Both leading analysts Gartner CEB (below) and Forrester have found that the buyers' journey has substantially changed prior to contacting a vendor.
This is largely due to how our personal buying behaviour is changing. You probably recall buying a holiday by going into your local travel agent in early January to speak with the person you booked with last year. Being given a brochure, reviewing and making a decision based on their expert advice. I think it is fair to say that the majority of us now do this research online before making a booking. The best in class online travel agents are at the front of your mind as you do your research so it becomes a seamless process when it is time to buy.
In B2B the trusted advisor process is happening before the buyer speaks to you.
Given it is changing, what are the implications:
- By the time you eventually talk to a prospect they have often already decided who they trust and who do they not trust.
- Expert-to-Expert marketing and sales is about establishing your credentials as someone who is knowledgeable and trustworthy in the market.
- Therefore the first time they speak to you, they perceive you (and your company) as an expert and someone they trust.
In complex B2B purchases buyers do not come through RFPs or inbound website leads as much as they used to. There are "approximately 7-8 people are actively involved in all of the activity streams" in an account and these buyers are educating themselves about your product long before you know they are interested.
Showcasing your expertise and those within your company could not be more vital to differentiate and leading organisations are beginning to do this like Oracle, Deloitte, Hitachi, NTT Group.
CEB, now Gartner, research found that customers are more than halfway, 57%, through the purchase process before they have the first meaningful contact with a seller. This means customers are coming into seller interactions with preconceived ideas about what products and features they want to buy and how much they’re willing to pay. In this environment, sales reps must deliver a purchase experience that transcends product features and benefits to win sales and retain business, or risk becoming irrelevant.