In the past, the triumph of the digital revolution has not only noticeably changed the B2C sector but has also continued to fundamentally change marketing and sales in the business-to-business segmentation. Studies, which point to these changes, indicate that many strategies used by companies still adhere to marketing and sales concepts that are no longer up to date. In the following text, we will explain how B2B marketing and sales have changed and how companies can position themselves in the future to meet the new requirements.
A study by Google in collaboration with Millward Brown Digital impressively shows how the B2B sector has fundamentally changed. An important finding of the study is almost half of all B2B buyers (46 percent) were between 18 and 34 years old in 2014. In comparison, the youngest age group accounted for only a percentage share of 27 percent in 2012. All other age groups, especially buyers between the age of 45 and 54, went down in percentage terms within these two years. Several studies cite the digital transformation and penetration of the Internet in professional life as the cause. In order to take advantage of technological achievements, companies need digital competence. Therefore, they fall back on the so-called „digital natives.” These are young and qualified employees, who grew up with technological achievements such as the Internet and already possess corresponding digital skills. They bring these skills to the company and are open to further technological innovations.
This makes it more devastating to discover that a large share of companies that are considered to be B2B have selected solely the senior executives as their target group. Their marketing structure is designed around a one-sided sales system that tries to reach out to the so-called „C-Suite.” The C-Suite is the top level of the corporate hierarchy that holds decisive management positions from CEO to COO. Although an astonishing number of digital natives have moved up to leading positions in recent years, they feel less addressed by the still conservative marketing measures. In addition, „Non C-Suiters“ on average have 81 percent of the influence on a purchase decision, which means that companies do not fully exploit the potential of digital natives.
With the help of the internet, it is possible to retrieve all the information that a user needs for making a purchase decision within a very short time. In the recent past, this has led B2B buyers to obtain detailed and independent information about products on the World Wide Web before deciding to buy something. The study, „The Digital Future of B2B Sales“, by Google and Roland Berger confirms this: „57% of the B2B purchase process has already been completed before the decision-maker contacts a sales rep for the first time.” As a result, the emphasis on marketing and sales has changed and will continue to do so in the future. Particularly, online marketing has played a decisive role in recent years. It can be used specifically to reach B2B buyers who are in the decision-making process and convince them of a certain product. However, it is not entirely advisable to divest from the existing sales structure and invest the freed-up capital exclusively in online marketing measures, but rather to find a balance tailored to the company. The marketing and sales departments should work closely together to reach buyers through the whole purchasing process and convince them of the company’s products.
Before digitalization, there was a mutual dependency between buyers and sellers, especially in the chemical industry. Purchasers were dependent on their suppliers and manufacturers, depending on the product in demand. With increasing globalization and digitalization, this changed rapidly. Today, it is easier than ever for buyers to compare products and manufacturers online transparently, and eventually decide on a suitable offer based on their research. Grotesquely, some manufacturers and suppliers still believe that B2B buyers are dependent on them. Experts agree that these companies will not remain in the market in the long run, unless they have already achieved market leadership or specialization. Others are successful: we are talking about companies that have recognized the change brought on by digitalization and have been working tirelessly ever since to attract the interest of new customers. For example, they create additional services for buyers or equipping their products with sought-after features in order to stand out from the competition and offer their customers added value.
The aforementioned study by Google and Roland Berger describes how the corresponding measures will be implemented in four phases as a result of the change. Among other things, digitalization is a fundamental topic to which a high priority must be assigned, and it must be supervised by experts. Many companies also need to readjust their corporate culture and mindsets. Companies need to recognize that pull marketing is more sustainable than push marketing. Finally, the know-how of employees and partners is crucial in order to react adequately to changes, such as the integration of marketing and sales departments on digital matters.
Digital natives are playing an increasingly important role in B2B purchasing. Contrary to the widespread assumption that they make their purchase decisions rationally, emotions have a decisive influence. In another blog article, we examined The Influence of Emotions on Decision-Making in B2B. Further information on this topic can be found in the corresponding blog article.