3 insights that will help you serve today’s B2B buyer

Sarah Travis May 2018 Retail

The way B2B buyers research and shop has changed dramatically in the last five years. The days when buyers would simply visit their local B2B store, talk with their sales rep, or order through a catalog are disappearing. With digital at the helm, most buyers are starting their purchase journey without setting foot in a store — even if they ultimately purchase offline.

In fact, recent research shows that on average, 67% of purchases for multiple industrial manufacturing and pack-and-ship industries were influenced by digital.1 As a result, we’re seeing a new type of B2B shopping behavior emerge — buyers are sitting at the intersection of online and offline.

As marketers, we need to better understand this new behavior so we can meet people in the moments they need us most — whether that is online or offline — and, ultimately, drive customer lifetime value. Here are three insights to help you better serve today’s B2B buyer:

B2B buyers express their curiosity online

A majority of offline purchasers are influenced online, and they’re doing vast amounts of independent research. Before making a purchase, today’s typical B2B shopper might consult online catalogs, perform multiple Google Searches, or visit branded websites. They look for product specifications and brand comparisons, and they try to figure out where to find the best deals or promotions. Only then will they head offline to make their purchase.

In this early research phase, curiosity abounds. Online research tends to be broad — an exploration of what’s out there rather than a targeted search. For example, 58% of B2B industrial manufacturer purchasers start online research with a product (for example, lawn mower, tire, or sprinkler) then follow up with a brand.2

Regardless of category, the majority of shoppers who research online considered 2+ brands. By category:

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Digital drives faster store visits

Digital research and technologies help people make and act on decisions faster. For today’s B2B shopper, this digital empowerment leads to impatience. They want what they want right now. The time between starting the research process and handing over a credit card isn’t long — sometimes only a day. And you can forget about those customers who used to make repeat trips to your store. Thanks to the benefits of digital research, the majority of B2B customers feel confident purchasing on the first visit.

Across B2B categories, shoppers are making decisions faster. By category:

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But don’t be fooled into thinking these shoppers haven’t done their due diligence. Digital empowers today’s B2B buyer to be nimble — to research rapidly and to make decisions in the moment. In fact, digital destinations — retailer websites, third-party websites, online retailers — are the last stop before purchase for many B2B shoppers.3

For many B2B shoppers, the last point of influence is online. By category:

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People who shop offline respond to online engagement

Meeting people in the right moments with the right content on digital can help drive loyalty. Yet recent research shows that half of pack-and-ship buyers did not receive an online engagement after a purchase from a brand in the form of email, downloading an app, or signing up for an online account.4

For B2B marketers interested in driving long-term growth, meaningful post-purchase digital re-engagement is a must. It can help transform a one-off store visitor into a high-value repeat customer.

Purchasers who engaged digitally post-purchase were more likely to purchase again. By category:

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But be warned: not all communications are created equal. Today, people demand increasingly personalized and tailored digital experiences. A generic email follow-up, for example, might not cut it, but an invitation to sign up for an online account or download an app could lead to ongoing engagement.

Optimizing for long-term growth

With these insights, B2B brands can better meet people at every point in the purchase journey and optimize for long-term growth. The challenge lies in measuring the impact of digital across online and offline channels so it’s clear what’s working. Here are three ideas to get you started:

  1. Work toward a single, company-wide goal. Align all teams and metrics (online and offline) against the singular goal of driving sales. After all, B2B buyers don’t differentiate between channels, so neither should you.
  2. Test, learn, and iterate. There’s no silver bullet for measuring the impact of digital on offline sales. Start simple with matched market testing and basic correlation modeling, then advance toward a combination of more advanced tools (like data-driven attribution, marketing mix modeling, and direct match back). This will enable a better mix allocation and ongoing performance optimization.
  3. Regularly revisit data to inform decision making. Establish regular check-ins with key stakeholders to review real-time data, then optimize spend across online and offline channels based on what’s working right now — and what’s not.
When ‘I have to have it’ clashes with reality, shoppers turn to search