The New Buying Process: Consumer Behavior has Changed

Consumer behavior has changed. Understand the major shifts in today’s new buying process to make your sales team indispensable.

May 31, 2016

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When Engel, Blackwell and Kollat literally wrote the book on Consumer Behaviour  in 1968, the state of B2B purchasing decisions was pretty straightforward: buyers identified a problem, researched a solution, compared it with other solutions, and bought it. No muss, no fuss.

The seminal sales guide even cleanly identifies these five key stages of every buying process:

1.   Need Recognition

2.   Information / Research

3.   Alternative Evaluation

4.   Purchasing Decision

5.   Post Purchase Behavior

This simple model of the buying process dominated sales for decades, and it’s easy to see why. Consumer Behavior’s clean chain of causation that marches from a problem (step #1) to a solution (step #4) is an easy blueprint to follow. But what do you do when the buying process changes?

Today’s B2B buyers no longer fit this outdated, static model. In order to compete in today’s shifting sales landscape, your sales team needs to understand these four major shifts in the modern buying process and how to adapt to today’s consumer.

Shift #1: New Complex Needs

It’s might seem like a copout to say that B2B sales is more complicated than it was back in 1968, but it’s true. Complex business structures combined with an ever-expanding global marketplace means that today’s buyers have to solve problems that simply didn’t exist fifty years ago.

Buyers don’t simply want cut-and-paste products, they’re interested in solutions, strategies, and philosophies that drive growth for years, not just the current quarter.

This increasing complexity demands a new level of expertise from today’s sales associates. Namely, the ability to produce “contextually-relevant content that provides value in a timely manner.” This factor alone makes a sales associate indispensable. And that context only comes from industry research and expertise.

Establish your expertise from the outset, because the pendulum swings both ways; today’s buyers’ needs are higher, but so are their expectations.

Shift #2: Wealth of Information

In 1968, buyers researched solutions from a limited pool of data. That’s what living before the Information Age means. Those days are gone.

Today’s buyers swim through a sea of specialized information and marketing from hundreds of different streams every single day. Social media alone has transformed the buying landscape from exclusive old boys’ clubs to interconnected webs of millions effortlessly interacting with on a daily basis. However, this mountain of information comes at a cost—saturation.

Lots of data is not the same thing as good data. The new buying process involves more consumer research, and once again this provides an opportunity for dedicated sales professionals to highlight their expertise. Curated information is the key to the context that buyers now crave.

Shift #3: A Big Fish in a Small Ocean

The sales ecosystem has expanded in nearly every vertical. Even niche fields now have dozens of influencers, experts, rival communities, publishers, content creators, and, of coursem competitors. This proliferation of competition—and the buyers’ awareness of readily available alternatives—is perhaps the single biggest shift in the buying process today.                          

Kevin Thomas Tully, VP of Marketing Enablement at Markistry puts it bluntly. “Today’s buyer is firmly in control of the buying process and is the primary driver of sales success.”

Brand recognition alone is no longer a guarantee of continued success. Innovation and renewed authority are the new currencies in the competitive B2B sales landscape, along with relationship building via networks like LinkedIn.

Shift #4: Buyer(s), Plural

According to CEB, 5.4 people now have to formally sign off on each purchase. Every single transaction cycles through the scrutiny and approval of nearly half a dozen people before it’s agreed upon. This paradigm shift in buying behavior is simply unprecedented.

The shift to purchase by committee or “consensus sale” is a revolution in the buying process. If your sales team isn’t equipped to deal with these added layers of contact, maintenance, and negotiation, sales will suffer.

How to Succeed in the New Buying Process

Of course, knowing about these major shifts isn’t enough. You also need to understand how to adapt to them. Here are some proven ways to make traction in the modern buying environment.

Social Proof

According to IDC, “44% of buyers find potential vendors by looking at shared LinkedIn connections.” That’s quite a fast track to establishing expertise, authority, and rapport—key tools to progressing qualified leads toward conversion.

Trust Sways Consensus Sales

Building trust via authority and influencers within your community is an excellent way to leverage the consensus buying trend. Social proof and referrals are force multipliers, enticing multiple prospects into your updated sales funnel via social media.

Steeped in Research

Authority and shared connections will only take you so far. Tully goes on to say that research is the key to accelerating conversions in the new lengthy sales funnel:                  

“Research is a valuable component to buyer intelligence. The use of historical sales data, including established buyer personas and data-driven metrics (such as predictive analytics) to determine a buyer’s actions, may shorten the buying process.”

Timing is Still Key

Communicating with multiple buyers, each with their own set of expectations, requires proper communication etiquette—namely timing. Once you make your way to a senior level executive, communicate on their timeline, not yours.

IDC reports that “63% of social buyers appreciate being contacted at the right time with relevant opportunities.” A hard sell at the wrong time can ruin months of work.

Today’s buying decisions require more expertise, interaction, trust, and maintenance than ever before. Consumer Behaviour has changed. So should your sales strategy.

Want to become indispensable to every stage of today’s new buying process with context, authority, and research, and seize the competitive advantage? Download our eBook on the new way to sell to today's B2B buyers.