Various studies reveal significant changes to how B2B buyers identify, evaluate, and select suppliers.
Several findings are worth noting:
- A Hubspot study found that only 3% of people consider salespeople and marketers as trustworthy.
- 84% of B2B buyers are now starting the purchasing process with a referral, and peer recommendations influence more than 90% of all B2B buying decisions.
- 70% of B2B buyers fully define their needs on their own before engaging with a sales representative, and 44% identify specific solutions before reaching out to a seller.
- B2B buyers complete the majority of their research, outreach, and evaluation during the first three months of the sales cycle.
Peer Influence and its Effects on the B2B Buying Process and Customer Buying Journey
“We live in a peer-bound world,” says Chandar Pattabhiram, CMO for Coupa. “Whether you’re buying cars, software, or any other category, buyers are influenced more by their peers than by the vendor themselves.”
While there are differences that distinguish B2B buying, such as price point, complexity of the solution, and number of participants (as many as six or more) in the decision process, the importance of peer recommendations often experienced in the B2C buying process has seeped into the B2B buying journey. The increase in this trend is particularly significant as the perception and role of the salesperson in the B2B purchase process evolves.
The sheer volume of information available on the internet enables buyers to circumvent salespeople to learn about a solution. In fact, a Gartner research study found that when B2B buyers consider a purchase, they spend only 17% of their time meeting with potential suppliers. When buyers compare multiple suppliers, the amount of time spent with any one sales rep may be only 5% or 6%.
These changes have far-reaching implications for the ways companies’ market and sell. They can no longer depend on engaging buyers with salespeople during the early stages of the process.
Hence the importance of peer engagement.
While many buyers rely on peer recommendations they also prioritize and value peer interactions. Often the people involved in the B2B buying process have different roles within the organization and, as a result, different peer groups. People in different roles care about different things.
For example, in terms of a cybersecurity solution, what a CFO takes into consideration will not be the same as what a chief security officer, IT director, or purchasing director evaluates.
Companies understand these differences and attempt to address them by creating a wide range of content tailored to different buyers to support different phases of the journey in the hope of accelerating the sales cycle. Even so, according to the Demand Gen Report, 2020 B2B Buyer Behavior Study, the purchase cycle is lengthening, not shortening, with 77% of buyers spending more time conducting research prior to purchase.
Expand Who in Your Organization Engages with Customers
What steps can organizations trying to engage with B2B buyers take? Consider expanding who from your company engages with, and interacts with, the members of the buying team.
A Demand Gen study found that 84% of buyers seek input from peers and existing users, and 57% do so within the first three months of the buying process. This trend of B2B buyers seeking more peer recommendations provides an additional insight into how much they might prioritize and value peer content and interactions.
Consider these questions:
- Who authors your blog content? Is it a content writer in Marketing? Are you selling to marketers? If not, maybe it is time to enlist people perceived as peers to your buyers to contribute to and byline your content.
- Who writes and sends your emails? Again, a marketer or a salesperson? If your buyers are CFOs, maybe your emails should be written and sent from your CFO.
- Who facilitates your learning events, such as virtual learning series? Someone from the sales team? If your buyers are orthopedic surgeons maybe your speaker needs to be a bioengineer or medical device engineer.
The key point is that your organization has an opportunity to mobilize the people on your team who are perceived as peers to your buyers. We refer to this approach as peer-to-peer engagement.
How to Initiate Your Peer Engagement Program
Intrigued? It’s relatively easy to spin up a demand generation experiment around this strategy. To do so, you must first have clarity into your customer’s buying journey, the various titles and roles of the participants in the buying process, and insight into each role’s touchpoint and channel preferences.
Armed with this information you can create a peer engagement program designed with the following 5 steps in mind:
- Organize your buyers into peer groups.
- Enlist the people in your organization who match the peers of your existing and prospective customers. Clarify their role. We suggest the primary role be that of advisor. Give them the list of the peers and their respective groups.
- Spotlight your peers so customers can see them in action. Have them byline blog posts, participate in videos, serve as event speakers, create white papers, and so on. Focus the content on answering questions that would most likely be asked by that peer group. Promote this content to the peer groups.
- Create opportunities for your peers to connect and encourage them to reach out to the people on their peer group list. Emphasize to your peers that their priority is to build the relationship, not pitch the solution. Some people are active on LinkedIn, others not so much. Others prefer peer roundtable discussions.
- Implement a cadence of communication between your peers and their peer groups with a focus on creating conversations. Be sure this communication is sent through the preferred channel (email vs. social media) at the right time.
Your turn. What kinds of peer engagement programs have you created and how did they perform on your customer buying journey? Please share your experiences.
The original version of this article was first published on VisionEdge Marketing.