I’m not long into the B2B world, having spent the bulk of my career working directly into consumers via the B2C space. Whilst this area has its own fair share of issues right now, the B2B marketplace feels like it could dwarf these with its own particular set of challenges. It really is a fascinating yet extremely tough time to be a B2B marketer right now.

Many markets are in a state of flux, with regulatory changes and technological advancements driving a huge amount of uncertainty. Consolidation amongst your customer base is rife, either in the form of companies acquiring one another, or from internal departments merging to drive operational efficiencies, and increased competition is arriving from anywhere, at any time. It’s an increasingly complex B2B landscape.

All change? The growing disconnect between B2B buyers and sellers

In some industries this is fundamentally changing the way vendors need to behave. A recent study we performed amongst telcos revealed that there are, on average, 38 decision makers for relatively small purchases, rising to a staggering 100+ decision makers on higher value contracts. It’s no wonder then, that up to 40% of all purchase processes within this sector are abandoned long before the contract stage.

Interestingly, we also found that the buying decisions in this sector are rarely based on price (despite vendors believing it to be the #1 driver). Instead, the primary decision is based on the vendor’s ability to help the operators navigate previously uncharted waters. In other words, they’re looking for a strategic partner to help them prepare for the future, not just a competitive bid based on price and a list of product specs.

So you see, there’s a fundamental disconnect going on between what buyers want and what vendors think it is they want. This isn’t isolated to the telecoms market either. We’re currently undertaking similar studies in the FinTech and Enterprise Technology markets and it’s a familiar story; the painful reality for most vendors is that they simply don’t know enough about their customers wants and needs.

So what do we know?

Let’s remain positive for a second. Let’s assume that we are able to accurately identify who our main B2B buyer is. We’re now left with the unenviable task of trying to understand how to best connect with them. Long gone are the days when we could control the linear flow of information between buyer and seller. The time-honoured techniques of trade shows, plus trade media, plus sales reps still work to a point, but rarely in isolation.

Nowadays the B2B buyer, who is likely to be millennial in behaviour if not in demography, is empowered and self-educated to the point that the vast bulk of their purchase decision is made long before they entertain any form of sales call. In addition a recent study (albeit by Google…) shows that 70% of modern B2B buyers start their research with an internet search, with 58% of them actually trusting Google more than a sales rep. Source aside, I can believe this.

The problems then run deeper when we learn that these organisations also have an extremely diverse and connected ecosystem of influence sitting around them. Anything from a handful of important influencers to over 100 people in some industries. These ecosystems are critical, but the problem is, in nearly all cases, you’re not in it…

So as Barack Obama once famously said, when times change, so must we.

A peculiarly B2B problem?

If B2B brands are to survive in this digital-first world they have no alternative but to invest in understanding their customers and their underlying wants and needs better. This is the new reality that B2B marketers must accept as they move away from having a product-first focus and towards being more adventurous and ambitious in the way they look at customer insights.Where I’m from the use of insight is an accepted necessity if we’re to tackle any kind of client problem. In the B2C world you can’t expect to progress without it. It is this use of insights – or even basic planning – which acts as a bridge between the client problem and the resulting strategy or idea that is devised to unlock that problem.

Yet in the B2B marketplace we seem content to rely on anecdotal evidence from sales teams, or to just blindly follow the trodden path. With the B2B buyer now at arm’s length and your competition one click away this can simply no longer continue. We have to be clear about who our customers are and what it is they want.

How else do we find and navigate these buying ecosystems with multiple stakeholders? How else can we create meaningful relationships with an audience we know very little about? How can we develop products that are in tune with how the market is developing? How can we develop sales and marketing strategies that are not simply built on hearsay within the business? How can we prime our content marketing so that it actually delivers on their hidden wants and needs?

There has to be a better way.

We created Aperture to do just that. We want to help B2B organisations identify who their customers are – both buyers and influencers – and we want to help them understand the hidden wants and needs of these groups. We’re setting ourselves up as a Marketing Intelligence Company whose principle purpose is to help B2B clients create a clear path to purchase for their customers. In doing this they will build better relationships, sell more, optimise the right things, make more money, deliver the correct content and the list goes on.

So yes, it is a challenging time to be a B2B marketer right now, but if we accept the need to change, and we take a more ambitious approach to understanding our customers, we have a real opportunity to outpace those B2B brands who are stuck relying on anecdotal evidence from the sales team…

Brad Fairhead

Brad Fairhead

Brad Fairhead is MD of Aperture, a consulting and advisory firm for B2B organisations seeking to transform sales and marketing performance. The firm offers two things. The first is disruptive insights into buyers and markets. The second is practical advice about how to turn those insights into action.
Brad Fairhead

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