Trends in Business Buying

Changing business buying habits leave traditional selling methods behind. Slow uptake of active online networking and digital engagement by salespeople, shifts power to marketing.

Business to business buying and digital selling

Spotting or anticipating trends is an important leadership responsibility. We all expect our leaders to know what the future holds. How else can we have confidence in their promise of a better future? Selling is about leadership. As sellers, we promise customers some aspect of a better future. Persuasion is rooted the promise of moving towards something better or avoiding something worse.

Trends are easier to spot when you consider motivators. Every business and most individuals are constantly seeking ways to make things better. Trying stuff is expensive. Looking for early signs of what is working for others offers a short cut. Trend spotters should be wary of spin. Biased use of data or evidence to serve a purpose is common.

An old McKinsey Article from 2010 presents some B2B trends drawn from customer research.

  1. Customers are becoming more demanding.
  2. Businesses are investing to reduce the cost of customer satisfaction.
  3. B2B sellers are adopting B2C ‘big data’ marketing tactics.
  4. There is a growing customer acceptance of online meetings.

Shifting and continually escalating customer requirements have always been a fact of life. Just as salespeople need to keep getting better than their competitors, customers must continually compete with others in their market. They rely on their suppliers to help them succeed. Decades ago Tom Peters wrote “the only reliable source of competitive advantage is getting better faster than your competitors”. This quote also deflates the second trend identified in the Mckinsey article.

The third trend has more significance for sales people. The adoption of B2C tactics in B2B marketing refers to the use of predictive analytics to spot trends and opportunities from large data sets. Much of the data is easily collectable because business buyers no longer need to use salespeople as a source of information. Instead they search online themselves to identify trends, find ideas, and to learn about related products and services.

Migration of buying habits was the theme of my 2010 article, Establishing Sales Credibility and Trust in a Digital World. It addressed the fact that buyers are now able to leave salespeople out of their buying process until it is almost complete. As a result, sellers are denied the opportunity to build relationships and the window of time available for influencing the outcome is considerably shortened.

The days of customers having to consult sales people early in their buying process are long gone. Today the opportunities to develop buyer seller relationships are found online and the skill set required is labelled social selling or digital selling. This marks a swing in power from sales to marketing. Today’s marketers have access to technology that makes one to one marketing practical. The old adage, “sales people do it face to face while marketers do it at a distance” is collapsing.

Sales people beware. The knowledge and skills necessary to succeed are rapidly expanding. Being perceived as a product/solution expert who can add value early in a customer’s buying process may be the only way to get back in the game at a stage when their remains some opportunity to fulfil a sales purpose.

Expertise on its own isn't enough. Your expertise must be found and recognised by the prospective customers you want to engage with. Here is a check list for what I refer to as personal marketing or digital selling:

  • Does your LinkedIn profile present you as a subject matter expert?
  • Do you contribute as an expert in relevant online discussions?
  • Does your personal website or blog rank well for the search terms your prospective customers are using?
  • Do you write and publish regularly on a website or blog to expand the ways that prospective customers can find and recognise your expertise?
  • Do you promote worthwhile content from other expert contributors through LinkedIn/Google+/Twitter?
  • Do you promote your own content through LinkedIn/Google+/Twitter?
  • Do you maintain and develop a professional network of experts, customers, and business partners?
  • Do you make use of list management, CRM, and marketing automation to maintain relationships in your professional network?

In general, sales people are way behind in following their customers online. According to Booz & Company, 25% of business owners claim their employees don't even have the basic digital skills to use the internet for business so if you only score a couple of points out of the possible 8 from the social/digital selling checklist above, give yourself a pat on the back.

Is there evidence that becoming a digital warrior is worth the effort? This Forbes article discusses some supporting research.

As you can see from the analysis of SalesSense marketing below, we get almost all of our business through use of social/digital selling and we still have plenty of room for improvement.

Business to business buying trends

All of the items on the checklist rely on digital marketing expertise. One of the ways that marketing departments can leverage their new found popularity is to empower sales people to leverage the marketing mechanisms listed above.

If we sellers fail to create opportunities for engagement early in customer buying cycles, our chance to make a contribution to the customer’s thinking is curtailed and we end up merely pitching for business.

Article by Clive Miller

If customers have changed their business to business buying habits and you need to develop online networking and digital engagement skills, we can help. Telephone +44 (0)118 983 3887. We will be pleased to learn about your needs or talk through some options. Alternatively Send email to custserv@salessense.co.uk for a prompt reply or use the contact form here.