The Evolving B2B Buyer’s Journey: Can Marketers Keep Up?

The Evolving B2B Buyer’s Journey: Can Marketers Keep Up?

In the world of B2B marketing, aligning your strategies with your buyer’s preferences for learning about new topics and evaluating new solutions (i.e. the “buyer’s journey”) has always been important. If they start their research with a Google search, your SEO strategy is critical. If they rely on peer reviews, you better have a strong presence on the top review sites. If podcasts are their jam, well, I guess that’s why every marketing team now seems to have a podcast!

Traditionally, the B2B buying journey followed a relatively simple path: initial research on one or two channels, a positive endorsement from a key analyst, vendor outreach, and sales demos. But we all know things have changed. A lot. One or two channels exploded into seven or eight. Videos are the new blogs. Trusted review sites carry more weight than ever. And most of the research and decision-making happens before they even visit your website – if they ever do, at all.

How did we get here, where is it all going, and how can marketers keep up with their ever-changing buyers? Let’s dive in.

The Good Old Days: The Traditional Buyer Journey

In the not-so-distant past, the B2B buyer’s journey was relatively linear and typically involved a small number of stakeholders. A potential buyer would identify a need or problem, conduct some research through basic online searches, and then reach out to multiple vendors for consultation, demonstrations, and sales calls that they would actually look forward to. Ahhhh, the good old days – and ghosting wasn’t even a thing yet! It was simple, direct, and predictable with clear steps guiding the buyer towards a decision. 

In this world, marketers had some pretty clear directives. Nail the SEO and SEM games, write helpful articles and guides to fuel inbound marketing, run some PPC programs, and optimize the website for conversions to demos. We got this!

But then, everything changed.

Digital Natives Take Over B2B

Everything? Yes, pretty much (seriously, it’s been a wild decade!). But the most important thing that changed was the buyers themselves. Digital natives moved up the ranks in businesses and brought along with them a whole new way of doing things. In fact, Millennials and Gen Z ‘zoomers’ now make up more than 60% of business buyers, and their approach to learning and adopting new products and technologies are drastically different from previous generations. 

This new era of B2B buyers prefer self-service, on-demand learning and education. They expect clear and simple written content, short and snappy social posts, visually engaging videos, podcasts with entertaining hosts, and transparent information that is freely available online. They don’t mind jumping around between multiple digital channels, and will typically prefer to research companies on independent trustworthy sources rather than the vendors’ own websites.

These new buyers also don’t mind collaborating with others, and will often partner up with multiple stakeholders to divide-and-conquer within each respective individual’s area of expertise. As a result, the majority of the new buying journey now happens online via independent research with larger stakeholder groups than ever before. In fact, many industries now average 8-12 stakeholders in typical buying teams for larger tech purchases. And to add additional complexity, more types of content are being consumed throughout these journeys on more digital channels than ever. We’re talking about LinkedIn, YouTube, vendor websites, 3rd party media sites, review sites, influencers, podcast networks, and even… dare we say it… TikTok. 

It’s exhausting just reading about it, so let’s see what TechnologyAdvice’s Tyler Lessard and Shelby Bruce have to say about it in the video below (because at least 60% of you want videos instead of text, right?):

3 Ways for Marketers to Keep Up with Buyers

So, what does this mean for B2B marketers? Simply put, it requires a fundamental shift in approach. No longer can marketers rely solely on one or two channels and the promise of inbound marketing or PPC. And no longer is marketing just a top-of-funnel (TOFU) awareness building and lead generation strategy. Marketers must meet buyers where they are – across the digital realm – with engaging content in a variety of formats that capture attention, earn trust, generate demand, and influence buying decisions. 

While that may sound like a daunting task, here are 3 ways marketers can adapt their programs to better align with new buying journeys and keep up with, or even get ahead of, ever-changing buyer preferences:

1. Refresh Your Buyer Personas with Behavioral Preferences

Ideal Customer Profiles (ICP) and Buyer Personas are great ways to capture the most common characteristics of individuals and accounts that are the best fit for your solution. They underpin your messaging framework, inform your content strategy, and influence countless decisions you make as a sales and marketing team.

Buyer personas typically focus on attributes such as role/title, seniority, company size, industry, and geographic location. They often describe the challenges these individuals or companies face, how they measure success, and some of their priority needs are. But historically, they have assumed that all buyers behave in similar ways, have similar vendor engagement preferences, do research on similar channels, and have similar make-ups for buying teams. But those assumptions are simply no longer true, and can result in missed opportunities for both marketing and sales teams.

To ensure your marketing strategy remains aligned with evolving buyer preferences, consider adding a number of new behavioral preferences to your buyer personas to better guide your engagement strategies. For example, you may want to research and capture information about your target buyers’:

  • Content format preferences (i.e. blogs, reports, videos, podcasts, etc.)
  • Digital channel preferences (i.e. websites, social media channels, etc.)
  • Preferred media sites and review sites
  • Most popular podcasts, YouTube channels, and social media accounts
  • Most popular influencers, communities, trainers, and subject matter experts

Insights into these different preferences will help your team better understand how to meet these new buyers where they are, with the right type of content at the right time.

2. Expand Your Content Creation and Production Capabilities

If your buyer persona research reveals that your audience only likes to read blog posts, you’re probably in great shape! But in reality, most buyers are now demonstrating an interest in learning via multiple content formats including short- and long-form written content, short-form vertical videos, social media content, long-form educational videos, independent research reports, and possibly even podcasts.

The world of content marketing is now much broader than written blogs and SEO, and the role of great content is much more than just top-of-funnel engagement. In a world where on-demand learning is not just a preference but an expectation, businesses need to become adept at creating various forms of content to support every stage of the buying journey. If your marketing team is not yet in a position where they can write a blog on Monday, make a TikTok on Tuesday, edit a product demo video on Wednesday, record a podcast on Thursday, and design an eye-catching image for LinkedIn on Friday, you may struggle in this new world. 

It’s time to expand your content production capabilities via in-house or partner resources to meet your buyers where they are – in the formats they prefer.

3. Diversify Your Distribution and Engagement Channels

Imagine a world where your potential customers never come to your website, and they rely solely on social media channels, YouTube channels, industry experts and influencers, 3rd-party media sites, product review sites, and online demo videos to guide their evaluation process.

Is your marketing team equipped for such a scary place?

The reality is, we’re not far off from this today. The democratization of content, the rise of creators and influencers, the growing influence of social media channels, the rising popularity of peer review sites, and the ease with which AI can answer complex questions and make recommendations are all setting the stage for a challenging world for marketers. While your website will remain a critical part of your sales and marketing program for the foreseeable future, it may be time to push your team out of their comfort zone to explore new channels and meet your buyers where they are. 

New channels you may want to start testing and gaining experience with include:

  • Social media channels: organic content and paid media
  • YouTube: organic content and paid media
  • Product review sites: profile listings, review campaigns, sponsorships
  • 3rd-party media sites: tech media sites, niche industry sites
  • 3rd-party newsletters and podcasts: sponsorships and promotions
  • Anywhere else that your digital native buyers may be engaging

Maintaining a Buyer-Centric Mindset

The B2B buyer’s journey has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, driven by the proliferation of digital technology and changing preferences of today’s digital native buyers. Today’s buyers are more informed and empowered than ever before, conducting extensive research and exploration on their own terms. For B2B marketers, this shift requires a corresponding evolution in strategy – one that embraces more digital channels, diverse content formats, and a buyer-centric mindset.

As we navigate this new landscape, it’s essential for B2B marketers to remain agile and adaptable. By staying attuned to the changing needs and preferences of buyers, and by leveraging the full range of digital tools and tactics at their disposal, marketers can outmaneuver competitors and keep up with – or maybe even stay ahead of – their buyers. To be successful in this new world, the most important thing will be to maintain a buyer-centric mindset and embrace the change that is to come.

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