An Indepth Look Into B2B Buyer Patterns: The BuyerSphere Project

The last session I attended on Day 2 of SES San Jose was “The BuyerSphere Project: Understanding B2B Buyer Patterns“. The session objective was to review research and insights gleaned from Enquiro’s B2B research initiative: “The BuyerSphere Project“.

Gord Hotchkiss, Enquiro, on the BuyerSphere Project in advance of SES San Jose 2009

[Author note: This post is continued dissemination of content from this week’s SES San Jose search marketing conference, in coordination with aimClear. Make sure to check out the full coverage which can be found on the aimClear Blog, Bruce Clay, Search Engine Roundtable, Top Rank Blog, and Search Engine Land.]

SES San Jose

Background: Enquiro – with input from all five of the companies represented in the session panel (Google, Business.com, Covario, Marketo and DemandBase) – sought to examine the buying behavior patterns of marketers, specifically in the B2B marketplace.

Data for this project was collected from:

  • Over 100 face-to-face interviews
  • Hundreds of eye tracking sessions
  • Over 3,000 survey responses

Representing the five contributing companies:

  • Mark McMaster, Senior Planner of B2B and Technology Markets at Google
  • Ben Hanna, VP Marketing at Business.com
  • Susan Chenoweth Scarth, VP Marketing at Demandbase
  • Jon Miller, VP Marketing at Marketo
  • Dr. Matthias Blume, Chief Analytics Officer for Covario

Moderated by Gord Hotchkiss, President & CEO of Enquiro, here’s how the [EXCITING :-)] session broke down.

Gord asked for one key insight from each of the panelists to kick off the session.

  • Ben: Focus on risk is a key factor in the buying process
  • Mark: There are multiple participants in the B2B buying process
  • Jon: There is a risk gap between vendor and buyer. Risk can be irrationally handled or impact the decision making process.
  • Matthias: The study made explicit many of the things we have only assumed. There are no easy answers in the B2B buying process
  • Susan: Tremendous integration with online and offline marketing; particularly on the sales side

Gord continued by identifying five key points from the project.

  1. The Risk Gap and the Myth of the Funnel
  2. The Need for Mapping
  3. Better Integration Between Online and Offline
  4. The Buyer-Doer Gap
  5. Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives

1.) The Risk Gap and the Myth of the Funnel
“Marketers love models” but the fact is that is a marketer paradigm, NOT a “person” paradigm. The panel did not assume there actually was a traditional funnel (need, awareness, [INSERT RISK] consideration, purchase, use).

  • The B2B buying decision making funnel is all about risk. Two types: organizational risks and personal risks [and how it can impact each type]
  • With more risk comes the need for more resources to assist the buying process

Panel Discussion:

  • John: Finds this the most fascinating. Risk creates fear and emotion which turns the process into a non-rational process. Question: How can the B2B marketer mitigate this? John believes it emphasizes how important it is for B2B companies to build brand. Companies might want to choose “you” but need to rationalize it.
  • Ben: Building awareness is not a one shot deal. There must be a “path” connecting lead generation with brand awareness (and vice versa)
  • Mark: Comments that with greater costs comes greater risks.
  • Gord: Huge risk control mechanism – get customer referrals

2.) The Need for Mapping
B2B marketers need to map across a range of dimensions to understand how their offering is perceived in comparison to the competition. Three dimensions to evaluate: Product, Buyer, Market.

Panel Discussion:

  • Susan: Question: how many people work with “blank slate” buying process [purchases that require significant research]? Quite a few hands rose in the audience.
  • Susan: Offer more resources to support your product and brand: case studies, articles etc
  • Ben: We can be good at product marketing but still forget that the buyer has limited time to actually invest in research. Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes to understand their perspectives.
  • Gord: Your perception and the buyers perception always are different. Until you realize this, you’re marketing blind

3.) Better Integration Between Online and Offline
Of all the factors, Gord felt that this was the most significant. Traditional marketing does not necessarily get the new digital landscape (search, social etc). In many cases, digital was actually competing with the traditional marketing plan; not enhancing one another.

  • The EQ/IQ Model – the need for providing information (IQ) and support trust (EQ). [I’m paraphrasing this considerably so any feedback from panelists or attendees would be appreciated]
  • Marketers assume the digital market overrides the traditional marketing cycle. This is not the same in the B2B buying cycle with more complex sales cycles.

Panel Discussion:

  • Matthias: This piece clearly identifies the gap between buyer and vendor. It’s very difficult to assume the last conversion action was the only touch point that lead to the sale. Even in the B2C world, a larger percentage of revenue is often still made offline
  • Mark: The data validates multiple touch points and the impact of multiple users, using multiple search terms and conversion actions that lead to an eventual purchase
  • Ben: Most of the metrics we have today only show us the last actions a visitor did online; we end up flying blind and making assumptions based on the existing online metrics. There must be baby steps to tie online and offline marketing initiatives together
  • Jon: Even though conversions online might be downloads or registrations, we can’t forget the end goal: sales. Unfortunately, there is a challenge with sending information “the other way”. Once a prospect gets in the sales cycle, the communication with marketing tends to cease. This relationship must integrate better.

4.) The Buyer-Doer Gap

  • Doers – those are the people that use the product.
  • Buyers – have control of the budget for products

Do’ers are evaluating the product (downloading white papers, reading specifications etc). [Do’ers believe that the buyers would screw this process up if left on their own] and define risk based on a products’ feature set.

In contrast, buyers are evaluating the vendor – company stability, references, communication etc. That is the gap between buyers and doers.

Panel Discussion:

  • Susan: Understand who will be a part of the buying process to communicate with all parties effectively
  • Ben: As different people get involved in the buying process, there’s a tendency to think the marketing process has to “start over”. That is not necessarily the case. Understand that marketers need to communicate to different perspectives, which does not mean starting the communication process over.

5.) Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives
Digital immigrants and natives are defined as those who learned technology later in life [digital immigrants] and those who grew up with digital technology [digital natives].

Digital natives accept technology as simply something they do. It’s just not that exciting. Digital immigrants find innovation online “exciting”. Question: what happens when the natives become the “boss”?

Panel Discussion:

  • Mark: The C-Suite is comfortable with search, email and technology. Those under 40 are blogging, reading blogs and engaged in new media
  • Ben: The number of people in the US engaged in business buying was 47 million (down from 52 million one year ago). The drop was in digital immigrants. The shift to digital natives (making business buying decisions) is happening.
  • Matthias: Sticking his neck out and predicting mobile will become more influential in the B2B buying process. The decision maker is already familiar with mobile device (blackberrys, iPhones etc).
  • Gord: Agrees that mobile devices will become more relevant and on the cusp of serious consideration
  • Mark: The current patterns in search indicate within the next decade [MAYBE SOONER], mobile searches will exceed desktop searches
  • Jon: Question: With B2B, it seems that face to face is most important but how might that change as digital natives begin to take more of a leadership role in business?
  • Gord: Thinks that even though digital natives will need less face-to-face, there still will be a need in complex buying cycles [paraphrasing a bit as well]

[FINAL NOTE: Gord indicated that a limited number of copies of the book – The BuyerSphere Project – were available at SES San Jose, but I’ll do my best to reach out and find out when distribution will be made open to the general public]

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