The online B2B shift

Gunnar Hood, WSI-Summit

Do you find yourself pulling out your smartphone while you are in a store to check pricing, ratings or get details on the product? You aren’t alone if you do. The Internet has changed the way consumers buy and smart companies have figured out how to adapt to that shift.

Contrast that with the B2B market where many companies have been slow to recognize what their buyers really want.  We are entering a Darwinian era of the Internet in which those companies that fail to adapt will likely become extinct. 10 years ago having an online presence only required a website. Today, having an online presence requires a multifaceted strategy of which the website is only one facet.

I frequently hear business leaders in the B2B space tell me that they don’t gain business from social media and that they continue to use strategies like cold calling and putting feet on the street. It’s not surprising when I hear too that they are in a cost cutting mode because sales are down. The reason they don’t gain business from social media or the Internet for that matter is because they haven’t done their homework and figured out what their audience wants.

Studies released over the last two years by organizations like the Corporate Executive Board, Forrester Research, Aberdeen and IDC have revealed some very interesting data about the B2B buyer. Let’s start with a data point from the Corporate Executive Board. They found that 56% to 70% of the B2B buyer’s journey has been completed BEFORE they pick up the phone to call a sales rep. 90% of those buyers begin their journey online. Moreover, according to Forrester, companies that are first to add value in the buyer’s journey are 65% more likely to receive the call.

But wait, it gets better. According to IDC, when comparing the C Suite to other B2B buyers they found that the C Suite is more likely to use social media as part of the buying process, they are more likely to use online professional networks (like LinkedIn) for buying support, they use social media for company wide decisions, they spend 84% more per transaction and they make 61% more purchasing decisions than those who don’t use social media.

So when someone tells me their buyers don’t use the Internet to buy their products, they are probably right, but not for the reasons they might be thinking. They are right because they don’t understand how to use the Internet to attract, connect with and engage their audience. It doesn’t mean their audience isn’t buying, they are just buying from someone else who understands their needs.

What can they do? Change the conversation.

  • Start asking WHY they aren’t getting business from the Internet instead of assuming it doesn’t exist.
  • Ask WHAT information they could make available to help their buyers as they go through the decision process.
  • Ask HOW they can add value at every stage of the buyer’s journey instead of only at the end.
  • Learn WHO is really making the buying decisions and WHO they consult in the process.

Finally, stop assuming that a new website will fix everything. It won’t. Start with a real strategy for creating an integrated online presence, not just a website.

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