Not only have typical buyer personas changed, but so have their expectations.
As desire for personalised content and online research grows, the one-size-fits-all approach will no longer get results. In addition to making content relevant and impactful, marketers also need to look at customer experience as a whole.
Furthermore, traditional company structures are being challenged. With modern organisations adopting a flatter hierarchical structure, the DMU (decision making unit) is less predictable than it used to be. It’s time to modernise approach, focus targeting and segmentation, and connect with digital natives on their chosen platforms.
Here we look at how B2B buying has changed, and how to advance your strategy.
There are more decision makers
The buying process has evolved, and this is down to the size and makeup of the modern DMU. Today’s decision makers aren’t just top-level buyers or C-suite professionals. The buying centre is now made up of decision makers from different departments, ranging in authority and responsibility levels.
Inclusion of lower level management means organisations are taking a fairer and more considered approach to purchases. The nature of leadership in a flat organisation allows everyone to have a say when it comes to buying decisions that could affect their work. Therefore, anyone who may benefit from your product or service needs to be considered when delivering campaigns.
Some ABM campaigns focus resources on reaching the budget holder. But this means reducing entire companies down to a single buyer persona. This is simply not realistic anymore, and marketers must recognise all the different stakeholders when creating content.
Typically, the DMU can be broken down into six archetypes:
1. The initiator
2. The influencer
3. The decider
4. The buyer
5. The user
6. The coordinator
Rather than targeting the person who signs of the budget, campaigns must reach out to all six of these archetypes if they want to nurture buyers through the funnel.
It’s essential to apply advanced B2B segmentation techniques and use a DMU planner with analysis on priorities, needs and content preferences. This systematised approach is vital if you want to get a better understanding of who you’re marketing to. And it’s highly likely that your target DMU will contain more than five people, so make sure you have every possibility covered.
Our latest research into HR buying behavior shows that almost 70% of companies involve five or more people in each purchasing process.
The decision makers also span various departments, not just HR. This shows a cross-collaboration of different business functions, working together to achieve shared goals.
Something very similar can be seen with our recent research on IT buyers. Almost 60% of companies involve at least five decision makers, and again, these aren’t just within the IT department or C-suite management.
While C-suite level management have an influence on buying decisions, departments such as Finance, Procurement and Operations are just as influential.
The funnel is no longer linear
With a more diverse and inclusive DMU comes a new set of buying habits, forcing marketers to reassess the way they look at the traditional funnel.
The funnel provides a structured template for turning prospects into customers through controlled stages. This has always been the way that marketing has worked. Our relationship with the funnel dates all the way back to 1898, when Elias St. Elmo created the first version of this model, the AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action) model. But this out-dated viewpoint could be the biggest flaw in your marketing strategy.
Many marketers are looking at the funnel the wrong way. Instead of a linear approach, we need to look at the funnel from above, placing the customer firmly in the centre. Today’s buying process is no longer led by marketers, but by the customer (and the large DMU). This requires a strategy that is customer-centric and flexible, allowing different prospects to engage at multiple touchpoints.
The millennial workforce has redefined B2B research habits, and the on-demand digital culture allows them to have more control over the buying process. Not only do they generally gravitate towards video and online, but they actively avoid phone calls. According to a study, 75% of millennials consider phone calls to be too time-consuming. They are also only likely to move through the funnel if content is relevant or tailored to their specific needs.
Therefore, inbound marketing strategies and personalisation are key, and allowing prospects to move around the funnel freely without pressure to commit is an important tactic.
As well as a non-linear funnel, B2B marketers should also look at the different channels and platforms for content. Millennials prefer to do their research online before connecting with a sales representative.
When looking at the type of sources HR tech buyers trust, our research shows that vendor sites and content sites are in the top three most trusted sources. While events and conferences are still essential for information gathering, independent research plays a big part in the process.
Additionally, it’s also very clear that multiple sources are used during the buyer research phase, so a multi-channel approach is vital.
An even bigger emphasis on digital content is seen with IT buyers, with the largest percentage (58%) ranking vendor websites as the most trusted source – above events and conferences.
Phone calls with sales contacts should not be discounted however, as the research shows that sales teams still play an integral role in providing information about products. What’s changed is the timing, with sales calls and meetings now taking place much later in the process.
After buyers complete their independent research, they will choose who they want to speak to. Millennials don’t like cold calls and they also prefer to digest information in smaller soundbites – so the more useful content you can provide throughout the customer journey, the more likely they are going to engage with you when they are ready.
It’s also important to manage the B2B customer experience. Seamlessness, responsiveness and a multi- or omni-channel presence are priorities for improving experience for buyers, and it all starts with understanding their needs. This is why advanced targeting and segmentation is fundamental in building relationships with the modern DMU.