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10 Surprising B2B Buyer Trends to Look Out for in 2021

It’s no surprise that B2B buyer behavior is changing rapidly. Since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020, buyers have become more digital than ever before as they spend more time making purchase decisions online. CEO Vinay Bhagat of TrustRadius says,

“About a third of buyers are also now spending more time researching products online, comparing products, and clearly defining ROI than they did before the coronavirus pandemic. This is a clear indication that business technology vendors should be leaning into creating a strong online presence now more than ever before.” 

Vinay Bhagat, CEO of TrustRadius

We consulted the recently released TrustRadius 2921 B2B Buying Disconnect report and recent McKinsey reports, among others, to explore how COVID-19 and other 2020 buying trends will influence the B2B marketplace and buyer behavior into 2021.

1. Millennials are changing the B2B marketplace.

Decision-makers in the B2B space are getting younger and younger. In fact, in 2021 TrustRadius projects that millennials (ages 25-39) will make up 60% or more of B2B buyers, a majority of the marketplace. Comparatively, Gen X (ages 40-55) will make up 32% and Baby Boomers (56-74) will make up 6%, respectively. 

What does this mean for your business? Well, millennial buying behavior is different than that of older generations. Millennials are more likely to find products and services and make buying decisions by conducting online searches. Compare this to Gen X and Baby Boomers who are more likely to use formal analyst reports and word-of-mouth to make decisions. As more millennials take over B2B buying, this trend is here to stay for the near future.

The takeaway: 2021 is the time to invest more in paid search and SEO to develop your brand’s discoverability via online search.

2. Self-service options are in high demand.

Speaking of B2B becoming more digital, buyers today prefer online self-service options to buying through a representative. In fact, self-service is going to become a B2B staple in 2021, as 87% of B2B buyers currently want self-service options (TrustRadius). Gone are the days where buyers need to call a sales representative to make a purchase. Businesses who allow buyers to access their website, type in their credit card information, and make a purchase in real time are going to gain a competitive edge. 

“We’ve found that buyers are upping their due diligence and demanding more self-service options–not just at small businesses, but at the enterprise level as well. We found that 87% of buyers want to self-serve their buying journey”

Vinay Bhagat, CEO of TrustRadius

This trend goes hand in hand with the fact that buyers today prefer to do independent research (without interacting directly with a company) and to make an instantaneous purchase.

The takeaway: Add an e-commerce or self-service option on your website. Or work with a self-service online marketplace who can display your brand as a viable option as users perform online searches.

3. ROI is more important than ever.

It makes sense that business decision-makers have their budgets at top of mind since 2020. A significant amount of B2B companies experienced revenue loss over the past year. Although many business leaders are hoping for an end in sight for the pandemic and beginning to look forward to the future, according to McKinsey, cost management remains a priority.

As a result, 35% of B2B buyers are spending more time focusing on the ROI of their purchases compared to pre-pandemic. This number is likely to persist through 2021. Also keep in mind that a stronger focus on ROI is causing longer sales cycles as business leaders deliberate longer about purchases. 57% of vendors, to be exact, are reporting longer sales cycles.

The takeaway: Connect with prospective buyers by clearly outlining their estimated ROI when buying your product or service. This will help business leaders make purchase decisions more easily.

4. B2B buyers will continue working from home.

The fact that many companies still have “work from home” policies in effect is impacting the B2B buyer journey. Firstly, sales teams working from home are having to rely on digital sales methods to sell products and services. 

Buyers, too, have to make decisions about products and services online. Not to mention, “work from home” policies are impacting the types of purchases companies are making. In other words, if a product or service doesn’t mesh well with a remote work model, it may be cut from a business’s budget in 2021.

This trend is projected to last, as employees are still feeling uncomfortable about the idea of going back to an office environment anytime soon.

The takeaway: Adapt your business model to the “new normal.” Develop a solution that business leaders can utilize, even as “work from home” policies last into 2021.

5. Online reviews greatly influence buying decisions.

Did you know one of the go-to sources for buyers when making a purchase decision are online user reviews? Buyers view user reviews as one of the most trustworthy sources for determining the value of a B2B product or service. According to TrustRadius, 45% of B2B buyers used online reviews to make a decision in 2020. And the trend is projected to move into 2021 as well.

Not only are reviews influential on business buyers. Business buyers who consider online reviews are likely to share this information with other stakeholders, employees, and peers.

The takeaway: Make an effort to manage your reputation online and gain valuable positive reviews from loyal customers.

6. B2B buyers spend more time researching independently and less time talking to sales reps.

Even before 2020, B2B buyers started moving from relying on sales representatives to make a purchase decision, to a more independent digital buying approach. But the digital wave that coronavirus brought on in 2020 only exacerbated that trend.

According to a Lead Agency report, in 2021, sales reps should expect no more than 17% of a potential buyer’s time during their buying journey. The other 83% of the purchasing journey is typically spent doing research, engaging with your online marketing assets such as video content, evaluating decisions, and speaking with fellow decision makers. All of this is happening separate from a direct line of communication with your company.

The takeaway: Build an online presence that sells your product or service itself. Invest in digital marketing (video content, social media posts, etc.) in order to “sell” to prospects without really speaking to them.

7. C-Suite Executives often have a say in purchase decisions.

This statistic may not be brand new to 2021, but it’s a trend that will stick: about 65% of C-suite executives have the final sign-off for B2B purchases. This is crucial to know, as 50% of B2B sales reps are wasting time on the wrong prospects. Understanding who you’re selling to is the first step in selling effectively and quickly.

Do you know the job titles of the prospects in your sales funnel? If not, 2021 is the time to adopt a CRM and assign titles to your prospects, as well as sourcing more C-suite prospects. 

The takeaway: Work to fill your sales funnel with C-suite executives and make an effort to contact them, as opposed to non-C-suiters.

8. B2B buyers refer to ~ 7 information sources before buying.

In 2021, we can expect buyers to rely on more sources of information before making an informed purchase decision. The average B2B buyers today refers to 6.9 information sources before buying. This is up 35% from the previous year, when buyers consulted an estimated 5.1 sources of information (according to TrustRadius).

What are the most commonly consulted information sources among B2B buyers? According to TrustRadius’s 2020 survey, the most utilized information sources were:

  • Product demos (58%)
  • Vendor website (51%)
  • User reviews (45%)
  • Company representative (43%)
  • Free trials (41%)

Interestingly, these have been the top 5 information sources for B2B buyers for the past five years. All in all, we can expect them to remain important to buyers into 2021.

The takeaway: Provide prospects with valuable information via multiple channels, such as your website, allowing buyers to make an informed decision about your product or service.

9. These 5 B2B marketing channels are working.

TrustRadius surveyed both vendors and buyers to discover the most effective marketing channels for B2B.

  1. Customer referrals
  2. Personalized messaging (ie. via email marketing)
  3. Online events (ie. webinars)
  4. SEO
  5. Lead generation with data about buyer intent

Retargeting ads were also among the top marketing channels. 48% of B2B vendors have increased their ad spend on social media platforms during the pandemic. However, it’s worth noting that according to buyer surveys, buyers are experiencing “ad overload” since the pandemic, and seem to be getting tired of seeing too many ads.

The takeaway: Spend more time investing in these 5 effective marketing channels. Do not rely on just paid ads to generate leads for your business. 

10. These 4 B2B marketing tactics are less effective.

Whereas the above mentioned marketing channels seem to be working for B2B businesses, there’s also data that shows which marketing tactics are less effective.  Buyers are reporting their “pet peeves” when it comes to marketing, revealing that these 4 strategies may not be reliable in generating B2B leads:

  1. Email marketing (when sending too many emails)
  2. Cold calling
  3. Aggressive or uninformed sales pitches
  4. Impersonal messaging

Note that this information suggests that B2B companies don’t necessarily need to do away with marketing channels such as email marketing. Rather, sales and marketing teams should adjust their strategies when using them.

The takeaway: Adjust your sales strategy via email marketing to send fewer emails that utilize personalized messaging each time. Also, be sparing with cold calling in 2021.

Final Thoughts

Obviously, buyer behavior is shifting at a rapid pace. It’s important for B2B sales and marketing teams to come together to develop a forward-looking strategy that takes buyer behavior into account. Developing a deep understanding of your buyer’s persona is going to help you win new business in 2021.

We have a few resources we think will be of value to you in 2021. 

360Connect is also here to help you with your lead generation efforts in 2021 and beyond. Our marketing program is designed around current buyer behavior and connecting authentically with buyers. We drive active, true-intent leads to your sales team so you can focus on closing more deals. Connect with us to find out more about our Supplier program.

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