The explosion in social media - with B2B buyers actually outpacing their B2C counterparts in uptake - reflects a massive change in buyer behavior. To remain relevant and hence effective, B2B marketers need to understand these dynamics, and similarly adapt their behavior.
A great research report into how business buyers buy reveals some myths that mislead B2B sales and marketing efforts, namely:
- The best product always wins
- The playing field is level
- The world is your market
- Face-to-face doesn't count any more
- Buyers are rational
- Every purchase is researched
- You can recognise a qualified lead.
Instead of the rule of strict financial and non-financial business cases, irrationality rules.
And what causes this gap between "rational" purchase decision making, and the "real world" experience?
Buyers are nervous - they don't trust marketers and salespeople - and they are driven by making sure they DON'T make the WRONG decision. The internet now provides all the information they need around sellers' products and services, reputation etc - so whereas salespeople once provided this information, the sales function is now disintermediated and salespeople need to wait in line until the buyer is ready to contact them.
A key theme in this report is that "B2B buying is all about risk avoidance". IBM used this with great success, coining the phrase "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM". A sellers' tactic - creating "Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt" (ie FUD) - even has its own wikipedia page.
GIven this nervousness - and the lack of trust in traditional sales and marketing approaches - buyers turn to people they know to seek opinions on what to buy, and from whom. Internet based social media tools simply allow buyers to do this:
- with immediate feedback
- from a broader audience unconstrained by existing personal relationships
- because of this broadness from an audience that is more expert ie having a higher likelihood of having had the relevant experience to help any individual buyer
These myths have been recognised in various B2B sales methodologies such as Solution Selling which focuses on removing buyer pain points - even urging sales resources to create anxiety within buying groups to further their cause.
(Interestingly, even risk avoidance can be overridden, as noted in the Strategic Selling methodology which talks about the necessity to create "personal wins" for all involved in the buying decision. At time of writing even Barack Obama is questioning the wisdom of the FIFA decision to award the rights to host future World Cups to Russia and Qatar, with FIFA's own technical analysts rating Qatar's big in particular as the most risky. [DISCLOSURE: my home country Australia was an unsuccessful bidder for the 2022 World Cup hosting rights.])
(Also - ironically - whilst the internet is providing more feedback to buyers to point them towards trusted advisors, it is also making them even more nervous about poor purchasing decisions. In my home state of Queensland in Australia there is public outrage throughout both online and traditional media on a debacle associated with rolling out a new payroll system for the State's public hospital system. For months doctors and nurses have been getting the wrong pay - or no pay at all. The State Government has announced a program to fix this that it estimates will cost AUS$209m - the system cost AUS$64m to implement - the fix will cost over 3 times the initial cost! The original buying group will no doubt be exceedingly risk averse moving forward!)
So - what to do if we're in the B2B sales and/or marketing game? We need to recognise that buyers will turn to sources they trust before they turn to us. Therefore - quite simply - we either:
- need to be a trusted source that they can find, or
- need to be seen as a trusted source by someone the buyer will turn to.
B2B social media strategy flows from these 2 points, and future posts will discuss how we can make this happen - will elaborate on why sales people can't be trusted and what we can do about this, and also elaborate on why traditional B2B demand generation programs essentially involving throwing rocks through people windows, which understandably buyers are tiring of.
What steps are your organisation taking that ensure you can be found when the B2B buyer needs you - and that when this happens you're seen as credible, based on how you've influenced that buyer's peers?