The essential guide to B2B digital experience: Part 1

Nothing happens sequentially, and neither does decision making in B2B.

Psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer said, “You [do] the safe thing because the brain [is] calibrated to ask the question: ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’” While many B2B brands have the ambition to progress digitally, they’re often grappling with creaky tech and defensive decision-making. How can a strategic approach to understanding the process of decision making in digital experience make a difference to suppliers and buyers alike?

As it stands, global consumer brands have largely bankrolled digital marketing. For B2B brands, this means the hard part’s already been done. The advantage? Tech that is ready and flexible.

Digital platforms are now mature and modular, with skillsets widely available in the employment market. This allows B2B brands to dodge much of the work associated with figuring it all out. There’s now a wealth of solutions that can be drawn together to make a highly capable and highly scalable experience platform – one with the right architecture for digital-first audiences; flexibility for a competitive edge; and accommodation for complexities like legacy systems and market nuances.

Reality check – impact in digital is mysterious

When it comes to customer impact, we want to believe that if we just gather enough information, the truth will eventually reveal itself. And we see this presumption play out every day with ‘data’ – the very keystone that has come to define this era of marketing. But if the truth is out there, waiting to be discovered, it is amongst the people, the buyers who engage with your brand.

So, how do we begin to understand what buyers want, and then harness those insights properly?

What’s the worst that can happen?

As personal consumers, when we make a high-ticket purchase for ourselves, we go with what feels most rational. There’s a degree of self-instigated research, like when we shop around for a new bike or new camera. We go with what we view as ‘the smart choice’. And, if our purchase backfires, no one else needs to know – we either rectify it or make peace with it.

B2B decision-making is quite different. The prevailing business culture is highly risk-averse. And the more risk a decision-maker faces, the more emotional the decision: the personal cost of a bad choice is greater than the personal gain of a good one. In this mindset, emotion trumps logic. This is known as defensive-decision making. And in today’s landscape, we’re seeing it manifest in several ways: 

  1. B2B buyers now spend 27% of their time researching online. Only 5-6% of their time is spent in contact with a supplier. (Gartner)
  2. Active buyers only make up 5% of the potential market. Most people are not looking to buy most things, most of the time. (Ehrenberg-Bass Institute)
  3. The median B2B buying group has expanded and now involves 6-10 decision-makers‚ each gathering 4-5 pieces of information.
  4. 73% say that an organisation’s thought-leadership content is a more trustworthy basis for assessing capabilities, rather than marketing materials and product sheets. (Edelman)
  5. 51% of customers are prevented from engaging with this content because B2B brands provide too much irrelevant content.

What about the B2B customer journey?

Given our longstanding calibration towards safer bets, buyers are using the democratisation of digital to feed their hunger for reassurance. That’s what’s behind their clicks. But nothing happens sequentially, and neither does B2B buying.

We all have slides with linear sales journeys and experience maps on them. It’s easy to take them very literally, as if customers are just shifting their way through the gears, guaranteed to make it to the finish line. In reality, their path is winding and self-determined. Journeys cannot be designed, only modelled. 

Our job is to make each touchpoint additive. We’re not trying to make a vortex to round up prospects – we’re trying to ensure that every touchpoint, on every channel, builds upon the last by being flexible, responsive, and impactful.

Influencing B2B decision-making

Because of the complicated and changing nature of purchasing, delivering high impact conversion is a little more complex than it once was. Suppliers must now reach more roles at once, make a visceral case instead of relying on product specs or services, and do it all without face time.

Reach more decision-makers

Cater to people that sit outside of your core audience: what other stakeholders are involved, what do they need to feel about the supplier, and how can you affect that?

Serve their visceral needs

Engage with buyers’ stronger gut feelings through research: what should feel different about dealing with us, how should we reflect our sector, and how do we show our points of difference?

Let digital sit at the table for you

A lot of case-building and decision-making will happen in your absence: how do we serve a digital-only audience, how do we create exceptional experiences to aid each B2B purchase decision, and how do we handle complex market nuances?

Exploiting the psychology of decision-making

Because of the complicated and changing nature of purchasing, delivering high impact conversion is a little more complex than it once was. Suppliers must now reach more roles at once, make a visceral case instead of relying on product specs or services, and do it all without facetime.

Use preconception

It’s a mistake to segment digital-estate users by crude demographics – age, gender, job, affluence. Far more effective is segmentation by preconception. We are strongly biased towards our preconceptions, especially when evidence seems to support it. When thinking about personalisation, choose wisely.

Use reassurance

Your customers are experts – experts in this field or another. They’re usually mid-research and looking for support or affirmation. B2B content often fails because it tries to teach its intended audience. This isn’t necessarily what you want to go for. Reassure them that the path they’re already on is valid. Because, very often, it is.

Use advocacy

Remember, you’re not in the room. The people in the room don’t do what you do. But they’re the ones building the case for you. The Japanese term ‘nemawashi’ describes the soft persuasive influence of stakeholders, or the meetings that go on outside the meetings. This is a key area for impact. The real decision-making and persuasion will likely take place in the corridors, in smaller conversations, not the meeting rooms.

What next?

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help to transform and scale your B2B business. Get in touch.

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