The connected consumer is on the rise, but what of B2B decision-makers? Has the digital revolution hit this group in the same way? Does this diminish the role of the salesperson, or have reports of their death been greatly exaggerated?
Developments in B2B marketing have encouraged the rise of the digital decision-maker
B2B decision-making behaviour has shifted. This change has been fed by the rise of digital marketing – it’s now far easier for companies to extend their marketing communications reach into B2B buyers. More channels are open to those on the supply side and that has had a liberating impact, opening up new markets (particularly globally). Marketing automation has had a big impact in this area, with the ability to nurture leads more efficiently and establish return on investment on campaign costs. Social media also increases the sheer volume of content and brand interaction, as sharing has become so easy in what was traditionally a far more closed information environment.
The medium of delivery is increasingly mobile. Executives are making use of mobile devices to search for business information, and are doing so way outside the 9-5 office environment . Buyers are consuming supplier information whilst they’re travelling on business, commuting, socialising, or watching TV (although the 40% who claim to research B2B purchases during recreation/exercise should probably put the phone down for a while). The implications of this behaviour are that:
A - Company websites need to be optimised for mobile – buyers are not just consuming messages through sitting in front of a PC
B - Content needs to be compelling and concise if it is going to divert attention from the treadmill, and;
C - Purchases are more likely to occur on handsets and tablets, so the journey needs to be seamless and allow for ease of purchase.
So has this weight of marketing in a digital environment diminished the role of the salesperson in the purchase decision?
While face-to-face meetings are still an important part of the sales process, B2B buyers are no longer reliant on the traditional sales approach to find out about products and services. They are now able to conduct their own research before engaging with a salesperson. B2B buyers are now well over halfway through the purchase process before a supplier’s sales team is engaged . Does this sound the death knell for more personal sales team interactions with B2B buyers? No, it is merely shifting the focus of sales conversations, and that can present an opportunity if the sales advisor is well prepared and close to the client’s business needs.
Detailed technical specs, catalogues of products and generic company sales pitches - how much value were salespeople really adding here anyway? Having marketing and product information at the buyer’s fingertips at any time can work to the advantage of the B2B salesperson. They can spend more time on the account relationship, getting to know the specifics of the buyer’s business, building networks and developing propositions and solutions that are the best fit for the prospective customer. B2B requirements are often bespoke, can be complex, and the purchase process can be a long one. In these circumstances, the personal touch has the edge and will lead to higher margin sales. If sales can focus on added-value such as service excellence and competitive advantage, then the curse of commoditisation that the digital-only journey can bring is avoided.
The B2B buyer is certainly as connected as their consumer counterpart, if not more so. However, this can work in favour of the sales advisor if they are well prepared, know their prospect, and build relationships. The message may have changed, but the medium of the sales visit lives to fight another day.
 Forbes, The Connected Executive: Mobilizing the Path to Purchase, July 2013  CEB, The Digital Evolution in B2B marketing, 2012