COVID-19 threw organizations into a blender, with significant repercussions for the B2B buyer’s journey.
In a 2020 survey, Gartner found that 60% of marketing technology leaders expected moderate to severe budget cuts. Additionally, 66% of respondents facing a pandemic-related cut to their budgets had delayed purchasing at least one previously approved marketing technology. A year later, those expectations became reality when tech product companies slashed marketing budgets, dropping to 6.4% of company revenue from 11% in 2020.
Budgets weren’t the only things to get blitzed in the years we’ve spent addressing COVID concerns. Turnover also became rampant.
In a 2021 PwC survey, 88% of executives said they experienced higher than normal turnover rates, with 40% of chief marketing officers citing staffing shortages as a major issue. Are you in a new role? A new company? Still uncertain about the business’s future or your workload? Individuals in the client organizations you serve are also feeling the same pressures and going through similar changes.
Furthermore, in 2021, U.S. technical teams saw a 40% increase in employee turnover and a 36% increase in employee burnout. But, it doesn’t stop there. 73% of tech leaders predict 2022 will bring difficulty recruiting technologists and filling open tech positions.
As marketers and buyers navigate this new environment, they are still experiencing a pandemic hangover. Neither marketers nor buyers know what their budgets will look like in the coming months. Even if you are making large purchases now, you may not know if you will still be making those kinds of purchases next year. Your buyers are facing the same uncertainty.
With so much change, do you know if your buyers have remained the same? Do they hold the same degree of power they once did? Or have other personas come to the fore and these new personas are really the ones driving economic decisions?
Your Knowledge of the B2B Buyer’s Journey is Out of Date
As a B2B tech marketer, you may have changed jobs, and in some cases, many of the individuals you serve have too. Plus, the organizations these individuals work for have been through two years of upheaval.
All of this change means that at best a one or two year old understanding of the B2B buyer’s journey is stale. At its worst, an out-of-date view of the buyer’s journey can lead you to make the wrong marketing investments, while at the same time you’re trying to do more with less.
So, where do you start? Your first step in tackling this new B2B buyer’s journey is to check the “born on date” for your understanding of your customers’ buyer’s journey. If it’s before March of 2019, or even before March of 2020, it’s time for an update.
Digital First: A Pandemic Outcome
Once the pandemic forced everyone out of the office, many realized they enjoyed working from home. After being forced to adapt to a digital-first lifestyle, many then began to think that digital should be the default.
Over the last two plus years, many B2B buyers have spent the bulk of their day, week, month, and year immersed in digital interactions. Going digital was quick and convenient. It made it easier for buyers to get information, place orders, and arrange service, even while the pandemic raged.
According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company, 70-80% of B2B decision-makers now prefer remote human interactions or digital self-service tools, and that digital preference isn’t going away. 75% of sellers say remote customer engagement is just as effective or more effective than their engagements before the pandemic.
As a marketer, you probably experience digital interactions more than ever before. But are they smooth enough to make a positive difference? For example, suppose the digital interactions you encounter from a supplier or vendor are seamless. In that case, those interactions will be like fruit blended seamlessly into a smoothie, complementing and strengthening it. Or like boba, it may be something that stands out – surprising and delighting. If the digital interactions you encounter don’t feel intentional, however, it can be a hassle. It can feel like having ice chunks in your smoothie, and nobody likes a poorly blended smoothie!
So how do you ensure your B2B buyer’s journey isn’t filled with icebergs that your buyers have to plow through? How do you know if B2B buyers buy from you but they hate the experience they go through? How do you know if your competitor’s buyer’s journey is better, and is filled with fewer pitfalls? You’ll have to ask.
B2B Buyers Online: No Spending Limit
COVID-19 finally took sellers off the road and made the webcam the default, throwing buyers into the world of 24/7 online sales for purchases of nearly any size. McKinsey & Company found that 70% of B2B decision-makers say they are open to making new, fully self-served, or remote purchases over $50,000, and 27% would spend more than $500,000.
So, if B2B buyers are buying big online, how do you ensure you are the vendor of choice? Meaningful content. Your content should educate, inform, and build trust with the buyer – and don’t be afraid to mix in some personality. According to TrustRadius, 95% of buyers say they are unlikely to respond to non-personalized communications. Take the extra step by developing an emotional connection through compelling stories that demonstrate you understand each buyer’s needs and pain points. So unless you’re planning on pitching your company on SharkTank for a $500,000 dollar investment round, it’s time to build great digital content that supports big-ticket sales.
In 2021, TrustRadius reported that 60% of all B2B buyers are millennials and that millennials are two times more likely to discover products by searching online than older generations. Millennials are the first generation to grow up surrounded by technology. They know their way around the internet. They want to research products for their own, with 87% wanting to self-serve part or all of their buyer’s journey and 57% making purchase decisions without ever contacting a vendor representative.
One growing trend in this area is the use of chatbots. If implemented correctly, chatbots can help smooth out some of the rocky spots in the B2B buyer’s journey. Chatbots respond instantly and can handle increasingly complex queries. They allow for personalized conversations while collecting usable data, such as responses to improve products and optimize your website. Additionally, chatbots let buyers ask targeted questions at any time, without having to wait for a human representative to contact them.
Yet, chatbot implementations aren’t without their potential pitfalls as some recent research we conducted in the space has highlighted. We discovered that chatbot initiatives typically demand specific capabilities that off-the-shelf chatbots do not provide out of the box.
Additionally, many companies cannot create the chatbots they want on their own. Custom-built bots require expert AI/ML skills and specialized teams that can provide support for bots that are in use. Thus, anything beyond a basic chatbot (which requires pre-programmed decision tree hierarchies but cannot interact beyond that) would be difficult for DIY builders and small internal IT teams to build on their own. The message here for B2B companies is clear: chatbots are great, but only if you have the skills to build and maintain them.
B2B Buyer’s Journey: Evolve and Adapt — Or Get Left Behind
If the B2B buyer’s journey is full of ice chunks the size of icebergs, it’s time to start taking them out. It might have to be one at a time, but you can’t just leave it up to your customers to dodge them all. Do that, and they’ll simply find someone else to work with who provides a much smoother journey.
If you don’t know if your customers are facing an iceberg or merely ice cubes, it’s time to ask. Ask customers, prospects, and competitor customers, “Who has the better buyer’s journey?” Ask them what they have to dodge on their way to a purchase, and what is smooth sailing. And finally, conduct your research in an unbiased way so that you can trust the results of any qualitative or quantitative research you undertake.
This blog post is brought to you by Cascade Insights, a firm that provides market research & marketing services exclusively to organizations with B2B tech sector initiatives. Learn more about how we bring insight into your customers’ B2B buyer’s journey here.
Special thanks to Cascade Insights Co-Founder & CEO Sean Campbell and Chief of Staff Philippe Boutros for advising on this piece.