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Buyers are under pressure to prove ROI and other B2B fallacies

By Kerry Cunningham, 6sense

October 14, 2021 | 6 min read

We have heard a lot in the last few years about how the business-to-business (B2B) buyer has changed, but much of what we hear about the ‘changing buyer’ is either not true or not helpful. Former Forrester analyst Kerry Cunningham, and senior principal, product marketing at 6sense, examines what is not true or helpful. He also explains what you need to do to win in B2B today.


How does today’s B2B buyer look and behave?

There is plenty of analysis about what today’s B2B buyer looks and behaves like. Well, I’ve got news for you: most of it is incorrect. Let’s start with the three most pervasive fallacies of the moment.

Fallacy 1: the buyer is now a team, not a person

It’s true that the buyer is now a team of people, running anywhere from three to 20 or more individuals with some role in the buying process. The fallacy is that it was ever different. When IBM was ramping up sales of its roughly $2m mainframes in the mid-1960s, you can be sure that the companies that were making such a large investment on a new technology employed large teams of people to evaluate and decide on the purchase. That was no less true in the 1990s when companies were buying enterprise resource planning software or salesforce automation software. It is true today as always.

Fallacy 2: buyers are under pressure to prove ROI

It is true that buyers are under pressure to prove ROI, but also true that it has always been thus. Economic conditions and other externalities (e.g. regulations, scandals, market pressures) cause fluctuations over time in how tightly managed buying processes are, and how certain buyers need to be of a solution’s expected return on investment. But those externalities operate today as they have in the past. While there may have been an enviable number of three-martini lunches and golf rounds back in the day, buyers even then sought out every relevant piece of information available and left as little as possible to chance.

Fallacy 3: buyers are in control now

This is not really a fallacy, but it doesn’t explain anything. What is it that has actually changed? In a word: transparency. The digital transformation of business that has been on overdrive since the mid-1990s has reached the point where B2B buyers can fulfill nearly all of their information needs without interacting with provider representatives. The oft-quoted and misunderstood statistic from SiriusDecisions – that 67% of the buyer’s journey is conducted digitally – attests to the fact that buyers get a lot of their information without the aid of sales.

Of course, sellers have put virtually all of their product information on websites and made it available to buyers. Where vendors haven’t posted it, customers have. And just a few years ago buyers would have to ask vendors for references. Those references were carefully curated by providers to deliver the right impression. Today, buyers can access a wide variety of resources – including references – that are beyond a B2B provider’s control (e.g. product reviews by current and previous buyers, plus user communities, industry analysts and other sundry pundits).

4 winning B2B marketing strategies

So, what are providers to do in this radically transparent environment? Here are four strategies for winning in today’s transparent B2B market.

Winning strategy 1: be easy to know

Get rid of your forms. Know what your prospects need to know and create content for it. Use media your audience prefers. Master findability. Also, participate in the events and communities that bring your prospects and customers together (and create them if they don’t exist). Make it easy for your happy customers to tell their stories.

Winning strategy 2: tell the truth

One thing that is different from even 20 years ago is that today you can’t sell empty promises for long and get away with it. Because so much of the business world operates on short-term contracts and subscriptions, you have to deliver the value you promise. If you don’t, you won’t be able to hide from facts. Even making claims on your website that can’t be backed up will bring an immediate loss of trust.

Winning strategy 3: monitor the market

There’s a lot of information out there. A lot of it may be about your brand, your solutions, your service. Also, much of it may be false or misleading. Every brand must monitor the information available to potential buyers and, where necessary, respond to false or misleading information with the truth – backed up by evidence.

Winning strategy 4: be passionate about making your customers successful

In today’s transparent world, there may be nothing more important to your business than having successful customers. On the flip side, of course, there is probably nothing more damaging to your brand than having customers who are anxious to tell the world about their bad experiences. For every unhappy customer who leaves, you’ll need something like 30 qualified early-stage opportunities just to replace it. Make your customers your advocates. Silence your critics by making them successful.

Go forth and apply. Much is made about changing buyers and changing buying processes. Of course, there is change – some of it transformational. But the four strategies described above will apply in the future as much as they do today.

Kerry Cunningham is senior principal, product marketing at 6sense.

For more, sign up for The Drum’s daily US newsletter here. And for more about what’s next in B2B, register for B2B Worldfest (November 9-10).

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