B2B Self-Education – Jumping the Buying Process

Following up on my last blog post about the trend of B2B buyers to self-educate rather than rely on suppliers’ salespeople for information, I saw two interesting statistics from the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) this week.

The first is that B2B buyers, on average, are more than half way through (57% to be precise, according to CEB) the buying process before they make contact with suppliers.  This puts buyers beyond defining their needs and well into assessing options to meet those needs before suppliers even know about it.  In traditional sales models, a supplier’s sales people were at the table to help the buyer define needs and could often influence those needs in favor of the supplier’s products or services.  Not any longer.  B2B buyers have already decided what they need, investigated suppliers that can meet those needs and are calling in a few suppliers to get proposals or quotes, check references, etc.

I stated last week that this puts more pressure on the marketing department to educate prospects with various communications vehicles so the company can stay in the hunt they may not even know is happening.  In some LinkedIn groups where I posted last week there was discussion about the best process to help educate prospects and the virtues of ungated vs. gated content (having buyers give at least an email address to access information).  The CEB study seems to indicate that today’s B2B prospects are not going to unveil their or their companies’ identities until they are ready to speak with suppliers.

The CEB study also indicates that marketing-department-created information is going to have less opportunity to educate buyers because buyers are getting less information from suppliers and more from non-supplier sources.  The study says that suppliers now account for less than one-half of all the information buyers use in their buying decisions.  The study did not say what these non-supplier sources of information are (guess you have to be a paying customer to get that) but by process of elimination I would include all non-supplier produced or controlled information, including articles in the trade and business press, peer-to-peer social media and networking communications, referrals from trusted sources, independent customer-satisfaction ratings.  Basically any information the buyer thinks has been vetted or provided by an objective third-party.

Of course, this assumes the supplier is sitting back waiting for the buyer to define its needs and then reacting through education.  Many of the most effective B2B companies jump the buying process by a combined marketing and sales approach that educates the buyer about a problem that the buyer may be suffering from and may not know about.  The problem is costing the company money, customers, key employees, etc.  By framing the cost of the problem and its unique solution to the problem, the supplier is changing the buying process, positioning itself to limit competition and usually reducing the length of the sales process.



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