Research demonstrates that the traditional view of B2B buyers has never been universally true. So what does this mean for marketers?
One of the major themes in B2B marketing and sales over the past decade has been the emergence of empowered and independent buyers. Numerous research studies have shown that business buyers are using the wealth of easily-accessible information to perform their own research regarding potential purchases.
Some research has also shown that many B2B buyers are delaying conversations with vendor sales reps until later in the buying process. Several years ago, for example, SiriusDecisions said that 67% of the B2B buying journey was being done digitally, and CEB reported that a typical B2B buyer was 57% through the purchasing process before he or she engaged with a potential supplier's sales rep.
The idea that B2B buyers prefer a "do-it-yourself" approach has become part of the conventional wisdom of B2B demand generation, but it has not gone unchallenged. For example, in the Altify Buyer/Seller Value Index 2016, two-thirds of surveyed buyers (67%) reported that they sought input from potential suppliers before they began evaluating solutions.
The latest insight on this issue is provided by CSO Insights' 2018 Buyer Preference Study. This study was a global survey of B2B buyers in 25 industries who are responsible for making purchases of $10,000 or more at companies with revenue of at least $250 million.
In this study, 70.2% of the survey respondents said they prefer to have a clear understanding of their needs before they talk with a sales rep. Almost half of the respondents (44.2%) said they also prefer to identify possible solutions before they engage with a sales rep. So CSO Insights did find that many B2B buyers have a strong preference for self-education in the early stages of the buying process.
This study also revealed, however, that buyers' behaviors are more nuanced than some pundits have suggested. For example, CSO Insights found that buyers are open to engaging with sales reps early in the buying process under certain circumstances. There is more interest in early engagement when a business challenge is:
- New and unfamiliar to the buyer
- Perceived as risky for the buyer's company
- Perceived as risky for the individual buyer
As humans, we have an inherent tendency to seek simple answers to complex issues, and this often causes us to reach oversimplified and inaccurate conclusions.
About G. David Dodd
G. David Dodd is a consultant and author who has been advising and supporting B2B companies for over 25 years. He works with clients to evaluate major strategic issues and initiatives, develop business and marketing strategies, create authoritative, compelling content, and design effective content marketing programs. He also helps clients develop and implement marketing performance management systems and processes.
See more of David's thinking at his B2B Marketing Directions blog.