito

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Accelerant.  A word we are beginning to hear and see more often.  It is being used to describe the effects of COVID-19 in shaping B2B buyer behaviors.  Pre-pandemic, it was expected buyer behavior trends may evolve over a five to ten-year period.  Now, buying behavioral trends have been lit with lighter fluid as the coronavirus pandemic shocks business commerce.  Accelerating trends down to months to two-years.

“As Covid-19 impacts every aspect of our work and life, we’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.”  Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO

Insights Into Three Buying Behaviors Impacted By COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic is impacting three buying behaviors.  Acting as an accelerant to trends that were well underway before the pandemic.  The three are:

  1. Expansion of online research accelerates
  2. Speeding up of buying processes
  3. More responsive interactions

In our Center For Buyer Insights ongoing Buyer Outlook Insights study, we have been interviewing buyers qualitatively.  Gaining insight into how buyer behavior is changing.  The three buyer insights are notable.  Let us take a brief yet a closer look at each.

Expansion To Online Research Accelerates

It should come as no surprise that B2B buyers are taking their initial research on products and services online.  That trend has been accelerating and no doubt COVID-19 has driven oft-quoted percentages from various surveys upwards.  Whereby approximately 70% or more of buyers start their research online.  It is possible this has moved to 80% To 85%.  What is different, qualitatively, is buyers appear to be expanding their online research further into the purchase decision process.  A qualitative research data point:

“Now that I’ve been working from home the past few months, I have more time when I am researching solutions.  Admittedly, I would take it to a certain point and call a rep to get some quick answers.  Nowadays, I just keep going with the research.  Looking for reviews and such.” – Ted, VP Logistics Operations

This is an indication that B2B buyers are looking to complete more of their research, consideration, and evaluation online.  In essence, more of a seller-free experience that goes beyond just researching for information and potential solutions. 

Speeding Up Of Buying Processes

Digital and virtual technology capabilities are being adopted at an accelerated pace due to COVID-19.  Cementing the movement of many types of professional corporate jobs that can be performed exclusively at home.  The effect is that certain types of decision processes can be made quicker.  Not necessarily omitting parts of processes but getting them done faster.  A case in point:

“The interesting thing is that we can get to some of the things we need to do quicker.  I usually need to work through a large purchase with several people.  When we were in the office, it was hard to schedule meetings when everyone was available.  It has become easier using WebEx to get online and review quickly and more importantly, get oks quickly.”  – George, Senior Director of Operations. 

While internal purchasing or buying processes amongst buying teams may be speeding up, it may not easily translate to shorter sales cycles.  What this can indicate is that B2B businesses will need to enable buyers to have what they need when they interact with buying teams.  And, they will need it sooner.

More Responsive Interactions

We see with the two buyer insights above, B2B buyers are expanding their research and speeding up their buying processes. These will mean their interactions with businesses will need to be more responsive.  Including more user-friendly experiences.  The COVID-19 pandemic is making flaws and shortcomings in interaction capabilities more visible.  An example:

“My experience with one hasn’t been very good.  Surprised actually.  I can’t seem to get the information I need.  Like if something is available or not.  Or, if it is available, when can I expect it?  A bit frustrating.”  – Janet, Head of Quality Assurance

Steps B2B Businesses Can Take

With such buyer insights as mentioned above, B2B sales and marketing leaders can better engage with their buyers.  The coronavirus pandemic adds challenges making 2020 and 2021 unique.  Here are four steps you can take to meet these challenges head-on:

  1. Gain additional buyer insights on how B2B buyers are performing research and expanding what they seek.  If you have not yet, this is a good time to get started with buyer research reset your overall buyer strategies.  Gathering insights into how buyers’ goals and behaviors have changed is a must.
  2. Get your teams on the same page with common views of your buyers, the channels they pursue, and the buyer journey they embark on.  Refresh existing buyer personas and journeys to help teams better serve buyers.
  3. Armed with buyer insights, get in tune, and in alignment with your buyer’s buying processes.  Be ready to respond to various parts of their buying processes speeding up due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  4. Take a hard look at how your B2B business is engaging with buyers.  Are you making it hard for them?  Embrace Buyer Interaction Design (BxD) to look at your interactions by marketing, sales, support, and service. 

With these four steps, B2B businesses can help to create better buying experiences during one of the most challenging times in B2B Commerce history.