That’s the kind of things I’ve heard many times from such brands, mainly in the IT sector. “No need to engage with Mrs Anybody, we’re B2B, we address decision makers, we know them so no need to waste our time on digital to address people who are not the buyers. We’re focused on real business”.
You can spend hours telling them that awareness matters and that buyers won’t think of them if they are not “anchored” in their mind…they don’t listen.
Text 100 recently issued a very interesting study on the buying journey in IT. It demolishes this kind of reasoning and shows that talking to everybody matters, even to people who are not the buyers.
It details the key factors along 5 critical steps : awareness, intent, action, confidence and advocacy.
What do we learn from it ?
68% of buyers reach out to people they are familiar with to gain awareness. Suppliers, colleagues, peers. If the supplier website is still a worthy source, a more qualitative and less biased approach makes them ask to trusted people.
It’s easy to guess that the trusted person will either share their own experience or share what they learned from others, what they read. The more the network is mobilized the more chances a digital interaction will happen and lead someone to mention a given vendor. This interaction can happen with the supplier or with a known person, sometimes met online.
Then comes the intent phase during which buyers try to gather more information about what they learned in the previous stage. A this moment, buyers are even more open. Pears and colleagues (network) comes first, then internet search. A brand’s digital footprint matters even more at this stage. It can be direct (the brand’s words) or indirect (those who mention the brand). One thing is sure : no one will talk about you if he doesn’t know you. Brands need presence and engagement to touch buyers directly or on the rebound..
Action. At this moment the buyer knows its potential suppliers but needs a validation. What does he rely on ? Cases and professional reviews. once again having influencers talking your products is important.
One he has bought from a vendor, the buyer can become an influencer himself if things go well. If he has a strong online presence it’s good for the vendor. If not it’s up to the vendor to stage the case and give it the visibility it deserves.
Last step :advocacy. In this one digital channels are even more important to make the buyer share his experience, talk with his pears and become and evangelist.
What’s the moral of this journey ? That having a strong brand and addressing named buyers in a B2B business is not enough. No one can claim “we exist, people know our name and that’s enough” anymore. Any B2B company must talk to those buyers trust and listen. For this reason and even if some think it’s a waste of money, the digital footprint and engagement with non-buyers will play a key role because it impacts the decision making process, even by rebound.
Of course networks and influence are not only a digital matter. They exist in real life too. But overlooking digital is refusing to use one of the most powerful levers.
In the age of influence and recommendation, all brands are – at least a little – B2C.