No one is ever truly prepared for a global crisis such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. When it engulfed the world in early 2020, it caught everyone off-guard — even those who were already well on their way to digital transformation.
The business disruption caused by the outbreak changed the way B2B customers interacted with their suppliers and how they made their purchases. In the first part of this B2B customer buying behavior series, we’ve looked at how consumer habits and preferences have evolved in recent years, before the outbreak. In this article, we will look at changes caused by the pandemic to better understand the current buying preferences and habits of B2B customers.
Key highlights from 2020
At the beginning of 2020, B2B buying behavior was already shaped by the mass-migration to the online world. B2B buyers started to increasingly embark on their purchase journeys online and the online environment started to have a bigger impact on their buying decisions, driving increased interest, and demand for easily accessible information and data-backed evidence.
However, as the pandemic set in, things started to change — or, rather, pick up pace as far as activity in the online shopping world goes.
According to the 2020 B2B Buyer Behavior Study from Demand Gen Report, up to 47% of businesses were experiencing budget and purchase freezes that were caused by the pandemic. On top of that, 30% of them escalated certain purchases that became essential due to COVID-19.
1. Online research becomes essential and takes longer
Even before the pandemic, B2B buyers started spending a lot of time independently researching potential suppliers. But in 2020, up to 77% of buyers have reported that they’re investing even more time in their purchase research online. And it’s important for them to have seamless user experiences on suppliers’ websites and access to easily accessible high-quality content. In fact, 76% of buyers have revealed that their final buying decision is significantly influenced by content. What’s more, 92% of buyers choose their vendors based on an extensive menu of thought-leadership content.
It may appear as though purchase decision-makers are spending more time researching online because of the pandemic which prompted most of the workforce to move their activities into the virtual space, but there’s more to this trend than meets the eye.
While it’s true that the pandemic and subsequent social distancing are forcing everyone to socialize and do business online, it’s important to acknowledge that digital transformation was already leading businesses into the virtual space. The pandemic merely accelerated the pace of things by constricting physical proximity.
The pandemic-related budget issues have also put pressure on many businesses to re-evaluate their investments and choose more wisely. So this is another reason why buyers take their time researching solutions. Last but not least, it’s important to remember that millennials are increasingly joining buying groups and they seek out more data than older generations.
2. Relationships between buyers and suppliers deepen
In recent years, the B2C landscape has experienced a shift to authenticity. More and more B2C consumers started demanding sincerity, integrity, and transparency from the brands they’re investing in. And while the same can be said about B2B buyers, 2020 marked the year when this became more evident, perhaps because of the pandemic bringing the more human side out of everyone.
For B2B buyers, values such as authenticity and trust have become even more important than before because the relationship between them and their suppliers goes deeper than a few transactions. They want to work toward shared goals with their suppliers and for this, they need a long-term commitment from them with post-sales initiatives. For suppliers, this means reviewing their business models and the way they serve their customers. And during the pandemic, many suppliers have accommodated the needs of the buyers with membership perks that deepened the connections between them.
3. Solutions are increasingly selected based on features and functionality
Due to pandemic-related budget restraints, B2B buyers have been pressured to choose their suppliers wisely. In order to achieve this, they had to review their priorities and decide the essential factors upon which they based their final decision. So, what were (and still are) the most important things on their must-haves list?
Features and functionality — two essential aspects of any solution, regardless of industry. B2B buyers are paying more attention to the vendors that can prove the quality of their products’ features and functionality. Solutions that are shown to be effective, as well as affordable, earn customers faster than competitors.
This can be further supported by a strong knowledge of the solution and the industry of the customer. B2B buyers are more likely to chose a vendor that recognizes their needs. In 2020, 91% of buyers felt that the sales reps they engaged with were well-informed about their company, situation, and industry, thus bolstering their perception of the vendor.
4. Content remains king
Up until 2020, suppliers that started to understand the importance of online business shifted their focus to making their content easily accessible for users. Over the past year, as B2B buyers significantly increased their online research time, relevant and personalized content became essential for attracting and converting customers.
For 91% of buyers, easy access to content without long forms became a top preference, showing that it’s important to be able to consume content in a time-efficient manner, especially when there’s so much to digest out there and so many potential suppliers to choose from.
Also, B2B buyers have increasingly become interested in case studies, industry reports, infographics, and actionable articles that demonstrate that the potential supplier has the expertise they require and is able to support them with practical insights and solutions.
Although the B2B world was already heading toward the online space before 2020, the pandemic has undeniably forced many businesses to expedite their migration initiatives. It has also caused them to become more cautious about their spending and highly consider potential purchases before making a decision.
Ultimately, their final purchase decisions were influenced by relevant content and personalized experiences. So, what does this tell us about the future? We’ll look at how things might be moving forward in part III of this series.