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The same, only more so: The key factors driving changes to the buyer landscape have been intensified by the lockdown

Enigma’s ‘View from the Other Side’ described five phenomenon changing buyer behaviours. At B2B Marketing’s Ignite USA event, Enigma’s head of content reviewed these same phenomena against the backdrop of the lockdown – and concluded that, if anything, they had increased in significance.

As marketers, we used to worry about making things easy to sell. As the report’s title suggests, we now need to look at things from the other side of the table.

In its ‘New B2B Buying Journey’ report, Gartner found that buying groups now consisted of between six and ten people. Brokering a consensus among so many people is difficult. That’s why 77% of those interviewed said their latest purchase was very complex or difficult. And why we’re now focusing on buyer enablement over sales enablement.

The Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse

My colleague Adam Greener, the report’s principal author, identified five key drivers behind the changes to the buyer landscape. But that was before the lockdown. And IgniteUSA was now a virtual event. So, it seemed somewhat remiss of me to ignore the lockdown and its impact on buyer behaviour.

My verdict? The same, only more so.

1. Increasing numbers of stakeholders involved in the buying process.

Before the lockdown, buyer groups consisted of as many as 10 people. Has it got better or worse?

Well, three months ago, I don’t think anyone really had a strong opinion about a video-conferencing platform; and now we’ve all got one. In January, the online experience was marketing’s problem – now that the entire company’s online, it’s everyone’s problem. Pre-COVID, remote working infrastructure and business continuity planning could safely be delegated to the boffins – now it’s mission critical.

I’d say it’s worse, wouldn’t you?

2. Buyers are self-educating, with fewer opportunities to meet and be influenced by vendors.

A huge problem for vendors is that they are simply being disintermediated from the buying process. Buyers have an Internet and they’re gonna use it. Gartner suggests they spend less than 20% of their time in front of vendors. And you may be only one of several that were talking to.

Today, we’re all at home, no-one’s travelling and there are no face-to-face meetings. (OK, there are plenty of Zoom meetings but it’s harder to generate chemistry, and post-meeting schmoozing over a few drinks is just a fond memory.) Now, buyers have even more time to self-educate, even less exposure to vendors – and that disintermediation is gathering pace.

3. Buyers, inundated with choice, are falling prey to ‘analysis paralysis’

Gartner identified six distinct buying roles, each probably sitting with different teams all armed with their own research. So, it’s all too easy to agonise over the detail rather than come to a decision.

With the lockdown in place, more stakeholders are involved. They are no longer co-located so decision-making is more protracted. And analysis paralysis is even more acute.

4. Buyers are confused by mis-aligned messages generated by poor MarTech implementation

The growth of ABM has raised the bar for the delivery of personalised communications. But marketing budgets have not risen in line with the growth in target accounts. Automation via MarTech has become the only way of delivering personalisation at the scale required – without breaking the bank. But there’s not enough talent to go around: 65% of organisations cite a lack of competence as the biggest challenge in successfully using their MarTech.

Time and again, we see organisations implementing multiple MarTech tools to perform the same task, but they aren’t deployed well enough to move the needle on engagement. Instead, they end up littering the buyer landscape with multiple, mis-aligned and often conflicting messages that only serve to sow confusion and hamper effective decision-making.

With all of those still working (our sainted key workers excepted) doing so from home, marketing budgets are moving online. So, more content, more audiences, more automation, more demand for scarce MarTech talent – and more confusion.

5. Buyers will default to those vendors that enable the journey of their choosing.

The genesis of this report began with a blog by Daisy Holloway, our Head of Digital, called, ‘

Marketing’s Illusion of Control’

: this asserted that, “Rather than forcing [buyers] down a journey we have created for them, we should be optimizing that journey, delivering content that addresses a particular need or answers a question at the different stages of the buying cycle.”  Essentially, this means designing journeys around the buyer, rather than around a flow diagram in your PowerPoint presentation.

In the lockdown, with online content proliferating, there’s plenty of competition for the same eyeballs. If we aren’t serving up content that is both relevant to the search they are making and available to them in the form in which they want to digest it, then they will default to these that are.

Business as unusual

The maelstrom of change unleashed upon the business community by the pandemic compares is both real and lasting.

As I said in a recent blog, the

genie is out of the bottle

: it is nonsense to assert that it is either safe, sustainable or desirable for the hundreds of millions of white collar jobs now being carried out at home to be returned to the office environment. This is, for want of a less over-used phrase, the new normal.

So, the five phenomena currently intensifying the changes to the buyer landscape will not suddenly abate when the lockdown is over. And the existing buyer landscape will not be strikingly dissimilar to the one we must traverse when the pandemic abates.

Is that bad news? Or just news?  

Confucius, he say, “The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.”

Wise words.


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