5 Big Changes in B2B Buying Behavior

If you’re a B2B marketer — especially a services provider — your environment is about to be upended. Customers are changing, and so are the ways they buy. I’ve been struck recently by five glaring developments in business buying behavior that you need to know about.

If you’re a B2B marketer — especially a services provider — your environment is about to be upended. Customers are changing, and so are the ways they buy. I’ve been struck recently by five glaring developments in business buying behavior that you need to know about.

And once you know, you must consider how to adapt and, better yet, turn the changes to your advantage. Consider these.

The Arrival of Millennials in Business Buying Positions

These 30-somethings are rapidly migrating from researcher and specifier into decision-making roles. I’ve written about this before, offering ideas for how marketers can cope. But I also see this development as part of a larger trend that has deep implications for how we need to be selling and marketing today.

Use of Ratings and Reviews Sites in B2B

Comparison sites in the mold of TripAdvisor and Yelp have entered the B2B buying process; especially in crowded categories, like software and services. You’ll find ratings sites like TrustRadius, Capterra (now owned by Gartner), Clutch.co and G2Crowd, where users leave product reviews — and sellers quake in their boots. Here are some tips for how marketers can take advantage of this new channel.

Expanded Customer Requirements for Compliance

Long prevalent in government buying, companies of all sizes are increasing their requirements of vendors in areas such as sustainability, diversity, and — for manufacturers in such categories as apparel — wages, working conditions, and safety. Christine Crandell brought this to my attention recently, with examples like Marriott embracing the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals 2030 as a source of competitive differentiation, and how event planners are routinely making venue carbon footprints and greenhouse gas emissions an evaluating criterion in property selection.

Buyers Are Bringing Their Consumer Expectations With Them to Work

They want fast, personalized service, pricing transparency, ease of use, a human face, seamless integration across contact channels, and mobile access. We know this, but are we stepping up?

Enterprise Buying Platforms Mature

B2B buying has long been enabled by EDI, supplier exchanges, and e-procurement. But the pace is accelerating — fast. A new entrant is Globality’s platform that helps large enterprises buy services. According to Kathy Chin Makranyi, head of corporate marketing, Globality’s founders recognized that services procurement is inefficient, and ripe for change. So, they set up an AI-enabled platform that manages the entire buying process, enabling buyers to write the RFP, identify a short list of candidates — even inviting incumbents to participate, conduct the bidding process, hire for and manage the project, and handle the billing. Globality has vetted and recruited over 17,000 services providers to the platform, giving enterprises access to entirely new potential vendors. And the platform saves both time and money in managing the competitive bidding process.

“It’s a marketplace between the global 500 and a network of worldwide providers. The big services firms, the McKinseys, KPMGs, and Accentures will play, too, because it makes their sales cycles faster and easier. If you go with the incumbent, you’ve confirmed they are the best choice. Sourcing team[s] can learn and validate their work. And a provider who lost can find out ways to improve next time,” explains Makranyi.

Calling all consultants, accountants, lawyers, agencies — here’s your chance to compete on a level playing field for enterprise accounts.

 

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Using Ratings and Reviews Sites as a New B2B Marketing Channel

A new mechanism has emerged to help B2B buyers who are searching online for products and solutions: Ratings and reviews sites, where searchers can find out what their peers are saying about prospective products and suppliers, and compare product features head-to-head.

A new mechanism has emerged to help B2B buyers who are searching online for products and solutions: Ratings and reviews sites, where searchers can find out what their peers are saying about prospective products and suppliers, and compare product features head-to-head. Just as consumers use Yelp and TripAdvisor, business buyers can check out G2Crowd, TrustRadius, Clutch.co, Capterra, and others.

These sites work best in fragmented markets, where it can be hard to stand out among the many competitors. No surprise, in the B2B world, it’s software where the bulk of the activity lies. But other categories are being served as well, like business services, and more are likely to come.

The value to buyers from these sites is obvious: Peer reviews are highly prized in the purchase decision process, not only for validating the claims of the seller, but for showing evidence of the product’s relevance to the buyer’s own industry.

They also point out otherwise unseen flaws. “The stakes are high in B2B,” says Vinay Bhagat, founder and CEO of TrustRadius. “Tech buyers need the whole truth before buying.”  Think of the consequences that might accrue if, despite due diligence, you install HR software that produces a critical error, he points out.

On the seller side, it’s a mixed bag. Clearly, B2B sellers want to be found, and praised publicly by their fans. Chris Jeffers, founder of VisitorTrack, says his product’s strong reviews have resulted in inquiries from prospects, saying things like “I saw you on G2Crowd, and I’m calling because your reviews are better than the others I was looking at.”

The reviews also serve as mini-case studies and testimonials covering a variety of industries and applications that would have taken sellers enormous effort to assemble on their own. Injecting the voice of the customer into the selling process is a boon.

But bad reviews can be a challenge and are the nightmare of PR people everywhere. Review site managers make extra effort to validate reviewers, to ensure that the reviewer really uses the product, and if anonymous, is a real business person.

Wondering about the business model of these comparison sites? Most offer free listings to sellers, and free viewing of the ratings and reviews to all. They make their money from enhanced listings, from advertising, and from a mixture of marketing services, like data on visitors looking at reviews in the seller’s category. Many also offer support services, to help increase the number of customer reviews.  Pricing ranges from hundreds to thousands of dollars a month.

Since their emergence in the early 2000s, these sites are becoming increasingly influential in the B2B buying and selling process. Users will write reviews whether the supplier likes it or not. So, sellers do well to jump in and proactively manage the channel to their advantage. Here’s how to get the most value from this new resource:

  1. Get in the game. Buyers are searching there. Your competitors are there. You need to be there, too. “Overcome your fear of loss of control,” says Mike Beares, founder of Clutch.
  2. Encourage your customers to leave reviews. “It’s a best practice to ask customers for a review just after a successful service call,” advises Tim Handorf, co-founder and president of G2Crowd.
  3. Test your way into the various upgrades and marketing services the site has to offer. Some are especially innovative, like offering data on companies that are reading reviews of your competitors. G2Crowd will produce an infographic for you based on pull quotes gathered from your reviews.
  4. Look into the site’s policies and practices in calculating rankings and authenticating reviews. TrustRadius, for example, rejects about 15% of reviews submitted. Also make sure you are comfortable with the methods they use to encourage users to post reviews. Site owners understand that trust is essential to their business models.
  5. “Embrace the transparency,” says G2Crowd’s Handorf. Recognize that your product may not be right for everyone. Respond to any negative comments with empathy, in an authentic voice.
  6. Consider these sites a customer service tool, which can surface unexpressed problems that you can solve proactively. Vinay Bhagat of TrustRadius suggests then asking the customer for a fresh review once the problem has been resolved.
  7. The reviews are also useful to product managers, to evaluate the popularity of various features, and uncover use cases you hadn’t thought of before. According to Bhagat, some sellers data-mine the reviews to measure sentiment, and gain insight into customer needs.
  8. Use the software reviews sites to support your own martech or business services purchasing.

This new channel is here to stay.  It’s up to us business marketers to get the benefit.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.