B2B buyers increasingly prefer to self-serve for much of their journey towards a buying decision.
Digitisation was the spark that made this possible, but B2C experiences have fanned the flames, shifting digital commerce expectations in general towards more open-ended and self-directed buying journeys.
Now B2B buyers — who are, of course, those same B2C buyers, just with their smart shoes on — are looking for the same experiences and flexibility when making investments on behalf of their organisations. Even when they want to speak to Sales, it is often simply a small — and early — part of their self-directed research journey. A hand-raise on the Contact Us page is becoming less of a reliable indicator of readiness to buy. And for a lot of sales and marketing teams this could spell trouble.
We’ll almost certainly begin to see the ever-growing preference for B2B buyers to self-serve start to impact on how large Sales teams operate. As such, a greater understanding is needed now of how buyers actually want to engage with Sales, how Sales should engage back — and how Marketing can help both groups get what they want.
Because if more buyers in general want to talk to Sales primarily to inform research rather than to buy, what does that mean for subsequent engagement journeys? And what does it mean in a world where speaking to Sales has historically represented a major milestone in the buying journey, the transition from lead to prospect?
At the extreme end it means we’ll probably see more B2B companies trialling ecommerce models. It’s hard to understate the extent of the changes that this would require — most B2B websites are nothing more than glorified brochures. True, the best are already strong resource hubs that allow buyers to self-educate on their way to a buying decision, or drive customer success with products. But even they would struggle when stepping into the ring with the trendsetters of ecommerce expectations, such as Amazon, Netflix and Uber. When ecommerce comes to B2B, brands will be under pressure to provide world-class online experiences, characterised by intuitive, responsive and easy-to-use self-service capabilities. And not just for purchasing or configure-price-quote functions. They’ll need to provide a raft of post-sales services such as customer success content, and renewal and support functions.
As self-service preferences disrupt established B2B sales and marketing functions and structures, ABM is likely to become an important part of the response. Indeed, self-service B2B buying should accelerate the next major chapter in the discipline’s development: the evolution of ABX.
Right off the bat, the prevalence of buyers willing to contact Sales early in their journey as well as indicating a shift in behaviour also provides direct evidence of deficits in a brand’s online experience. Unable to find the information they need on your website, they’re forced to pick up the phone or fill out a form (things almost no one wants to do). Or they can head to the competition’s website that does have what they need.
ABX can put this right, with its focus on identifying and understanding ideal target accounts, and using that insight to orchestrate journeys that anticipate buyers’ requirements. Brands can leverage ABX to ensure they have the right content in the right places, at the very least. But they can also go further, by being smarter about how they make the huge wealth of knowledge held by Sales, or the compelling stories of customer advocates, more accessible to buyers.
Fully harnessing the power of ABX to meet this new paradigm for B2B buyer behaviour will require closer alignment between Marketing and Sales — an age-old problem that still remains unresolved for most organisations. ABX will need to mature as a concept, too. Bringing in even more customer touchpoints beyond sales and marketing, to develop more holistic customer experiences and more meaningful conversations, is easier said than done.
However, no one is saying that getting better at enabling B2B buyers to self-serve will be plain sailing. But it is a journey that looks inevitable for most brands to have to undertake sooner rather than later — meaning they’d be best advised to get out ahead of it now.
As the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now. If you’re interested in understanding how ABM or ABX can help you respond to today’s changes in B2B buyer expectations, then get in touch.