Consumer shopping habits have changed. The way we buy anything today is drastically different from how we shopped just 20 years ago. It's digital-first, self-serve, and at the click of a button.
Think about the last time you made a big purchase, like buying a car. Buyers are more likely to research online than read a print brochure. Whether they're asking for advice on social media, reading reviews online, or chatting on forums, they consume information away from the historical primary source: the car dealership.
By the time a buyer visits a dealer (if they do at all), they are incredibly knowledgeable about the cars on offer and have likely made their decision before the salesperson could have said a word. Or they are skipping the physical dealership entirely to purchase the car online.
The same goes for B2B.
Everywhere you look, the signs are the same: B2B buyers are rejecting the old buying and selling paradigm. So, it’s up to companies to change or get out of the way. Marketers can no longer afford to do things the way they've always done them.
Buyers are going online to do their own research and have already likely made up their minds on which vendor to go with well before they even talk to someone on your sales team. In fact, a recent global Bain & Company survey, conducted with Dynata, found 92% of B2B buyers now prefer virtual sales interactions. Another survey by CSO Insights found that more than 70 percent of B2B decision-makers defined their needs fully before engaging with a sales representative. Almost half knew which solutions they wanted before they engaged.
And, every year, new digital-first buyers are entering the workforce. Digitally native millennials, not surprisingly, prefer more than any other generation to avoid suppliers in the purchasing process. By 2025, 60 percent of customers will seek service information from third-party sources, according to Gartner.
How can B2B marketers fill in that gap and reach their buyers where they are, when they want, and with the most relevant information? It's about putting our buyers first. Here are the five organising principles for taking a more personalised, buyer-first precision demand marketing approach.
- Target buyers, not just accounts with precision
Here’s the challenge: all the funnels, silos, and data that we’ve embraced are working against us. They’re exacerbating the challenges of getting clean, intelligent, and actionable leads, preventing us from reaching the one goal we all share: connecting with potential customers right when they’re ready to buy. It's time to get to know your buyers, really know them, as individuals, buying committees, influencers, and decision-makers. This isn’t only about a target account list. This is about understanding the people within the account and getting them involved in the buying process.
- Activate an omnichannel experience
You must meet buyers wherever they are in their sometimes-disjointed journeys. To do this, you must develop content that the buyers want on those channels. Personalise it as best you can. Do it all within the delivery channel's format and style. Be consistent. And above all, evaluate what buyers are telling you and learn and adapt with every interaction.
- Govern to get all the available data right––a marketable database––to orchestrate marketing.
For many companies, governance practices haven’t caught up with the speed and volume of all the data they are collecting. And far too many organisations have fragmented storage systems that expose them to regulatory, ethical, and data security risks, as well as increasing the difficulty for employees to find the data they need. A cohesive, unified data governance strategy enables you to orchestrate an omnichannel experience that resonates with buyers. It also creates trust. And trust is the critical foundation to building meaningful engagement.
- Connect the dots, creating a tech ecosystem that works for the buyer’s experience, not the marketer’s.
Think of your tech stack as the spine to support buyer-driven marketing. Too many marketers think account-based marketing technology is all it takes to build that spine. But ABM alone isn’t strong enough. It doesn’t allow marketing to curate the right experience for the buyer. A strong spine gives you the flexibility to address all types of buyers, from the early researchers and members of the buying committee to the overall account and, ultimately, the decision-maker.
- Measure to improve the buyer experience and tie those metrics to business objectives and drivers.
Modern measurement requires a holistic view of buyers, accounts, decision influencers, and buying committees––every participant, every role, in the journey. Marketers today must look at each buyer’s entire journey. In the end, every member of the team understands how everything works (or doesn't work). Measurement enables you to gain a more precise and real-time views of who your buyers are and how they behave. It’s an iterative process that evaluates outcomes, not outputs. Every interaction is an opportunity to learn, revise, refine, and get better. We can't drive precision unless we can measure and learn.
The reality is this: companies who do not adapt to the change in buyer preferences are at risk of being lapped by the competition.
Today, marketers have a larger role than ever before in the buying/selling process. It's our responsibility to serve our clients better and to go beyond the antiquated funnel-based sales processes of the past. If we continue to force the new era of B2B buyer through our “funnel,” we will quickly be left behind.
All challenges aside, there has never been a better time to be a B2B marketer. Creating value through digital engagement is no longer an option, and we have the tools and capabilities to provide a more connected and engaging experience for our buyer. We can no longer afford to be behind the wheel of an old model. We must act with precision and upgrade our efforts to an approach that tackles today’s new world. We must serve our customers better. After all, the only experience that really matters is the buyer experience.
Colby Cavanaugh is the SVP of Marketing at Integrate. The company recently published a book called Precision Demand Marketing: Achieving the Promise of Predictable Pipeline that provides a practical, hands-on approach to adopting a buyer-driven, omnichannel Precision Demand Marketing strategy.