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Digital Transformation

Understanding How Business Customers Buy

Mckinsey has a great research article that fits digital transformation to a “T.” It’s titled, “Do You Really Understand How Your Business Customers Buy?” It’s long enough that I cannot do it justice in my brief synopsis and a highlight of key points so go read it. Here’s the key: how businesses buy complex items, software, and services is becoming more consumer-like. That doesn’t mean businesses do less research or have less process. It means they will buy in a new manner with a lot of research done in their way and not according to your sales funnel. Here are a couple quotes to make the point:

Welcome to the new dynamics of B2B sales. Decision-making authority for purchases is slipping away from individuals in familiar roles—often those with whom B2B sales teams have long-standing relationships. Just as the digital revolution has transformed once-predictable consumer purchasing paths into a more circular pattern of touch points, so too business-to-business selling has become less linear as customers research, evaluate, select, and share experiences about products. More people within (and, thanks to digital engagement, even outside) the organization are playing pivotal roles in sizing up offerings, so the path to closing sales has become more complicated.

Flows of digital information have further democratized business procurement. Our research indicates nearly 50 percent of all B2B purchases will be made on digital platforms by the end of 2015, and expenditures for B2B digital advertising are expected to double by 2018. Empowered purchasers increasingly demand real-time digital interactions supported by tools such as product configurators and price calculators. And they are doing all this while texting, e-mailing, and talking regularly with on-the-ground sales teams, distributors, behind-the-scenes inside sales groups, customer-service call centers, and technical reps. Our research shows that, on average, a B2B customer will regularly use six different interaction channels throughout the decision journey, and almost 65 percent will come away from it frustrated by inconsistent experiences.

Business customers are exposed to the same dynamics of peer-to-peer networks and opinions that influence individual consumers. The equivalent of Facebook’s “like” button also applies to B2B sales. Many of the one-to-one relationships with key decision makers that sales executives historically relied on to close sales are shifting to one-to-many relationships. Moreover, the actions of important influencers (including senior executives) in the purchasing process are often less visible to suppliers. Customers may be “liking” or “not liking” a prospective offer long before the sales rep has even presented it.

So, by now you get it; the buying process is on their terms, and there’s only one way to respond to this type of change: embrace it. McKinsey highlights how other businesses reallocated budgets to better target their buyers according to a new buying model. That makes far more sense than just cutting budget or piling on more $$ to make your process successful.

What impact does this have on digital transformation you might ask? It’s simple. Digital transformation requires a change not only in technologies used but also in how you go about addressing digital channels in the first place. Take a holistic view and be ready to make changes to your processes and technologies.

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Michael Porter

Mike Porter leads the Strategic Advisors team for Perficient. He has more than 21 years of experience helping organizations with technology and digital transformation, specifically around solving business problems related to CRM and data.

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