The business-to-business (B2B) world has changed rapidly in recent years. The latest advances are based on factors such as globalization, digitalization and the intelligent networking of machines and processes along the lines of industry 4.0. The millennials and their working methods also have a decisive influence. At the same time, B2B marketers are facing new challenges: Although the strategies practiced in recent years via traditional print media or trade fair appearances are still important, they have long ceased to achieve the desired effect. Instead, digital marketing and with it,s pecial marketing trends are moving into the focus of B2B marketing specialists. Find out in this blog post which five trends will change B2B marketing soon and how you can benefit from them.
Unlike in the business-to-customer (B2C) area, B2B customers are often less flexible when choosing an alternative supplier. This is due to the fact that purchasing decisions result in high one-off expenses and in long-term contracts. Through his decision the customer is bound to products or supplier companies in the long term. For this reason, a B2B purchase decision must be considered very carefully.
Marketing specialists agree that trust and open communication between buyers and sellers are the most important factors influencing a purchase decision. However, B2B marketers seem to have decisive deficiencies in these areas: Efforts are increasing to win new customers and maintain and expand existing customer relationships. At the same time, however, customers are gradually losing confidence in manufacturers and suppliers. This is revealed by TrustRadius’s 2018 „Buyers Disconnect“ report. In 2017, TrustRadius surveyed over 650 B2B marketers and buyers about their mutual relationships and published the results. The two infographics titled „Information Sources Used by B2B Buyers“ and „Was the vendor up-front about the product’s limitations“ are likely to be particularly sobering for marketers. The first chart shows which information sources buyers primarily use when informing themselves about a product. Purchasers often use product information, user reviews and product or company websites to obtain information. In addition, buyers often requested a demo and test phase in order to get an idea of the manufacturer’s product or service. Less pleasing for the suppliers might be the fact that customer references, sales staff and company blogs published by them have hardly been used. Instead, it became apparent that purchasers were primarily relying on independent sources of information or putting the product through its paces instead of relying on the vendors‘ promises of benefits. The information chart „Was the vendor up-front about the product’s limitations“ shows the actual trust gap between the buyers and sellers surveyed. According to the survey, only 37 percent of buyers trusted their suppliers to report openly and honestly about the limits of their products. This contrasts with the self-image of the sellers. Of these, 85 percent stated that they were open and honest with potential customers when it came to limitations of their own products.
TrustRadius concluded that instead of „slick messaging“, today’s buyers demand the „brutal truth“ from the sellers.
As early as 2015, Google showed in the study „The Changing Face of B2B Marketing“ that not only buyers‘ expectations of suppliers have changed, but also buyers themselves and their buying behavior. In 2014, almost half of all B2B buyers were millennials. Since then it can be assumed that the 50 percent mark has been exceeded. In contrast to their predecessors, millennials do not obtain their information exclusively from potential business partners. They make use of the Internet and research extensively about products and services. After all, it is important to them that their salespeople enable an uncomplicated and fast purchasing process. Before they contact a sales consultant, 90 percent of the decision-making process has already been completed. For this reason, the conservative marketing methods of recent decades have had little effect on today’s generation of buyers. Rather, the era of digital marketing began with the appearance of the millennials as buyers. B2C marketing has shown the way: If you want to reach the new generation, you must be present on the Internet and use new technologies. In future, the marketing departments of B2B companies will have to deal with the following five trends if they want to reach their target groups in the future.
Trend 1: Content Marketing is Becoming More and More Important
This trend is not surprising when you consider that content marketing has been very popular for several years now. Numerous studies prove that this form of marketing as content-based advertising has a great influence on the desired target groups. Furthermore, content marketing is usually not only relatively inexpensive, but also offers companies the opportunity to convince potential customers of their know-how. In this context, there is still the misbelief that B2B buyers, unlike B2C buyers, make their purchasing decisions exclusively based on data, facts and information. In relevant studies the opposite could be proven: B2B buyers are also guided by emotions in their purchasing decisions. It is therefore important to share not only information content (e.g. infographics) but also internal company information and thus conveying more personality.
Trend 2: Target Marketing with Big Data, Data Analytics and ABM
In the era of Big Data, data is the gold of modern times. In the last two years alone, around 90 percent of all global data has been created. Many people associate Big Data with big technology companies that use complicated processes to process data and use it for their own purposes. The truth is, however, that medium-sized companies are now also using data analytics tools and programs to process data and use it profitably. The data provides B2B marketers with information on the purchasing behavior of users in their respective industries. In a prepared form, the data then serve marketing departments as the basis for marketing campaigns or new online strategies to address customers more specifically. The widespread use of data in marketing companies has recently led to the emergence of a new form of marketing: account-based marketing (ABM). Account-based marketing is a form of digital marketing and requires the analysis of large amounts of data. Unlike the previous target marketing, ABM not only enables target groups to be addressed, but also individual potential customers. Currently, ABM is still in its infancy. Experts agree, however, that it will be used across the board in the future.
Trend 3: Voice, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Open Up New Possibilities
Language assistants such as Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant have made voice control in the private sector socially acceptable. And although assistants such as Alexa now mastered over 50,000 skills, the small devices are continuously being improved and optimized. For B2B Marketer a voice control is interesting in a way that communication through language is more authentic and personal. It is assumed that language assistants in B2B could change the search behavior of buyers in the future. The US internet and market research company Comscore estimates that at least half of all search queries will be conducted using voice commands over the next two years.
In addition to voice control, virtual reality and augmented reality will also be important in the future. In the gaming sector, virtual reality solutions have already shown what they are capable of. In the business context, virtual reality solutions are currently used primarily for architectural visualization, while the first augmented reality approaches can be found in the tourism industry. Many marketing experts also see great potential in the two solutions, for example for product demonstrations or the visualization of possible results after product use or a service.
Trend 4: Brand Ambassadors and Influencer Marketing Give the Company a Face
Company brand ambassadors or industry influencers give companies more personality and increase the basis of trust for buyers. What is already common in the B2C sector can now increasingly be observed in the industry as well. Companies train their own brand ambassadors who (re-)present the company’s products to the outside world. Similar to influencers, they make the brand experienceable, shape the brand character and point out the company’s products to potential buyers. Above all, industry influencers often have a large fan base, which they build up through years of public relations work and expertise. In the future it will be a challenge for companies to select and address the right influencers. It is not so much the number of followers of the influencer that plays a role, but the fact how trustworthy they are perceived in their community. Companies will therefore be busy over the next few years training corporate influencers or winning external icons for corporate projects.
Trend 5: Authenticity as a Foundation for Long-Term Customer Relationships
The „Buyers Disconnect“ report shows the decisive role authenticity plays in purchase decisions. Particularly in the age of the internet, information can be quickly checked for its truthfulness. For this reason, simple, honest and clear communication between buyers and companies is important in order to gain their trust and bind them to the company in the long term. In the future, marketing departments should therefore focus even more on what information they want to share and with what goal.
The marketing instruments of the last decades have hardly an effect on the new generation of buyers. Those B2B marketers who do not want to lose touch with their buyers should focus on current marketing trends.