2019 presents new B2B marketing challenges, from generational shifts in key decision makers to buying cycles that are more collaborative and customer-centric. To successfully execute campaigns that truly resonate with today’s B2B buyer, it’s critical for marketers to understand three key elements:
- The New Target Audience – Marketers first need to understand today’s B2B buyers, who are more empowered, more collaborative in their decision-making habits, and driven by emotion as much as rationality.
- The Evolved Buyer Journey – Next, marketers need to examine today’s decision-making journey. By understanding the changing expectations and decision criteria of digitally savvy buyers, marketers can successfully develop content and strategies that engage the full committee of buyers and influencers at every stage.
- Strategies that Strive for Relevance over Reach – With an understanding of B2B buyer personas and their decision-making process as the core foundation, marketers can then leverage these insights on all channels, from personalizing their website and ABM tech platforms, to delivering a customized content experience across all channels. By leaning into the theme of “relevance overreach,” marketers can become more efficient and strategic in resonating with today’s B2B buyer through customer obsession and ABM strategies.
The New B2B Buyer & Their Evolved Journey
A key element to consider when crafting strategies to reach today’s B2B buyer is that generational shifts have occurred in terms of who has a seat at the executive table. Members of the baby boomer generation, who were once the primary decision-makers in many B2B scenarios, are beginning to retire, making space for Generation X and older millennials to assume leadership positions. In fact, Gen X leaders now hold more than 51% of leadership roles globally, with millennials trailing close behind.
These more digitally savvy B2B buyers want to control their own journey, and as they evaluate the vendor landscape, they do extensive research and focus on gathering information, ultimately waiting until much later in the sales process to interact with a sales representative. Studies show that today’s B2B buyers progress more than 70% of the way through the decision-making process before ever making their first contact. Additional research shows that 80% of millennials will not complete a lead-gen form. Since these buyers won’t fall for gated content tricks, marketers need to find other ways to engage them through content and brand assets that are easily accessible, digestible, and relevant to their needs.
According to a study by Rapidan Inbound, 61% of buyers last year said their purchase cycle increased either significantly or somewhat. Key factors impacting the length of the journey, such as getting approval from multiple buying committees, utilizing more sources to evaluate the purchase, and increase in research time, are all results of the buyer adopting a more hyper-collaborative decision-making process. In fact, 6.8 people are involved in B2B purchasing decisions, up from 5.4 people just two years ago.
Not only is the journey lengthier, but it’s also becoming more complex. In the first three months alone, buyers are deeply assessing their options. The same study by Rapidan Inbound found that 73% of buyers reported using more sources to investigate their purchases. This is because they are more connected, emotionally driven, and self-aware of their learning needs than their predecessors. They are driven by impactful content, data-driven analysis, and calculated reasoning. Thoughtful engagement by brands is key and should be personalized throughout each phase of the decision-making cycle.
Strategies and Tactics to Reach Today’s Buyer: Relevance over Reach
To account for these evolving buyer preferences, your marketing strategies need to reflect what’s going on in the marketplace. Breaking through the noise when buyers are confronted with more choices can be the differentiator that helps lead the prospect through the buyer’s journey. So how do you break through that clutter and stand out from other brands in the age of oversaturation of content? By becoming customer obsessed—craft an exceptional experience and being intentional and specific with where you spend your marketing time and efforts.
Become Customer Obsessed
We are entering a “customer-obsessed” era, with customer experience leading the way as the top priority in keeping the buyer’s attention. Customer obsession can also be thought of as an outside-in business approach that utilizes data-driven insights to increase the lifetime value of customers by continuously providing them with quality and meaningful experiences.
Today’s buyers gravitate towards brands that offer interactive resources and information-rich storytelling, which is nothing new for general consumers. Engagement with B2B buyers is steadily enhancing, with these buyers resembling many traits of B2C buyers, expecting their interactions with CRM tools or project management software to be as personalized as buying clothes or a new mattress.
A shocking report by Accenture revealed that only 22% of customers acknowledge that companies with whom they transact deeply know their needs. The repercussions of failing to get serious about driving a relevant customer experience can be powerful. The same study says that 33% of customers abandoned business relationships because of a lack of personalization.
Today’s buyers are empowered by the plethora of choices and can tune out brands at the drop of a dime. Customers know that brands need them, so their expectations are high. Lean into your persona research and data analytics to determine what types of content resonate most and then distribute that content only on the channels that truly matter in your audience’s decision-making process. Additionally, focus only on high value and high potential customers through ABM.
Craft an Optimized Customer Experience Through ABM
A basic definition of ABM is that it is the strategic alignment of marketing and sales to effectively segment, target, and deliver personalized marketing campaigns to high-potential and high-value accounts. ABM requires a coordinated effort between marketing and sales to identify the best accounts that will help drive revenue. Those accounts are then targeted with highly relevant content at strategically timed moments of engagement, facilitated by technology and software platforms. This approach allows businesses to create more personalized relationships with best-fit prospects, leading to more effective pipeline generation, and higher close rate with more scalability.
Rather than casting a wide net and aiming to deliver your message to the masses, leverage ABM to reach, nurture, and convert high quality accounts. While this approach is far from breaking news, today’s marketing technologies allow for a much easier way to scale this targeted approach, giving organizations robust access to customer data than ever before. In fact, nearly 85% of marketers who measure ROI describe account-based marketing as delivering higher returns than any other marketing approach. In 2019, ABM is no longer a strategy that is on the rise – it has arrived, and customer-obsessed marketers are leveraging it to reach the modern B2B buyer.
Regardless of the strategies you move forward with in 2019, a return to core principles can help your efforts in any arena of marketing. From shifting generational preferences to an increase in buyer expectations, it is more critical than ever for marketers to fully understand the evolution of their buyers. Focus on becoming more targeted with your personas and their new preferences, engage prospects through moment-based interactions and measure your efforts to analyze, iterate and improve. By investing in these practices and delivering personalized content at scale, you’ll see a major return – one that grows over time and helps you compete in a crowded market.