Politicians of all persuasions will agree that people make decisions in strange ways. The motivations of voters are complex. Political campaign managers must understand this complexity in order to target the right likely voters with the right message at the right time.
To do this, they often break the electorate into three broad groups based on when the voters are likely to pick their candidate: Early Deciders, Campaign Deciders, and Late Deciders. Each group shares similar demographic and attitudinal qualities. For example, Early Deciders tend to be partisans who make decisions before campaigning begins, while Late Deciders tend to be voters who are disaffected and wait to the last minute to decide.
All this is not so very far away from the world of B2B buyers and the buyer’s journey. Here, too, we have complicated groups of people making weighty decisions, often in strange ways. And while we have lots of research that describes the steps in this decision-making journey (for example, The Forrester B2B Buying Decision Process Framework), much less data exists on when different kinds of B2B buyers make decisions. Are there B2B Early Deciders, rather like voters in an election? Who are these people, and what are their characteristics?
Meet The B2B Early Deciders
To answer these questions, I turned to the Forrester Analytics Business Technographics® Priorities And Journey Survey, 2021 data set. In this survey, we ask respondents if they agree or disagree with the following question:
“I often know what I intend to purchase before I begin exploring solutions/services from providers.”
In effect, this question is asking respondents if they fit the criteria for being an Early Decider. In both our 2019 and 2021 surveys, about a quarter agreed. It suggests that some B2B buyers have clear intentions about what to buy before they’re in the market, educating themselves, and being targeted by traditional, intent-based demand generation campaigns. This is intriguing.
Missing out on a quarter of potential buyers seems important. So with the help of Forrester’s Technographics team, I attempted to try and find out more about this group. We discovered that the B2B Early Deciders are a clearly defined cohort, with distinct characteristics and opinions. They are:
- Younger millennials, with more responsibility. Sixty-one percent of Early Deciders are millennials, compared to only 51% of other buyers. Despite their younger age, they skew toward more senior job titles.
- Employed in larger, enterprise-scale companies that are growing fast. Early Deciders are more likely to work for companies with $1 billion or more in annual revenue and are over twice as likely to work for companies growing faster than 15% year-over-year (YoY).
- Technophiles who spend more on IT. Early Decision-Makers are more than twice as likely to say they enjoy learning about and making decisions on tech purchases, compared to non-Early Deciders. Twenty-eight percent of Early Deciders expect to increase tech spending by more than 10% this year, compared to only 16% of non-Early Deciders.
- Decisive, authoritative, and deliberate. Not shy, Early Deciders believe they are good at persuading others about their vision (65%, compared to only 19% for non-Early Deciders).
- Promoters of customer experience (CX), innovation, and brand. Data shows that Early Deciders are more than twice as likely to prioritize improving CX, and almost three times as likely to prioritize increasing brand reach and influence for their company. They also prioritize innovation.
B2B Early Deciders Can’t Be Ignored
We’re used to thinking about buyer decision-making as a process with steps, like a journey. What might be new is recognizing that different groups of buyers arrive at a purchase decision earlier or later in that process. Much like voters in an election (or like Everett Rogers’ Early Adopters of innovation), some seem to start making decisions very early, before they even start educating themselves. This can seem counterintuitive, but it’s fairly common behavior (one example is confirmation bias, in which people search for information that reaffirms their existing beliefs).
In B2B marketing, we often talk about intent. This data suggests that for some classes of buyers, having intent may be a synonym for “I’ve already decided.” So pay attention to Early Deciders because they matter. They seem to be influential and perhaps hard to influence with conventional marketing tactics. By definition, they make decisions early, so get to know them earlier in their journey. Building trust with this group will pay off.