It used to feel like a consultation – customers calling you early on asking how you can help them. Now it feels more like scratching a lottery ticket at the end of the buying process, knowing you can’t alter what’s printed under the security coating – you’ve either been chosen or you’re not. This year, we have heard repeatedly from our members that the B2B purchasing process feels increasingly out of their hands as customers shifted to doing much of the research and comparisons on their own, turning to suppliers only very late in the game. Informally, our B2B members feel that 70% (or thereabout) of the buying process is completely out of their control, and they’re grasping onto the tail end of the purchase process which used to be much more malleable. Is that fear warranted?
The short answer: yes. We decided to do a deep dive on this point to see whether this trend holds true across industries, and our B2B survey data suggest that it does. Delayed contact, though not yet catastrophic, is a serious problem that requires immediate attention. This year, MLC has looked specifically into just how much ground has been ceded in the buying process by directly asking our members’ customers the question: “Roughly how far were you through the decision making process when you started serious discussions/negotiations with the sales department of the supplier you chose?” With 11 customer industries represented, two trends emerge:
- Delayed contact is universal. Customers from different industries have uniformly opted for later contact. On average, 57% of the purchase process has been completed before the first contact with the supplier.
- Your problem maybe more pressing than others’. Among the participating companies in our survey, we are seeing differences as large as 44% in terms of when contact is initiated. Customers in some industries are contacting their suppliers later than those in other industries. As a supplier, playing catch-up to get in front of the customer could be a jog or a sprint depending on the exact customer composition.
Is there anything marketers can do to get back in the game? Knowing how customers prefer to acquire information, both in terms of channel and style, and tailoring your approach accordingly can decrease resistance while increasing reach. Providing contacts in the customer organization with talking points which enable them to teach and advocate could be just as important as discount pricing in terms of generating advocacy. Instead of trying to change your clients’ mind when they’re more than halfway done purchasing, save money, time and resources by figuring out how to stay top of mind throughout the process.
MLC members – want to know how your customers make their decisions? Find out how you can participate in our survey by contacting my colleague Shelley West. As our thanks for participating, we will provide you a customized report as well as benchmark you against our sample.
And don’t forget to join us for this year’s Annual Executive Retreat, where we will share detailed recommendations and best practices in the face of this and other B2B challenges.