When it comes to the business-to-business (B2B) world, marketers are rarely faced with the same fast-paced change that they have come to expect when dealing with consumers.
Traditionally speaking, B2B commerce has always relied on a much longer customer journey than its B2C counterpart. Whether incorporating a new business partner, investing in a new technology or finalizing a commercial deal, B2B decision makers will rarely make a purchase on a whim.
For this group, the age-old marketing tactics of Product, Place, Price, and Promotion remain true and are arguably still as effective now as they’ve ever been. But that’s not to say that the customers themselves in the B2B buying world haven’t changed.
Across the board, we are witnessing a consumerization of business, with consumer mind-sets bleeding into the B2B approach. The days of commercial decision making taking months or even years are slipping away.
Regardless of whether they are shopping for themselves or in a professional capacity, today’s customers have grown so accustomed to speed, convenience and a quality experience that they cannot help but expect a similar scenario in all aspects of their lives.
Today’s B2B customers are more susceptible than ever before to marketing, advertising, and branding, often valuing customer experience over the specific attributes of a product or service. While this is good news for B2B marketers, it also poses some challenges. The fickle nature of the new “B2B consumer” can be a double-edged sword, with B2B deals being increasingly susceptible to the “blink of an eye” switching decisions that B2C buying cycles have traditionally struggled with.
There is an opportunity emerging, however, in digital commerce. As B2B decision makers grow increasingly consumerist in their approaches, they also become more open to making B2B purchases online. This fact is already starting to emerge in several clear ways:
- Email marketing is back in the game. For a long time, it has been assumed that email marketing does not have the same impact in the B2B space as it does with consumers, who will take action in an instant when they receive an appealing deal, offer or discount. As marketing guru Scott Stratten explains, “you can’t shortcut relationships: nobody ever bought an airplane after reading one email.”
With the consumerization of B2B decision-making, however, email marketing is once again finding its place in the B2B landscape. When used carefully and with skill, targeting senior decision makers with a personalized and professional message can have just as much impact in the B2B space.
- The B2B buyer journey is increasingly mobile. As with email, many marketers assume that large-scale B2B purchases are never going to be completed via a mobile phone. The reality is that more work than ever before is now being conducted on mobile devices and tablets. As such, B2B brands that ignore mobile marketing in favor of a static desktop approach are rapidly falling behind.
According to one study, 42 percent of researchers use a mobile device during their B2B purchasing process. Given this growing, mobile-first approach, B2B brands that fail to provide responsive, mobile-friendly content as part of their sales funnel will inevitably see a drop in traffic, a drop in leads and, ultimately, a drop in sales.
- Experiences are king. As B2B decision makers have grown more consumerist in their attitudes towards purchasing, their expectations of the customer experience have also shifted. Instead of using their own research, they now rely far more on on-site guidance and product information. This not only means the incorporation of static spec-sheets and product descriptions, but increasingly the use of rich content such as animated walk-throughs, interactive tours and streaming video content.
At the same time, as the volume of content increases, B2B commerce sites must also start to provide ever-more advanced search capabilities. Today’s B2B customers must be able to find what they’re looking for in a matter of seconds, with the ease of the buyer journey being almost as important as the end product itself.
- The B2B buyer is ready to buy online. Fully attuned to digital purchasing in the B2C world the B2B buyer now expects quick orders and repeat orders to be carried out online. Gone are the days of reviewing a PDF catalog and then sending a Request For Quote (RFQ) over to a distributor or wholesaler even if the distributor who’s ultimately fulfilling the order.
Many B2B manufacturers are taking their first steps in this direction by moving from an online PDF to an interactive catalog, and others are launching new lines direct to consumer.
One thing’s for sure, the B2B world is evolving fast and embracing digital transformation as it goes. It may be a bigger overall market but competition is no less extreme. Ignore the new B2B consumer at your peril!
To find out more about how consumerization is changing B2B commerce and the decision-making approach, download Episerver’s Seven Mobile Commerce Trends report.