The modern-day buyer’s journey can involve interactions across multiple devices at different times and on various different channels. These interactions can happen online or offline. In general, it is very hard to accurately trace the buyer’s journey today.
There are a number of reasons the path to purchase has become so complicated. Due to the high dollar value of most B2B purchases, there are multiple people involved in the decision-making process – from initial researchers to influencers to the actual decision-makers. It’s not always one person’s path that leads to a purchase.
Another major driving force of complexity in the B2B buyer’s journey is the fact that approximately half of B2B researchers are millennials – a number that will only increase with time. This new digital-savvy B2B researcher or buyer is more active online, with 71% starting the buying process on a search engine. Each B2B buyer will conduct 12 searches before engaging a specific website, on average. From your perspective, this is the first interaction and the start of the journey, when in reality this buyer has already thoroughly vetted their potential solutions.
While the traditional model of the marketing and sales funnel provides a good road map of the B2B buyer’s path to purchase, it oversimplifies the true complexity of the process, as well as the driving force behind it.
The Evolving Role of the B2B Sales Rep
This new complexity in purchasing is being driven by a buyer’s desire to perform product research on their own. In fact, a recent Pardot study revealed that 90% of B2B buyers say they reach out to a salesman only when they are ready to buy. By a margin of 3 to 1, B2B buyers prefer to self-educate with company content about product and service offerings as opposed to speaking with a sales rep, and a majority of buyers prefer to make their B2B purchases online – cutting the sales rep out of the equation entirely.
This new reality has a few consequences for the sales and marketing relationship. With the increased difficulty of prospecting, the role of the sales rep is turning towards the bottom of the marketing and sales funnel – closing hot leads, providing consulting and follow-up service, and creating and managing long-term relationships.
On the surface this seems great for efficiency, but that’s not the whole story – in reality, sales reps are still responsible for sourcing leads, which is proving to be more and more inefficient as the B2B buyer’s journey continues to change.
How B2B Marketing Roles Are Responding
The shift in B2B buyer behavior places a great responsibility on marketing. Relatively new digital marketing tactics – pay per click (PPC) advertising, social media marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), growth driven design (GDD), content marketing – are all a direct response of this emerging trend of research-oriented buying behavior, and are all part of an effort to deliver hot leads to sales reps.
There are many effective digital marketing channels, but even in the few mentioned above, you can see how they are built for the modern buyer’s journey: PPC advertising, social media and search engine optimization all strive to initiate contact with a potential buyer without disrupting their research process; content such as ebooks, whitepapers and case studies then work to fulfill a potential buyer’s desire for self-education while moving them through the marketing and sales funnel; and GDD to facilitate conversions on company websites to hand over hot leads to the sales team.
Already, this is an established form of digital marketing. As the buyer’s journey continues to move online, marketing and sales departments will have to accommodate potential customers’ desire for online information.