The B2B buying process is growing more complex, and buyers are becoming harder to engage. Your SaaS business needs to understand these changes, and why they're happening, and develop sales and marketing strategies that match the needs of the modern B2B buyer.
To help you achieve this, I'm looking at 4 fundamental ways the B2B buying process is changing.
1) The Buying Process is Already Underway
With greater access to resources, guides and advice than ever before, product research is an increasingly self-conducted affair.
I’ve seen estimations suggesting that would-be customers are anywhere between 57% and 80% through the buying process by the time they reach out to your business. This translates into an average customer consuming 10.4 pieces of third-party content before ever engaging with your own.
By the time your business makes first contact with a prospect, it’s likely they’ve already begun researching their problem, and engaging with vendors that could provide potential solutions. Your SaaS business needs to recognise this, and take steps to engage this huge audience of silent buyers.
2) Owned Content Drives the Buying Process
67% of the B2B buying process takes place online, and over half of B2B buyers start the buying process with informal research around their general business problems. In the world of B2B SaaS, where solutions are identified, bought and used entirely online, I'd wager that this figure was markedly higher.
This research takes place across a handful of key online channels. Research from Marketo ranks the importance and popularity of these channels in driving B2B decision making:
- Search engines.
- Vendor websites, blogs and resources.
- B2B verticals.
- Industry information websites.
In order to connect with buyers through their desired channels, SaaS businesses need to be proactive: creating problem-solving content to engage people as early in the buying process as possible.
This type of content creation, using business blogs and whitepapers, can have a real impact on the buying process; with 64% of B2B buyers saying that vendor content had a significant effect on their buying decision.
3) The Importance of Earned Content is Growing
Social media plays an increasingly important role in the B2B buying process. As well as offering customers a channel for interacting and engaging with your business, social media functions as a research network:
- 72% of B2B buyers use social media as a research tool.
- Over half of customers view and engage in social discussions to learn more about the products and services they’re interested in.
- 22% of buyers actively seek out the recommendations and feedback of their social networks, and use their advice to influence their buying decisions.
This increasing reliance on social proof means that B2B buyers engage with 3 pieces of content about your business for every 1 piece of content created by your business.
Earned media, in the form of social media posts, customer feedback, reviews and media mentions, now plays a vital role in influencing the B2B buying process.
4) The Roles of Sales and Marketing Have Evolved
The B2B buying process is growing less linear, with customers engaging with your business through dozens of different touch points, and being influenced by hundreds of different paid, owned and earned sources.
As a result, the boundaries between sales and marketing are eroding more with each passing year. There’s greater crossover between the responsibilities of each department, and less distinction between their tactics.
In order to effectively engage with consumers in spite of a diffuse, often disparate buying process, sales and marketing departments have to become less siloed, and work towards a process of sales and marketing alignment:
- Marketing has to be more sales-aware, engaging consumers through their favoured channels and encouraging prospects through a process of lead-nurturing and sales-qualification.
- Sales has to be more marketing-aware, using marketing assets and resources as common ground for sales conversations, and using social media to understand the motivations and concerns of their prospects.
How SaaS Inbound Marketing Responds to the Changing B2B Buying Process
The B2B buying process is changing out of a fundamental need to reduce risk. Purchasing decisions can be costly and potentially catastrophic, and customers are increasingly seeking out ways to identify risk factors and eliminate unknown variables.
The job of SaaS businesses is no longer to persuade, harangue and coax people into a sale; it’s to educate, inform and reassure. This is the basis of inbound marketing, and a way for businesses to respond to the changing buying process by:
- Developing buyer personas to understand the needs of your audience.
- Creating content that solves their problems and fosters their trust.
- Delivering that content through the channels they engage with, at a time when they need it.
- Helping customers to make the right buying decision, and making them feel good about doing so.