Modern B2B Buyers and Buyer Journeys

April 25, 2024

Historically, B2B buyers placed a special premium on their long-term business partner relationships and rarely shopped the competition. But in today’s digital era, the increased availability of high-quality information through digital channels has made it a lot easier for buyers to research and assess information about potential product solutions. Often without engaging with sellers. Or when they do, they are likely to be much farther along on their buying journey than expected. This shift is reflected in the following recent studies.

The proliferation of top-grade online resources has revolutionized the B2B buying journey, empowering buyers with unprecedented access to information and transforming their decision-making process. As a result, B2B buyers are now far more self-directed and informed prior to engaging with provider sales representatives. Additionally, the consumerization of B2B buyers and rise of B2B ecommerce have blurred some of the lines between B2B and B2C paths-to- purchase in the last several years.

Buyer profiles and preferences

According to Salesforce’s 2023 State of the Connected Customer Report, the percentage of generational buyers who prefer to engage digitally are as follows.

  • Boomers 38%
  • Gen X        54%
  • Millennials 65%
  • Gen Z 61%

It also noted that 74% of all buyers expect to be able to do anything online that they can do in-person or by phone.

As digital natives, Gen Zers and millennials have a strong preference for self-serve buying models, particularly for less complex purchases. This can be mutually beneficial in terms of efficiency, which has led to the increase in automating simple B2B purchase transactions. As more millennials become decision-makers in their organizations, the more traditional in-person or over-the-phone buying methods are becoming less popular.

A major finding from McKinsey’s global B2B Pulse is the new bar for omnichannel excellence has been raised from offering four or five engagement channels five years ago to ten or more channels over the “rule of three” (traditional, remote and self-service) engagement modes, delivered 24/7. Buyers have shown they want access to them all – in roughly equal measure throughout their purchasing journey. And the businesses that are meeting this demand have profited: 72% of B2B companies that sell via seven or more channels grew their market share. But remember, the key to omnichannel success is understanding the channels your buyers use and how they want to use them throughout their entire journey so you can provide the right information to the right person at the right time.

Buyer journeys – nonlinear and not always predictable

Gartner research identified six B2B buying “jobs” or distinct sets of discrete tasks to help buyers successfully advance through a complex purchase via a combination of digital and human interactions. According to the report, these buying jobs don’t happen sequentially but more or less simultaneously. Buyers bounce around from one to the other, revisiting at least one before purchase.

Let’s delve into each of these buyer enablement tasks.

  • Problem identification: The buying process is usually triggered when a problem, challenge or need is identified that requires the business to do something about it.
  • Solution exploration: Now that the problem is recognized and understood, the business must consider how to solve it. This is done by researching, evaluating and comparing potential solutions.
  • Requirements building: Buyers define and prioritize specific criteria, requirements and outcomes the business needs the solution to do.
  • Supplier selection: Buyers compare and evaluate viable solutions and choose the one that best fits the requirements for doing what the business wants it to do.
  • Validation: Buyers think they know the right answer but seek reassurance from external sources (case studies, customer reviews, references and testimonials) to be convinced that they are making the best choice.
  • Consensus creation: Buyers work towards reaching a consensus within their buying group and align with stakeholders to ensure that everyone is onboard with the decision and rationale behind it.

The B2B buying journey

Gartner’s B2B Buying Chart above depicts just how complex and nonlinear the path to purchase can be, with a plethora of online and offline touchpoints to orchestrate and integrate based on buyer personas.

The buyer’s group or buying committee (6 to 10 decision-makers who all gather information independently) may not only consist of C-suite executives but more often a tiger team: a cross-functional group of super-agile, subject-matter experts formed to solve a specific high-impact problem, work on a key business imperative or address a critical issue.

It was particularly interesting to see the addition of variables around information gathering, assessments and discussions in this updated illustrated version, which also reflects the growing abundance and importance of high-quality information available online.

Personalization and AI technology is changing the way we engage buyers today. Well-orchestrated digital experiences, native to the engagement channel, help buyers feel confident and in control of the purchase decision by providing a choice of tailored information recommendations based on their data input and criteria. In fact, according to Gartner’s Distinguished Advisory VP Brent Adamson, “Providing customers with information specifically designed to help them advance their purchase is the single biggest impact driving deal quality that we’ve ever documented in all of our research.” The technology also enables buyers to validate the many decisions they must make across the full buying journey.

Data and data-driven decisions – the nexus of all paths

Harnessing the full potential of buyer engagement intelligence at digital velocity requires clean, accurate, real-time and accessible data. The ability to leverage real-time data and advanced analytics have moved from being a competitive advantage to a minimum standard for most manufacturers, distributors and dealers who depend on these insights to manage inventory, reduce order errors, forecast and deliver business outcomes. And customers are supported with user-friendly self-service tools where they can access current sales agreements, purchasing history, packaging and shipping information, and payment options.

Google has finally thrown down the gauntlet, making good on its plan to decimate third-party cookies in its Chrome browser by the end of this 30-year anniversary year of cookies. Its year-end deprecation of third-party cookies makes alternative forms of data collection much more critical and valuable for elevated visitor experiences and high-performing websites as follows.

Zero-party data: Considered the gold standard of data collection, zero-party data is information intentionally, willingly and directly shared with companies by buyers or prospective buyers in exchange for more personalized experiences. It includes personal information such as their job titles, interests, email addresses and phone numbers. Website components like chatbots and modals (those pop-ups that appear in front of and disable all other content on the webpage asking for your information) make it very easy for visitors to share their personal information.

First-party data: Used to gain a deeper understanding of behavioral interactions with a company’s website visitors, email campaigns, social media accounts or mobile apps, first-party data is collected and owned by the business. While it’s limited to customer interactions, first-party data is considered valuable primarily because of its accuracy. Data analytics helps companies identify trends, preferences and pain points to inform their marketing, sales, product development and customer success strategies.

Data privacy: Ensuring that all data collected is compliant, secure and protected from unauthorized access remains a top priority for all businesses. And transparency, trust and respect for privacy in adapting to the changing expectations and preferences of buyers are paramount.

Data-driven decisions:  Gartner predicts that by 2026, 65% of B2B sales organizations will transition from intuition-based to data-driven decision making, using technology that unites workflow, data and analytics. And it recommends that Chief sales Officers (CSOs) evaluate emerging technologies that support two kinds of B2B transactions:

  • Volume and velocity: Typically executed over shorter sales cycles (less than three months), for small deal sizes (less than $25,000), with a small buying committee (less than six stakeholders), often for products with lower complexity.
  • Enterprise:Typically executed over longer sales cycles (six months or more), for larger deal sizes (greater than $125,000), with a large buying committee (eight to 11 stakeholders), often for complex products.

The dynamic dance of perpetual change

Modern B2B buyers are as nuanced and evolutionary as their buyer journeys and preferences for engagement. From improving efficiency and orchestrating cohesive buyer experiences throughout the journey to embracing cutting edge enabling technologies, businesses are navigating a dynamic landscape. The successful long-term viability of most companies now requires the business agility to be comfortable operating in a perpetual state of transition, change and transformation.

While they may not be linear and not yet as ideally predictable as we would like, keep a relentless focus on assessing each stage of your buyer’s journey to reach, attract, engage and convert more buyers. With consistent gleaning of meaningful and actionable data-driven insights, you can anticipate buyer shifts in behaviors, intent and preferences – and adapt your engagement strategy accordingly in real-time to instill confidence in your buyers and win more deals.

Konica Minolta

Konica Minolta aims to partner with clients to Give Shape to Ideas by supporting their digital transformation through its expansive Intelligent Connected Workplace portfolio. Its business technology offerings include IT Services, intelligent information management, video security solutions and managed print services, as well as office technology and industrial and commercial print solutions.