Project Description

April 2020

The New Normal

Katherine Sheen
Katherine SheenStrategy Director

Searching for insights on the new B2B buyer

Unless you’re in one of the few B2B sectors experiencing increased demand, like healthcare services or remote working software, your organisation is likely to be facing grim commercial disruption.

According to an Econsultancy and Marketing Week survey, 69% of UK organisations have seen demand drop for their products and services. Meanwhile March saw the steepest downturn in the UK services sector in more than two decades due to business shutdowns and cancelled orders.

Tough trading conditions for the foreseeable future mean it’s going to be survival of the fittest for businesses. Many leaders are taking steps to reduce overheads – 82% of CFOs surveyed by PWC in April stated they were cutting costs – but minimising outflows won’t be all that’s required. Leaders in B2B organisations will also be turning to their marketing teams to find any way to achieve a competitive edge.

That edge, as always, will be found through customer insight.

Better insight will give B2B brands an advantage

B2B organisations that manage to stay one step ahead of their competitors will achieve it by understanding buyers better than their competitors do.

As people affected by the pandemic crisis, we’re all behaving differently right now – and that goes for B2B buyers too. It’s critical that B2B marketers get to grips with their customers’ new behaviours. The brands that will win are those that react and adapt.

But, likely without time or resources to commission market research, where can B2B marketing leaders find the insights they need to make good decisions?

There’s plenty of information out there – but is any of it relevant to B2B?

Everyone is trying to figure out what’s next, and so there’s been an explosion of analysis and commentary published online.

There have been two broad schools of Covid-19 business impact analysis so far. The first, from the likes of McKinsey and the London Business School, looks at the huge economic and operational shifts that are happening. They’re a catalogue of factors perhaps too large for specific actionable insights for B2B marketers right now.

The second type of analysis is a complex mosaic of small but deep fragments of insight. Online sales of breadmakers have gone up over 650%. Netflix is now worth more than ExxonMobil. Diverting as these nuggets of information are, for marketers looking to rapidly develop a view of their B2B customer’s new needs and attitudes it can be frustrating to sift through it all to see what could be relevant.

Human insights in consumer research can provide clues to B2B buyers too

B2B marketers need to think laterally – when primary data isn’t available, what usable insights can be found in secondary market research instead? A B2B audience is comprised of human beings, so how are human beings reacting to unprecedented circumstances?

We’ve gathered interesting data and analysis from consumer research that could give clues on how to answer some pressing B2B marketing questions.

How is my sales pipeline likely to be impacted, and for how long?

There are parallels between how B2B decision-makers plan their company’s purchases and how consumers plan for their own large purchases.

  • Consumers’ reduced buying confidence is making them delay large purchases. Overall, 44% of consumers said they will delay purchases until the outbreak is completely over. 79% of consumers say they have delayed a purchase during the outbreak.
  • Impulse buying has declined in Singaporeas consumers spend longer making online purchases, both as they have more time to spend on research, and also because they’re being more cautious. B2B campaigns may need to reflect a more deliberative purchase journey too.

What is the most efficient use of my media and content budget?

B2B marketers are likely to need to update their media plans to reflect people’s new media consumption habits – new habits which will also bleed into to business contexts as well.

  • Because of lockdown, people are spending longer with different media, like online video and podcasts, and this is set to continue after the outbreak.
  • There has been a surge in engagement with email communications and websites – indicating a heightened opportunity to engage with customers via digital content at the moment.
  • Brand-building advertising activities are likely to deliver better returns long-term than trying to drive short term sales from customer who aren’t in a position to buy right now
  • With TV profoundly affected by disrupted production schedules, there could even be opportunities for B2B brands to reach broader audiences affordably via broadcast (especially on-demand TV). Because there aren’t enough programmes to fill traditional media, could this create room to show a broader set of stakeholders your capabilities in a new light?

How will decision-making units behave?

B2B purchases are typified by the fact that often several people in a ‘decision-making unit’ have to collaborate and sign off on a new contract.

  • Think of your whole set of decision-makers and influencers and how they’ve experienced your brand during the crisis – as they’re likely to pass on their perceptions to others. 33% of people globally have already told other people to stop using a brand that they felt was not acting appropriately in response to the pandemic.
  • With the decision lying with more than one person, an impeded ability to collaborate effectively could impact the sales process. With people working from home, there’s anticipation of a hit to productivity because of a reduced sense of accountability away from the office.

Will B2B trade shows ever be as effective?

Events are the lifeblood of lead generation for many B2B marketers. Mass gatherings are likely to be affected for a long time.

  • Back in mid-March 2020 70% of B2B marketers planned to cancel all live events in the next 60 days – which seems like a slow way to rip off the Elastoplast.
  • More than two fifths of consumers in the US say they plan to attend fewer events, with 56% saying they would need a few months to (or possibly never) feel comfortable attending major indoor concert venues again. It seems like there will be a persistent human reluctance to gather in large numbers in confined spaces.
  • B2B marketers should start to think about diversifying their event schedule to suit their network’s preferences. Many B2B marketers are exploring how digital technology can help recreate the event experience for their audiences.

So, what now? As always, act on human insights

Only 14% of UK marketing campaigns are now continuing ‘as planned’. For guidance on where to take your B2B brand next – look to the human behaviours around you. Use these to figure out how to engage your buyers beyond the normal transactional relationship. Your B2B brand is likely to reap the rewards of creating meaningful connections with your audiences for a long time to come – as our industries recover around the world.

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