COVID changed B2B buying forever. New research hints at how marketers can adapt.

Seismic shifts almost always provide big opportunities to leapfrog competition. Here’s how your brand can get ahead.

We know COVID-19 has changed buying and selling, accelerating digital media trends and creating new norms for how we communicate virtually.

But beyond broad theories on what’s changed for marketers, what does it mean practically? And more importantly, how can marketers adapt in the near- and long-term?  

A new study of B2B buyers and sellers researched specifically how the buying process has changed for each side of the equation, attempting to understand what’s real and what’s hype. Here’s what they learned. 

The Research

  • Buying is taking longer because buyers are considering more sellers, and stakeholders can’t agree on how to move forward. 52% of B2B buyers said the decision process takes a bit or much longer than before the pandemic, with 55% noting the increase in possible vendors, and 56% blaming the lag on getting buy-in from multiple stakeholders.
  • Marketers are feeling the pain of increased time and cost of sale. 78% of marketers reported that it’s more difficult to get buy-in on sales, which amounts to more work. Because more vendors are being considered, chances of winning deals are lower. 
  • Buyers don’t really want to talk to sellers. 53% of buyers want to buy “without any interaction with sales at all.” 25% of buyers want to get all the information they need online before talking to a seller, but only 9% of marketers offer it.
  • Your brand’s practical expertise matters in the buying cycle…. 63% said if they do talk to buyers, they want a greater level of insight and advice. 
  • … but company purpose doesn’t matter to buyers as much as marketers think it does. More than 66% of marketers think their brand’s mission is a top buying consideration, but only 25% of buyers agree. 
  • Content needs to be delivered in multiple formats to satisfy how buyers want to consume it. And marketers should think twice about gating important content – 47% of buyers said they wouldn’t fill out a form or would use fake info to do so. 

What Should I Do Now? 

The buying process was messy before, and it’s getting messier, with more options and more decision-makers to navigate. Marketers can follow these steps to set themselves up for success: 

  • Prioritize building a good relationship with your sales team. Studies are great, but nothing keeps you tied closer to real-time business needs than feedback from your front-line sales team. Attend sales calls, stay open to sales feedback and pay attention to why you’re winning and losing deals. 
  • Set up always-on buyer research. Supplement what you’re hearing from your sales team with your own behavioral research about the buyers you’re targeting. What sources do they trust for information about purchasing? How are they navigating your website? Where are your competitors winning attention share? 
  • Interview buyers. There is nothing more illuminating than talking to buyers about their processes, even (and especially) if they bought with a competitor. Lean on your sales team to help set up these interviews. It sounds awkward, but buyers are typically impressed when a company invests in learning how to be more helpful to them. 
  • Map your content to buyer pain points. Mash up the first three sources of research to build a practical plan for your content, prioritizing the most pivotal and common questions about your product. Package and repackage the content you create to ensure it’s easily findable using the channels and formats buyers prefer. 
  • Recruit experts to develop content that advises and explains. Research is consistent that the challenger sale model — where the seller does not just sell, but helps the buyer solve a problem holistically — is most effective. You can elevate your expertise through content by finding experts throughout your organization and interviewing them, prioritizing instructive, easy-to-follow, practical advice for buyers. 

TL;DR: The sales process is longer and more complicated than ever before, but marketers can use this shift to build a competitive advantage. Surround your team with buyer research and strictly map your content creation to buyer pain points, offering smart, practical and concise information that helps buyers solve their problems.


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