How Decision Makers Consume Content Today

September 23, 2020

Man working from home on laptop as child plays with blocks nearby

B2B marketing approaches can and do vary widely, but the need to reach and motivate decision makers is one thing that unites pretty much all B2B marketers. No matter which strategy you’ve adopted, or which industry you belong to, or which continent you call home, impressing key decision makers is probably a pivotal part of your job. 

If it’s been a while since you’ve checked the preferences of this uber-important demographic, this post is for you. Who are decision makers these days, exactly? How big of a role do they play? Are they still into video? How do they actually find content? And how closely do they heed user reviews? 

Let’s answer these questions and more. 

What Characteristics Define a B2B Decision Maker Today?

Rare is the decision maker who doesn’t run with a pack. In the vast majority of instances, there isn’t a single decision maker – it’s a group of people with varying titles. In enterprise organizations, 99% of all tech buying decisions are made by two or more people, with buying committees having a median size of eight people. 

While there may be a key decision maker – usually someone from the C-suite when this is the case – it can be costly to assume that the most senior member of the buying committee wields more influence than the other members. Sometimes they do, but sometimes they purposefully play a supporting role. Often, it’s the end users who research options, identify which ones to explore further, and actually trial them. That’s why it’s so important to map the B2B buying committee, matching each member with the role they will play. Sales and marketing alignment is a pretty big deal in this regard. 

Are B2B Buyers Still Dormant Due to the Pandemic?

According to Demand Gen Report’s 2020 B2B Buyer Behavior Study, B2B buying teams haven’t been as inactive as we may have thought during the COVID-19 crisis. Yes, 47% of buyers have frozen their budget and delayed purchases, and that’s significant. But the majority of B2B buyers are still active. More than a third say they are more active than they were pre-pandemic. 

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What Else Is Changing with B2B Buying Teams?

The buying committee growth spurt continues. Sixty-one percent of those surveyed by Demand Gen Report said they’re involving more people in the purchase decision than they did in previous years. Understandably, with more people involved, B2B purchases are taking longer to execute. More than two-thirds of buyers said their purchasing process takes longer than it did a year ago – 25% said it was significantly longer. 

What are the implications for B2B marketers? Demand Gen Report sums it up nicely: “The combination of these trends represent a significant change for B2B vendors, because they are expected to be visible and accessible prior to the sales process, in addition to being responsive and knowledgeable of the specific needs of customers. These changing expectations make account-based marketing an imperative for B2B solution providers.”

The good news for B2B marketers is that our content is becoming more crucial. More than two-thirds of respondents said they’re more reliant on content as a means of informing their purchase decision than they were a year ago. 

The B2B Buying Process: What’s Happening When?

Demand Gen Report also asked B2B buyers about when they perform buying activities. As you can see, much of the activity takes place early in the process:

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With so much happening early, it’s increasingly important for B2B marketers to lay the groundwork before the purchasing process actually begins. For more on how to do this without throwing your lead gen goals out of whack, check out this primer on Brand and Demand: The Key Principles of Marketing Growth

To What Extent Do Ads Influence the Buying Decision?

As part of its survey, Demand Gen Report asked B2B buyers about the role advertising played in influencing their perceptions. 

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What’s somewhat surprising here is that more than 7 in 10 respondents recall seeing ads from the winning vendors, and nearly 50% of those respondents said the ads contributed toward a positive impression of the vendor. Remember, we’re talking about ads here. Considering how many ads we see daily and how likely we are to recall them, these figures seem to suggest that B2B vendors who advertise enjoy a significant advantage over B2B vendors who rely solely on organic strategies. 

What Are the Most Important Qualities of Content as it Relates to Actually Winning the Buyer’s Business?

When asked to share the top five reasons for choosing the winning vendor over other vendors, the most important factor (69%) was that the B2B vendor “demonstrated a strong knowledge of the solution and the business landscape.”

Granted, this could be achieved via thought leadership content, via the sales team’s effort, or (ideally) both. When it comes to content-specific reasons, the most important factor (62%) was that the vendor “provided content that made it easier to build a business case for the purchase.” This was followed by “provided higher-quality content” (55%), and “provided a better mix of content to help us through each stage of the decision-making process” (52%). 

How Important Are User Reviews?

The answer here is somewhat conflicting. On one hand, according to the B2B buyers who took Demand Gen Report’s survey, “reviews from references and industry peers” was the least likely reason (47%) for choosing the winning vendor. 

On the other hand, as it relates to tech purchases, TrustRadius noted that the use of reviews during the vendor selection process rose 13% from 2018 to 2019. When we look at when these reviews are most likely to be taken into account, the discrepancy makes more sense as reviews were more likely to be used during the discovery phase (47%) and evaluation phase (73%), and less so during the selection phase (33%). 

Overall, technology buyers said user reviews were the second most-used information source, trailing only product demos. 

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Which Content Formats Are Executives Drawn to These Days?

This stat is a little older (2018), but it’s a unique look into the types of content most capable of capturing executives’ attention. According to the latest Quartz Global Executives Study, the C-suite is attracted to “dynamic visual content.” That is:

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At the top is a harmonious mix of data and product storytelling, enticing imagery, and human interaction. It’s clear from their preferences that executives want perspective at both an analytical and human level. 

This finding aligns with LinkedIn and Edelman’s research regarding the true impact of B2B thought leadership, which found that decision makers like to use thought leadership content as a way to vet organizations. More than half credited thought leadership as directly leading to awarding the business. 

If you feel like you’ve exhausted the ways to credibly showcase your approach or solution, maybe give it another crack with charts and data in mind. Then, you might parlay that engagement into more humanized content like a video, or an interview (or a video interview). 

Where Do Decision Makers Look for Content and Buying Insights?

In short, the internet. When asked to name the first three sources that informed them about the potential solution, decision makers overwhelmingly listed web search and vendor web sites as their top choices. 

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For B2B marketers, the takeaway is to achieve a balance between web-indexed content (also optimizing content for social search) and user and peer reviews. The two feed off each other – favorable reviews and links can boost content visibility and content visibility can lead to more buyers seeing the reviews – so think about ways to integrate your “findable” assets with your most compelling reviews or the review sites you want decision makers to visit. 

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