B2B Buyers: Purchasing in the Digital Natives World

digital native buyers

The world of B2B has changed when it comes to buying. Up until now, B2B buyers were fairly traditional and held court in conference rooms to make purchasing decisions. In today’s world, this model has been tossed aside as digital natives have come onto the scene and mixed things up. If you are part of this B2B world and want to keep pace, you need to know these digital native buyers a bit better.

A Savvy Space

In his Harvard Business Review article “How Digital Natives Are Changing B2B Purchasing,” Eric Almquist examines the transition in the B2B world. It used to be an “older” group of B2B buyers that were typically characterized with in-person price negotiations and long golf games on the green. Now it’s all about the digital natives, people that grew up online with smartphones at their fingertips.

According to this article (and a Merit study of millennial buyers), about 73% of young professionals (aged 20 to 35) are part of the purchase decision-making process, and about one-third of these people are the “sole decision maker for their department.” And, a Google/Millward Brown digital survey of buyers says “about half of all B2B product researchers are digital natives” and this number continues to rise.

What does it mean to be a digital native in this space? This article largely examines the shift in collecting information, now powered by online information. It’s now commonplace to start here, researching vendors and products online instead of requesting in-person vendor meetings. The initial search process now has a broad net, too. In fact, “more than 70% of searches start with a generic search, such as ‘CRM software’ rather than a search for specific brands.” Once buyers are armed with ample information attainable online, they sometimes even skip an in-person meeting.

This is an interesting development for the world of “sales,” since younger demographics want to form their own information-backed opinions through research, friends, co-workers, online reviews, and especially social media. Instead of phone calls (too long, too boring, too inconvenient), a 2017 Forrester Research study says this group wants concise and visual small chunks of information. Digital natives are also in a hurry, which means vendors need to step up their game. If buyers are now going online before making a call to request a sales pitch, the website needs to have everything a buyer wants to see including product details, reviews, testimonials, and a clear call to action. Content should be fresh, to the point, and visual to catch the buyers’ eyes in a crowded marketplace, not to mention constantly updated to stay relevant.

If and when a salesperson comes into this process (likely at the end to seal the deal), there are some considerations to bear in mind. First, the digital native buyer likely has strong opinions as a result of their extensive online research. If your company has made promises (especially on your product performance), it’s critical that these are true and proven. Additionally, older buyers (50 and up) tend to be more focused on “deliverables,” while digital natives connect more with “feelings of trust, compatibility, and connectedness,” at least according to research from Santa Clara University. Along these same lines, the Merit study reports that “80% of millennial B2B buyers today (and an even higher share of the youngest millennials) feel that companies’ environmental, social and philanthropic efforts are important when considering them as vendors.” Clearly, it’s no longer just about price in today’s buying world, and companies need to be prepared for a much deeper sell.

Moving Forward in B2B

Without a doubt, digital saves time and money, and it brings value to the B2B purchasing world. Digital native buyers are also more likely to visit your website than to call your sales number in today’s world, and these people are quick to make a first impression that sticks. This article suggests it may be important to examine your budget allocation more closely; should you be investing more in your online presence instead of your salesforce? What do you think? It would be great to hear your thoughts on this!


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