The B2B purchase journey is a complex one.
High-ticket products, a complex value chain, and company bureaucracy are a few of the road bumps in the path to purchase, both for buyer and vendor.
Understanding the B2B customer journey has therefore been a key area of focus for brands, with the aim of pulling together as much information as possible to help them refine the process, and take greater control.
This is a core reason behind the release of our very first B2B data set.
We invited experts from the media and advertising sector to share their industry experiences at our recent event, dissecting all things B2B.
Our in-house analysts presented the very latest insights on the state of B2B journey, after which our esteemed panelists took center stage.
Here are the key points we drew from the discussion.
1. Control has shifted toward the buyer.
The information available to the modern B2B buyer enables them to almost get to the point of purchase without ever beginning a dialogue with the brand.
David Evans, Head of Data & Insight at CNBC states because of this, “the buyer has so much more control than they used to in the buying process”.
David explains it’s the vendors that struggle most to monitor the movements of their consumers.
“If there are 4.2 vendors on average for every pitch that goes out there; that means for a vendor that your strike rate is less than 25%.”
Jameel Amini, Senior Strategy Director at Essence, suggests that brands must exert control over the content they’re offering, directing most towards the end user or people at the bottom.
“Let them assess the information and push it forwards” he says.
2. Silent research is king (and so is reputation).
B2B brands, like B2C, need to create compelling purchase journeys, engaging with their target audiences from the offset to build a reputation and keep them coming back.
Jameel states that B2B buyers should aim to be a “companion” to their customers. “So that when they do buy, they’ve already got the relationship with the business.”
But, with a lot of the relationship built without contact, the challenge for brands is identifying what buyers want from it.
“The really important point here is to make sure that the content you’re providing to your audience is what they’re looking for,” says David.
Mike Krzyzanowski, Strategic Planning Director at McCann takes this a step further, suggesting that third party content is viewed more commonly for its objectivity, stating, “the vendor is the last person they go to ask for information.
They’ve usually gone through a very long process before they actually make a decision, or to come and talk to you.”
This echoes the control aspect above, creating a paradox for the B2B vendor whereby their consumers are calling for emotive and engaging purchase journeys, but they lack the B2B consumer insights needed to make it a reality.
3. Local insight is crucial to success.
Global B2B brands need a local approach to marketing.
But localization isn’t just about geography, it’s about the people within each region, and in the case of B2B, it’s the people and structures within the businesses you’re targeting.
Jameel explains that “at a larger scale, it’s harder to cut through to your audience, so you have to change your marketing and your business language.
It’s about knowing the nuances, how they refer to products and what competitors are doing.”
Like in B2C, a big part of localized marketing in the B2B sector is knowing where your audiences are.
But B2C companies need more information than that to effectively map the B2B purchase journey. They need to know key stakeholder’s role in the business, their pain points, lifestyles, what their motivations and perceptions are, but also how they consume content day-to-day.
“Everybody is different.” says David, “I like white papers, I like detail, I like reading things. Senior managers in my business haven’t time for that detail. They want a one-page article or a 30-second video to get the information precisely and quickly. If they can’t get it in that way, they won’t consume it.”
Localized B2B strategies therefore hinge on how well vendors understand the B2B buyer, which itself could be three different tiers of people within any given business.
This is why vendors need to know who uses the products, who drives the purchases and who parts with the money, but also crucially, why this is the case for each group.
4. Social media plays a big role in B2B.
The role of social media in B2B marketing has been a subject of debate, with some believing it’s an inherently B2C channel.
Our data also reveals that social media usage has plateaued or decreased in twenty of the forty-five countries we surveyed.
So does social media still play a big role in B2B?
“For McCann, because we’re a communications agency, social media is an important part of the whole mix,” says Mike.
David adds that “in B2B in particular, there’s a greater level of control over social media. Before, many of our audiences had millions of touchpoints, but now they’re rationalizing them down to the corporate touchpoints, like LinkedIn.
What’s important for us is getting an understanding of those channels, and how frequently people use them in order to target them,” says Mike.
Jameel explains that for Essence, “the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn and even Twitter, do massively help the work we do, especially from a paid marketing perspective.”
The panel agrees: social has a key role to play in the B2B purchase journey. It yields good returns on the more business-focused platforms, especially through paid media, so it pays to be selective.
Where the B2B purchase journey is headed
Our panel suggest three key areas to look out for in the future.
David: Initiating conversations early on in the funnel.
“As a vendor, the earlier you can get in front of a buyer to have those intelligent conversations that show you know your product and you know how to deliver it, the better.
Over time, when vendors realize they’re giving the buyer too much control, this could become more important.”
Jameel: building empathetic journeys.
“It’s about building empathy. Specifically understanding what that marketing looks like and how brands become more memorable in the minds of the end buyers.
That comes from understanding the pain points and the motivations – making sure that we are constantly trying to develop our knowledge.”
Mike: Centring strategies around brand values and differentiation.
“In the future, more brands will be built around their values, particularly environmental solutions.
People want to trust the vendors they partner with, and that’s usually built up over time.
The second thing is you need to differentiate yourself both in terms of what you’re talking about and how you deliver your message.
One of the big things we do is to develop content strategies alongside our journeys, so what we’re saying is not only said at the right touchpoint, but also has high interest and relevance.”
The future of the funnel hinges on insights
From the experiences shared by our panel of experts, it’s clear that emotive, consumer-centric purchase journeys are what B2B consumers want, and that is set to continue.
It certainly seems that the gap between B2B and B2C is closing – especially in terms of consumer expectations. Consumers want to be delighted at each touchpoint, and to be provided with the information they need at every stage.
This is something B2B consumers have learned from B2C. But as the panel highlights, this means brands now have conversations far later in the journey, making it hard to collect those insights.
So yes, the gap is narrowing in terms of consumer expectations, but that doesn’t make it easier for vendors.
This actually makes things more challenging – not only are they required to build trust and reputation through consumer-centric journeys for key buyer stakeholders, they’re doing so without insights, with all the existing bureaucratic challenges still in place.
Building a successful B2B purchase journey now depends on how willing vendors are to invest in understanding their audiences.