No doubt about it: 2020 was a crazy year. Lots of things have changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and one of them has been the way B2B buyers are making their purchase decisions. For some PSPs (and their customers), this will be a challenge. For others who are willing to be flexible, research-based, and put in the work, it’s an opportunity.
Conventional wisdom is that the pandemic has halted the majority of B2B buying. However, this is not always the case. According to DemandGen’s 2020 B2B Buyer Behavior Study:
- 16% of B2B respondents have continued their research and selection process without disruption,
- 30% of respondents have actually escalated some of their purchase plans, and
- 7% are continuing to buy and are simply looking for more hands-on attention/engagement.
As I’ve covered in the past, as relates to the printing industry, the pandemic has actually created opportunities for proactive, flexible PSPs willing to take advantage of new areas of opportunity that have arisen due to these crazy times. In a recent article, for example, I covered three PSPs whose innovation and willingness to take calculated risks during this time has resulted, not just in their businesses surviving the pandemic, but in their businesses growing significantly. This is true of many print and marketing customers, as well. When both customers and their PSPs are flexible and willing to adapt, now you really have a dynamic combination.
When DemandGen asked which aspects of their B2B purchase process had changed over the past year, the top three responses were as follows:
- Purchase decisions now progress based on changing business needs and priorities (82%),
- More time is spent researching purchases (77%), with 25% of respondents saying that this time has increased “significantly,” and
- More personalized attention is expected from providers based on specific needs (76%).
The “more personalized attention” is interesting because, while the focus in the printing industry is often on data-driven messaging and images being produced on the fly, there is opportunity here for basic segmentation, as well. Where can clients do additional segmentation of marketing materials by industry vertical, geography, company size, or whatever segment makes sense for them? “Personalized attention” could also mean creating very short, prospect-specific runs of highly targeted messaging, whether high-quality educational materials crafted for each individual B2B buyer (or team of decision-makers), dimensional mailers to capture attention during the discovery process, or high-value interactive pieces that communicate value propositions more quickly. There is so much opportunity here to encourage clients to think creatively about how they can personalize those experiences in line with the needs of their targets.
Changes in the B2B buying cycle also mean a shift to account-based marketing (ABM) if you aren’t doing it already. DemandGen found what every other B2B research is finding—that more team members are involved in B2B purchase decisions than there used to be. Nearly two-thirds (61%) of respondents to the DemandGen survey have seen the number of people involved in the decision increase over the prior year, and 71% now have a formal buying committee in place. If you aren’t educating your customers on ABM, it might be a good time to launch some virtual lunch-and-learns.
Content is becoming increasingly important during the sales cycle. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of DemandGen respondents are using more sources to research and evaluate purchases. Their top three resources used at the outset of their research? Web search (53%), vendor websites (41%), and review sites (30%).
B2B buyers are not only looking for more content, but they are looking for proof. Nearly three-quarters (71%) are conducting a detailed ROI analysis before making a final decision, and 62% say they selected vendors that provided content that made it easier to build a business case for the purchase. So have those numbers ready.
The survey also found that, while the overall timeline for completing purchases is getting longer, the most critical engagement steps take place within the first month of the buyer’s journey. For example, within 30 days, more than one-third of buyers collected preliminary information on pricing costs (38%) and developed an informal list of potential providers (35%), 76% of buyers engaged with a sales representative within three months of the start of their research, and 36% connected with a salesperson within the first month. Getting in early matters!
If you are going to take advantage of the opportunities that exist, you need to do your research, research, and more research. Notes the report: “The significant number of buyers who take these important steps so early shows how important it is for B2B solution providers to be aware of the buyers who are in-market and researching their category.”
The way B2B buyers make purchases is changing, and PSPs and their customers must change along with them. But it provides opportunity, as well. Success will take more research, more customization, and more time investment. But then, the pay-off is at the end—both for the client and for the PSP that helps them get there.