We highlight some of the top trends to help you tackle changes in the B2B environment.
The difference between B2B and B2C sales tactics used to be very clear-cut. B2B sales take place over a longer period of time, take constant negotiations and require a step-by-step process to guide the client through the sale. Whereas B2C sales, especially in the modern, digital age, has become a fast, self-service experience done with the click of a button.
According to research by Forrester, nearly 74% of B2B buyers now carry out at least half of their research online before making a purchase and are already a long way into the purchase decision before they ever reach out to a supplier. The expectations of B2B transactions are changing quickly and becoming more like B2C buyers.
Why is this changing?
B2B buyers are also B2C buyers. They buy from Amazon in the office or scroll through shopping websites on their phones going home from work. They won’t accept a slow and complex B2B sales environment.
With these much more experienced buyers taking over the B2B buying, B2B sellers have to change their approach and really up the game. Otherwise they will be left behind and lose their business to competitors.
What are the up-to-date trends in this new B2B environment?
1. Marketing needs to educate
Today’s B2B customers have access to much more information than ever before, and they’re using this to their advantage. The supplier is no longer the gatekeeper of information. This is why you need to give your customers something of value in your marketing and actually try to educate them.
An example of this is Escalon - a financial SaaS service that focuses on valuable content, from “Top 10 CFO Guidance” to a calendar of important CFO dates throughout the year.
According to the CMO Council, 9 out of 10 B2B buyers say online content has a major effect on purchasing decisions. Often B2B products and services are complicated by nature, hence buyers have to be educated before they can make a purchase.
2. Personalization is key
Furthermore, communications should be personalized, relevant and helpful. A more personalized marketing experience is required to engage people. Trends have shifted from generic mass-circulated content to personal messages for individuals that tell a story in a unique, engaging manner.
Research from Forrester found that more than half of B2B prospects want to receive personalized recommendations at every touch point. B2B decision-makers are more likely to engage in a sales conversation when the experience is personalized for them.
If you are worried about the time it takes to send personalized messages and content, marketing automation technologies can do this for you. Automation arms you with the tools to stay relevant throughout the whole sales process and focus on companies that are genuinely interested in what you have to offer. The amount of Martech tools which automation is part of, has grown exponentially from 150 vendors in 2015, to over 7000 in 2019. Hence, finding the right one for you can be quite the challenge. You can find a comparison of some of the most popular automation tools like Active Campaign, Markeeto and Pardot here: 7 Best Marketing Automation Software & Tools in 2020
So in the jungle of new systems, it is only a matter of time before we see many of them consolidating multiple services in one tool. Quite like following the HubSpot example.
3. Know your buyer
In order to personalize your messages, you have to know who you’re selling to. It would be irresponsible to build your customer engagement strategy on averages and trends for an entire group, as the actual behavior and nature of your buyers might be very different from those averages. Knowing that on average 7 stakeholders are involved in the decision-making process, you need to understand their individual role in the purchase process, jobs they need solved, pains and gains, drivers and motivations.
More importantly, being able to identify who they are, you also need a system that keeps track of your contacts or potential leads. Enter customer relationship management (CRM) and particularly a “smart” CRM. This means a system that at least supports:
- Contact management
- Contact website activity
- Deals/Reporting dashboard
- Tasks & activities
- Company insights
- Gmail and Outlook integration
- Email tracking & notifications
- Email templates
- Chatbot functions
From another marketing pro, you can find a useful 7 Best CRM Software Tools: A Comparison [2020 Guide] here.
4. Your message must engage
In order for people to invest their time with you, your message has to be, not only personal, but also engaging. This has become a major trend in content marketing.
Content is what allows your website to be found online, as well as what actually educates and informs potential buyers. As such, content marketing should feature prominently in your marketing strategy. You must invest in creating relevant and authoritative content that will showcase your expertize and also be engaging to your audience.
Interactive content attracts more attention, sells more products, and according to 88% of marketers, it helps with brand differentiation. Hubspot’s State of Inbound Report, found that marketing companies are investing even more in video channels. As video engages more senses compared to other media, it has the ability to stir emotions and create awareness quickly.
Social media has also become so popular, that it is referred to as "social selling". According to a Demand Gen Report, 80% of B2B leads now come from LinkedIn. Furthermore, Instagram might open up new avenues for your brand, as millennials now make up 40% of the workforce. Social media is always a relevant marketing trend with interesting content required to grab attention. Here are 15 relevant tips on how social selling in The Sales Playbook to Social Selling - an 11 minute read from HubSpot.
5. Build authority
When creating content, using opinion leaders,influencers or micro influencers to say great things about you and your brand is becoming more and more popular.
According to Capterra, 88% of B2B decision-makers rely on word-of-mouth for buying decisions, while only one out of five rely on a salesperson. So their peers, and those they rely on for recommendations, are more important than ever.
Some B2B companies even turn to influencers as sources of reliable, research-backed and authoritative information for customers. Business buyers want to hear from people they already trust, not a random salesperson trying to push their product.
This is illustrated here by Idify (now Signicat), a provider of digital signature solutions, that turned to a legal expert for support. Having an unknown brand, Idify needed to create the trust which is a necessity for this kind of service, and did so by borrowing the trust and expertise of a well known expert; The Law of Digital Signatures.
Note that the “ambassador” in this case does not necessarily have to endorse the actual provider, but Idify created a stage for this expert to shine and share his experience, a tactic that builds authority in exchange for attention. Use opinion leaders and influencers in your industry as well as promoting your own leaders. Create a stage - both online and physically - that attracts guests who you want to connect to.
6. Look to the future
In a recent report from WARC, BDO and University of Bristol, the use of technology in marketing is still young. In this study, the biggest group of respondents identified artificial intelligence (AI) as the next relevant emerging technology. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are projected to grow tremendously in the coming years. Today, AR and VR are expected to rise to a value of $95B by 2023. The AR and VR experience can aid decision makers to immediately remove any misgivings or hesitation and become more open to understanding the product and how it can solve a specific problem in real-world scenarios.
Furthermore, voice search and the use of voice assistants are predicted to take a considerable role going forward. Over 65% of people between 25-49 are talking to a voice assistant daily, according to a PWC report from 2019, and during this year the estimates are that 50% of all online searches will be from voice. Predominantly used by millenials, voice assistants are here to stay, and can provide a first mover advantage for those B2B suppliers that can give a relevant voice experience. At the same time it is worth noting that of those who own a smart speaker, only about half (54%) can confirm that their assistant actually understands them according to Adobe. So we are not quite there yet, but would advise on considering twice which trend to pick up on, and look to the future for inspiration.
Not all trends are new, and trends can change in any direction, or disappear and come back with short notice. But paying attention to patterns is what prevents organizations from being left behind.