B2B Decision-making: Understanding the process

At the end of 2013, Carat Enterprise and Google undertook a research programme to better understand the decision making process for B2B purchases over €100,000 – in particular looking at what tools, formats, online and offline sources and communication methods were most used.

The respondents were defined and selected for being ‘decision-makers’, meaning: people who had been involved in either the research or purchase of a product/service that was valued at over 100,000 for their company in the last 24 months . 800 people responded, split equally across France, Germany, Italy and the UK and were from organisations with more than 500 staff.

What was being purchased?

Whilst a wide range of new products were both researched and purchased (see infographic), the big winners were IT hardware and software with 70% of the basket – an interesting thought here is who is now doing the purchasing of this technology? Gartner analyst Laura McLellan predicted in 2012 that by 2017, CMOs will spend more on IT than their counterpart CIOs.

Who is involved in purchasing?

We found that over 1/3 of the respondents’ decision-making units (DMU) contained 6-10 people and over 1/2 contained 1-5. With so many people involved, it’s not surprising that the results found that 76% of respondents take up to 6 months to research and make a purchase. Herein lies one of the major differences between B2B and B2C marketing programmes and reinforces the need to develop continuous conversations with a range of functions within the DMU. It is also therefore essential to map your content, campaign and communications strategies to provide the right information relevant to the different stages of the purchase path. Content provision is not bound by campaign timelines or flights any more, our clients don’t fit in to our marketing timelines, we need to cater to their needs and have always-on, up-to-date and relevant information available in the right places.

Where should the information be?

If we drill down a little, where does our DMU source its information? The internet of course plays a major role along the whole process from establishing the business need to purchase, but trade press also plays a big part and is being consumed by between a quarter and a third of our audience at each stage. When looking specifically at online sources, it is interesting to note that the top three online tools/resources used were: 1) SEARCH! (everything starts with Search), 2). Vendor Websites (make sure yours is optimised), and 3). Peer-generated online reviews play a big part in the decision making process. You will have a better chance of managing and benefitting from the latter if you have a strong online content management strategy.

What were the regional nuances?

In general terms, the UK and France were similar and Germany and Italy shared characteristics.  In the UK and France, users looked for more ‘kite-marked’ sources, i.e. whitepapers, publisher, product sites, whereas in Germany and Italy, users wanted to hear from others on their opinions. Interestingly, 44% of respondents in Italy cited forums and blogs as a useful resource, making social media a powerful medium here.

Mobile, Mobile, Mobile

What is clear from our research is that getting the basics right is essential, regardless of your mobile strategy. A staggering 66% of respondents reported they are still experiencing a mobile-unfriendly website. A quarter of all mobile website-users left immediately if the experience isn’t right. Of those that stuck it out, 80% eventually went elsewhere: By not being mobile friendly, you’re losing out on a LOT of reads/leads/exposure.

Much of these findings reinforce what a lot of us are already aware of and I am pleased to be reminded of the importance of getting the simple stuff right. This is why B2B in my view is so interesting and the good news is that there are some very demonstrable ways of addressing the huge number of challenges we face as B2B marketers. All the time we also have macro forces like globalisation and convergence to deal with. Unlike the B2C world where convergence has reduced the time between stimulus and purchase, B2B sees these timeframes remaining large if not larger. The DMU is also spread out with more people in more countries who have access to more and more information.

What about the agency?

We are living in a new era of B2B marketing where convergence, globalisation and the atomisation of the media calls for a new type of agency. This requires us to marry B2B expertise and sector-specialism with the scale and resources of a global media network. Only with these resources and deep digital investment will advertisers, I think, achieve their marketing and communications goals.

Written by Edward Low, New Business & Marketing Director at Carat Enterprise, and originally published on the Carat Enterprise blog