Beth Caplow, VP, Principal Analyst and Barbara Winters, Principal Analyst
The B2B buying process involves more people, more scrutiny, and more touchpoints now than it did just a few years ago, thanks in large part to tightened budgets and the raised stakes of decision-making during the pandemic. This week, VP and Principal Analyst Beth Caplow and Principal Analyst Barbara Winters discuss the key findings from Forrester’s 2021 B2B Buying Study and how marketers can navigate the greater complexity.
In 2017, buying scenarios involving just one or two people were the easiest to find. Today, they represent just 18% of purchases, Caplow notes, while the vast majority involve multiple people across multiple departments. The mix of players and their level of involvement have also changed: While executives often played a secondary role in purchase decisions in the past, for instance, they are now a primary decision-maker three-quarters of the time, due largely to the business-critical nature of many purchases made during the pandemic.
Yet the biggest change in the purchasing process has been the number of buying interactions, defined as any activity to gather information about an offering or vendor. This jumped from 17 in 2019 to 27 in 2021. “In such a challenging time, with changing market conditions and tighter budgets, all purchases were subject to greater scrutiny and required more justification,” Winters says. The trend may relax somewhat as the recovery proceeds, the analysts add, but the continued economic uncertainty suggests it may not entirely.
What does this increased complexity mean for marketers? First, it’s important to understand the buying scenario you’re selling into. Particularly if it involves multiple participants and crosses functional areas, “you want to figure out who is really making the decision,” Caplow says. Marketers also want to know who the key influencers are (often, IT leaders will hold sway in complex buying scenarios), and who needs to sign off, such as finance or procurement. Engaging these players early on can help avoid last-minute snags.
With so many B2B buyers looking for information online, it’s also critical to have a compelling and robust web presence so that buyers can easily find the information they’re seeking. Since buyers will also seek out third-party sources, such as industry forums, relationship-building and reputation-monitoring are important.
Listen to the full episode for more insights from Forrester’s 2021 B2B Buying Study and how marketers can respond to the greater complexity.