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B2B Buyer Trends for 2021

“A decade in a year.” That’s how Benedict Evans, famed tech industry analyst, summarizes the shifts that 2020 brought to society’s relationship with technology. Forced experimentation and habit-breaking accelerated trends that were already in motion, and nearly a year into the pandemic, we’re starting to see what’s gonna stick around. 

While B2B buying behaviors may not have jumped a full ten years ahead like consumer retail and other industries have, the “consumerization” of B2B has certainly ramped up. As people worked from home and the personal blended into the professional, it became more obvious how different the often frictionless and personalized B2C purchase experiences were in comparison with B2B buying. Though other market trends have made B2B sales more complex, buyers still have increasingly higher expectations on the experience. 

So we’ve collected some very fresh B2B buyer statistics for you to keep close as you move forward with your demand gen, sales, and account management strategies this year. If you’re short on time, take just 30 seconds to zip through these highlights: 

  • Personalization, self-service, “on my terms, not yours” are default preferences now
  • The buying experience influences the purchase decision, and it’s important that vendors provide a supportive, trustworthy presence on-demand
  • Buyers are embracing the rise of live chat and video, and now prefer these modes to more traditional channels such as phone and in-person 
  • The buying party is getting bigger and lasting longer - more people are involved and the time to decision is taking more time, so account-based strategies and the ability to track buyer intent is more important than ever 

B2B Buyer Statistics

Millenials are the majority

First off, to put the trends in context, keep in mind that millenials make up a big portion of B2B buyers in 2021: 

  • 73% of those involved in B2B research and decision making are millennials (age 25-39), over 1/3 identified as the sole decision maker (Harvard Business Review)
  • Millennials discover, consume and decide in ways that do not match how vendors focus their efforts, for example, only 21% of buyers say they use analyst rankings and reports, which decreased by 15% in 2020 (TrustRadius
  • Older buyers are increasingly picking up the same habits of millennials, so the trends aren’t fully limited by age groups (Harvard Business Review)

Personalization

This is highly effective and increasingly expected. When lacking, and it still often is within the B2B space, it’s a turn off.

  • Personalized messages came just after customer referrals in a ranking of most effective B2B marketing tactics last year (37% and 49% respectively) (TrustRadius)
  • 2/3 of buyers would switch to a company offering personalized real-time pricing (Pros)
  • 72% expect a deep understanding of their needs, reflected through personalized experiences (Salesforce
  • But there’s a big divide here: 76% of buyers say there is a lack of personal attention and customization in their buying experience (Weidert

Self-service  

This is now the default preference. Buyers want vendors to be available on their terms and to be able to direct their own journey.

  • 87% of buyers want the ability to self-serve part or all of their buying journey (TrustRadius
  • This isn’t limited to SMB buyers: 77% of buyers from companies with 1,000-5,000 employees agree, along with 89% from companies of 5,001-10,000 (TrustRadius
  • Nearly 47% (double digit growth during Covid) of B2B buyers report purchasing primarily through digital self-serve channels without the aid of a sales rep (Pros
  • Big-ticket items are even being purchased and reordered online, with 70% of B2B decision makers open to making new, fully self-serve or remote purchases in excess of $50,000, and 27% would spend more than $500,000 (McKinsey)
  • More than 80% make choices based on their experiences with vendor websites, increasingly comparing them to retail ecommerce experiences (Google)
  • Review sites like G2 and Trust Radius have become to B2B tech buyers what Yelp is to consumers: a required step before purchase. In response, B2B vendor’s own promises are decreasing as a significant decision driver (Forrester

Trust and support

It's more important than ever, despite buyers’ dislike for being sold to, for them to trust their vendors and feel supported in the process. Self-service doesn’t mean less communication; quite the contrary, support is welcome and often expected on-demand.

  • Buyers are further in the decision-making process when they engage with sales, and when they do, 88% are only willing to buy when they view a salesperson as a trusted advisor (LinkedIn). 
  • 67% want more communication and reassurance while making a purchase (Google
  • 67% want more communication during installation and post purchase, and 69% after using the product (Google
  • 80% of B2B purchasing decisions are based on “direct or indirect customer experience,” only 20% are based on price or actual product or service (SiriusDecisions)

Remote digital engagement

Not only are newer modes working to close the sale, buyers increasingly prefer live chat and video over the phone and in-person meetings. 

  • Live chat as a go-to-market sales model has increased by 31% during covid (McKinsey
  • 63% of millennials (a majority of B2B buyers today, as noted above) now prefer live chat than any other channel (Magellan
  • Video usage has increased by 69% and led to richer buyer engagement (Forrester)
  • After 5 months of working from home, 76% of B2B sales teams reported that the effectiveness of digital engagement in serving new customers was equally or more effective than before covid, a big leap from 54% earlier in the year (McKinsey
  • Over 3 out of 4 buyers and sellers now prefer digital self-serve and remote human engagement over face-to-face interactions—a sentiment that has steadily intensified even after lockdowns ended in some regions (McKinsey
  • Only 20% of B2B buyers hope to return to in-person sales, even in sectors where field-sales traditionally dominated, such as pharma and medical products (McKinsey
  • Main reasons for preferring remote and digital interactions include ease and speed of obtaining information, savings on travel expenses, and safety (McKinsey
Source: McKinsey October 2020 report "How how COVID-19 has changed B2B sales forever"


Bigger, slower sales processes

This was a trend before 2020 that the pandemic continued to drive. B2B buyers are bringing more people to the table and taking a longer time to decide. 

  • 61% of B2B buyers report that they involve more people in their purchase process than in years past, with 71% having formal buying committees now (Weidert)
  • The average B2B tech buyer today consults 6.9 information sources before making a purchase, a 35% increase from last year from 5.1 (TrustRadius)
  • 33% spend more time researching products now than before Covid (TrustRadius
  • 35% of buyers spend more time clearly defining ROI than they did before the pandemic (TrustRadius
  • As a result, a majority of vendors (57%) report that deal cycles are now longer than they were before the pandemic (TrustRadius
  • Remote working has increased data security concerns for 65-73% of B2B buyers, depending on size of the organization (TrustRadius
  • Out of those organizations, 3 out of 4 spent more time researching products during the purchasing process to account for new criteria, leading to longer procurement processes (TrustRadius

Conclusion 

While B2B buyers have strong demands in terms of personalization and easy access to information and service, they’ve embraced the rise of digital engagement channels like video and live chat to move through their buying cycle. Their consumer purchasing experiences are shaping their expectations in every digital interaction they have with vendors. More people are involved in the buying process and they want support on demand. Sales cycles are taking longer, and vendors are struggling to mitigate this development. To meet these trends and keep a healthy, growing pipeline, B2B companies should recognize that tools enabling conversational selling and account-based strategies should be a critical part of their tech stack. 

Buyers don’t move through tidy funnels anymore. They engage on their terms, so meet them where they’re at. Companies that use conversational marketing and sales platforms can engage with website visitors in real time through live chat, accelerate sales cycles, and gain +62% increase in pipeline creation for sales.

If you want to learn how you can get ahead of trends in B2B buying, have a look at our book The Definitive Guide to Conversational Marketing for Salesforce, or check out this video below. 


Posted on
February 12, 2021
by
Corinne Pearce

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