The world of B2B sales is changing. The times of aged executives and sales agents sat negotiating with vendors over prices and terms in cold meeting rooms is over.
Technology is at the forefront of this change. There’s a new generation of entrepreneurs who are more likely to pull out their smartphone and search the internet than they are to call a sales rep. The digital natives are here, and they are now sitting in decision-making positions in the business world.
The term ‘digital natives’ refers to people who grew up with digital technology from a young age. We refer to the first generation of digital natives as ‘millennials’, but future generations too will grow up with the internet and smartphones. This is causing huge changes in all aspects of society and business, including B2B purchase behaviour.
Digital natives take an entirely different approach to researching and securing quality vendors. They live in a world of information, and will want to know everything about the company they are buying from before they even make a call or arrange a meeting. Marketers and product managers need to adapt quickly and stay up-to-date with what is essentially a generational shift in the way we do business.
The Digital Native Profile
Digital natives are now at the age where many are involved with making company decisions. In a Merit report, 73% of 20-35 year old employees reported being involved in purchase decision-making for their company. A Google and Millward Brown survey showed that around half of all B2B product researchers are digital natives, with this number increasing all of the time.
Research has shown that digital natives, who we can see now occupy a large portion of the B2B space, handle business in a different way to their predecessors. They are less likely to call up vendors for information, less likely to host meetings to talk about terms, and less likely to even hire salespersons to secure deals on their behalf. In fact, a Forrester report shows that digital natives find phone calls tedious. So, how do digital natives go about researching their vendor?
They usually start by searching the internet. Most searches are for generic industry terms like “business automation services”, rather than for a specific brand. They will typically browse their options online, carefully nit-picking through websites and social media for information. They will check out reviews and ask peers and colleagues for opinions. Digital natives have a wealth of data at their fingertips, and they know it!
By the time a digital native B2B buyer contacts a vendor they will already have amassed a wealth of information about the company. They will have formed strong opinions about what kind of company they will be working with and what kind of value to expect. Digital natives will know what they are paying for, and they will expect vendors to meet or exceed their expectations, both in terms of deliverables and also in terms of trust, compatibility and connectedness.
Marketing and Sales To Digital Natives
B2B buying behaviours are shifting to match digital native consumer habits. This has implications for your sales and marketing teams, who need to adapt quickly to a tech-driven world. First of all, you need to recognise that sales and marketing should no longer operate as two separate segments. Marketing teams now nurture leads through around 70% or more of the buying process. Your sales team should only be dealing with sales-ready leads.
Focus On Your Online PresenceTo adapt to the new B2B buyers, you need to focus on building your online presence. This is more important than trying a cold and hard sell approach for products and services. Start with your website. It doesn’t have to cost too much to get one started, but you should always dedicate part of your budget to its upkeep.
Your website should contain all the information that a potential buyer needs in order to make a decision. Don’t rely on a digital native buyer to make contact when they want to find prices or ask further questions. Make sure everything about your products and services is covered on your website and other channels, including the prices!
If all the relevant information isn’t on your website, the buyer will look elsewhere. If your website isn’t well maintained with plenty of content then it probably won’t even rank, and your buyers won’t see it to begin with. Consider adding regular blog and video content, and use multiple social media channels to boost your audience, and eventually your sales.
Display ReviewsReviews are everything to digital natives. Many of your new B2B customers will want to see evidence of your results. Encourage loyal customers to write reviews and testimonials, and include them on your website.
Consider displaying peer reviews, endorsements from industry influencers, and taking on relevant and genuine brand advocates to boost trust even further. Curate your content constantly and add reviews to stay in control of your online image.
Digital natives tend to trust the opinion of third parties and other customers, and this is a big part of their purchase decision-making process. Make sure your company stands out as trusted, and that your satisfied customers can be seen endorsing your services.
Deliver On Function and Reputation Digital natives are a well-researched bunch. When they choose a vendor it’s usually because they believe they have found the best match for their money.
They will often have high expectations from information they have gained from your website and reviews, and they will want to feel like this information matches up to their own experience. Digital natives value the deliverables, but they also have additional values that might not have mattered so much to executives of previous generations.
Digital natives want to feel trust, compatibility and connection. It’s your job to make them happy.
Social ResponsibilityFinally, digital natives have been shown to value social and environmental responsibility, and many factor this in quite heavily to their purchase decisions. A Merit study shows that 80% of millennials feel this way. Helping humanity and the planet has always been admirable, but now it’s crucial from a marketing perspective; especially if you want to tap into the new B2B buyers market.
Your company should add these inspirational value elements and display them with pride. Show your new B2B buyers that you’re involved with charity work, that you give back to the community and that your products are ethical and responsible.
And in saying that, I'm proud to highlight our connection with People Not Borders. A local charity doing excellent work with a few committed volunteers to help those in need. If you have a spare minute, go ahead and check out the great work Sue and the team are doing.