3 Changes in the B2B Buyer Profile and What it Means for You

Ask any marketer what the most mission-critical task for any internal marketing organization is and you’re likely to get a similar response: understand the customer. By understanding consumer trends, motivations, and needs, we’re better equipped as marketers to craft resonant messages, identify the appropriate channels, and build comprehensive, and perhaps most importantly, profitable campaigns.

The B2B space is notoriously difficult for marketers to tackle, as product and buyer breakdowns are often complex, sales cycles long and difficult to attribute, and total addressable universes slim. This simple fact makes the B2B space fascinating for me, given my focus on the sociopsychology of marketing. If you’ve stood in a room with me for more than twenty minutes, you’ve probably heard me tout and lament ABM-style campaigns all in the same breath. ABM-focused campaigns rest on the ability of a marketer to identify the decision-makers and influences for each account, crafting resonant, but not always unique, messages for each.

So… who are these elusive decision-makers and influencers in the B2B space today? Over the last month, I’ve drilled into changes in consumer purchasing behavior in the B2B space and have identified 3 major, industry-agnostic changes to the B2B consumer purchasing behavior. Surveying more than 250 individuals identified in a B2B purchasing process generated three unique insights related to purchasing psychographics. 

Insight #1: There’s a mid-funnel stall for B2B consumers that doesn’t exist in the B2C space, perhaps due to the transition of authority.

It’s no secret that B2B sales cycles can be incredibly long, but on average our respondents reported an average purchasing cycle of 138 days. 

By asking respondents to describe their purchase process qualitatively and assign each step an average length, we’re able to generate average days to progression for the traditional sales funnel. Compared to what one might see in the B2C space, the results are astonishing. 

B2B purchasers move through the first stage of the funnel (awareness) with phenomenal speed. The average B2B purchasing team (inclusive of both decision-makers and influencers, spend no more than five business weeks, 24 days to be precise, understanding the options that exist to serve their specific business problem. 

Most interestingly, though, is that the time spent during the middle phases of the funnel (interest and decision) are incredibly long, particularly compared to the acceleration we might expect to see in a B2C funnel. Overwhelmingly, respondents described a hand-off of authority during these two stages. In many B2B purchase teams, the “influencers” collect and understand information, passing it along those with the authority to move through the later two stages of the funnel. The mid-funnel stall likely exists for this reason. 

Insight #2: Influencers are increasingly younger, but decision-makers are increasingly older.

In many B2B buyer journeys, those on the purchasing team are split into the primary categories of “decision-maker” and “influencers,” with the former holding responsibility for the actions that drive revenue, such as negotiating contracts and executing purchase orders, and the later, well, including those decisions with research and insights. 

When asked about their role in the purchase decision, it’s no surprise that those responsible for the “influencer” style behavior belonging to the upper levels of the funnel tend to be fairly young, where those ultimately adopting/purchasing a product are much older. Interestingly enough, though, fit evaluation skews quite young, compared to pricing negotiation and adoption responsibilities, giving this demographic a great deal of influence in the buying process. 

Interestingly enough, when looking at a respondent’s self-reported role as a decision-maker or influencer compared to the qualitative descriptions of a respondent’s responsibility, respondents did quite poorly at self-identifying, with more than 35% of those holding only influencer responsibilities identifying as a decision-maker. 

Insight #3: Where influencing groups are diverse, purchasing decisions are increasingly centralized. 

When asked about the number of individuals involved in the purchasing process for a given product, respondents, on average reported an average of 3 people involved. Unsurprisingly, those responsible for larger organizations tended to work in teams larger than 5. Despite the size of these teams, on average, the group responsible for making purchasing decisions is 73% smaller than the group responsible for researching options and fit. 

Ultimately, this means the final purchase decision for a B2B company is still relatively centralized, and for most small-to-mid-cap companies, likely rest with a single individual. In cases like this, correctly identifying and targeting that individual, along with the few individuals influencing him or her, in an ABM-style campaign is crucial. 

So, what does this mean?

Simply put, the ability to deliver resonant messaging via the appropriate channel at the right time is more important than ever. For example, as influencer demographics shift younger, these individuals responsible for determining options and fit are likely utilizing a wide variety of platforms, traditionally ignored by B2B marketing teams. As the gap widens between those researching and those purchasing, understanding and segmenting the buyer experience appropriately is mission-critical. Ultimately, in the B2B-space, a well-staffed and resourced marketing team, capable of generating insights like these is paramount to the success of any ABM-style campaign. 

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