The behaviour of B2B buyers is increasingly influenced by the internet and social networks. Suppliers have to take this into account in their marketing and sales strategies. A recent LinkedIn survey gives them a few ideas.

Digital provides B2B buyers with new weapons, making their journey hard to follow. They research products and services on the internet and social networks, compare offerings, and ask peers and experts. According to a survey by the Corporate Executive Board, 57% of the purchasing decision is already made before the buyer makes contact with the chosen vendor.

In order to become part of this increasingly digital buying journey, sales and marketing have made significant investments in CRM and marketing automation platforms. Has this been justified? A recent LinkedIn survey, involving 6,000 professionals around the world, reviews the impact of digital on this three-tier relationship between buyers, marketers and sales people.

Expand the spectrum of influencers

The survey starts with some good news. The overwhelming majority of B2B buyers say that their relationships with their vendors are either good (60%) or very good (20%). Nonetheless, there’s room for improvement since only 41% said that this relationship was “stronger” or “slightly stronger” than in the past.

In answer to the question “What are the important factors in your willingness to engage with a vendor?” expertise on a given subject (38%) came first, followed by the provision of valuable useful advice or information (23%). Knowledge of the company’s products or services (21%) or its business model (20%) followed.

Another finding: the large number of stakeholders who influence the purchasing decision. In France, this stands at between 3.1 in the service sector and 4.6 in the manufacturing sector. The finance division, IT and HR are among the departments most often put in the loop. LinkedIn’s conclusion was that marketers cannot make do with contacting a single buyer but must deliver a message to all the players of the company who are likely to have influence over the final decision.


Provide relevant content

To make their choices, buyers are eager for information, but the information they receive is not necessarily the information they expected at a given moment in their journey. In terms of content that is judged effective, French buyers put emphasis on “expert opinion”, then on technical product details — for completing their online research — and “demos”. Testimonials from peers don’t make it into this winning trio, whereas sales people attach more value to this kind of feedback.

In fact, buyers need a wide variety of content and marketers must, according to the study, distil this all along the conversion funnel, from the initial awareness-raising stage through to the final stage of making technical datasheets available and demos. Otherwise, LinkedIn notes — preaching to the converted — that 47% of buyers using social networks said that their relationships with their vendors were growing stronger, compared with only 26% for the others (not using social networks).

Agree on lead nurturing perimeters

We often talk of the small-scale “war” between the marketing and sales departments. Nevertheless, the survey shows that their relationships are sound. Almost 8 out of 10 marketers reported aligned relationships with their sales colleagues and vice-versa for 63% of sales people. However, the alignment is not perfect. Around 40% of sales people say that marketing does not provide them with enough quality leads.

This raises the question of lead nurturing, which consists in maintaining a relationship with a lead over time until they transform into a client. Marketers have a wider definition of nurturing than sales people. Although, in the strictest sense, the concept is limited to e-mails, marketing professionals are more prepared to integrate it into other channels such as telephone, display advertising or social networks.