The Marketing Strategist:

Remember the Teacher You Loved? That’s How Buyers Consume Information

December 12, 2013

When you were in school, you had at least one great teacher—someone who caught you up in the excitement of learning. You probably had a few great textbooks too, but you don’t remember those. You remember the knowledgeable, caring people who shared the “aha.” To this day, no matter how old you are, you remember that bond.

It’s the same with buyers. They know technology is advancing faster than they can keep up. They know that they’ve entered an era of perpetual studenthood. They learn online. They may even read books and magazines. But it’s people—experts who impart information in ways that students get and remember—that make the biggest impact.

Which people? Your colleagues. Your subject matter experts. And yes, even your salespeople.

ITSMA’s How Buyers Consume Information study, drawing on 438 buyers of big B2B technology solutions across seven countries, showed that buyers spend a lot of time trolling across on- and offline channels in search of relevant insights delivered by credible experts. The B2B social buyers—roughly half of the 438 survey participants—are conducting research daily or weekly. Half spend an average of nine hours per week researching technology trends. And the bigger the company, the more time they spend: it is buyers at the largest companies (>$5billion annual revenue) who spend more than nine hours.

When they engage, they’re seeking something very specific: new ideas that could lead to competitive advantage. They get these ideas through communities (both online and in-person), suppliers, salespeople, and peers.

As marketers, though, the key bit of context is how they are getting these ideas. People can put ideas in the right context for the person they’re speaking to. Learning from people accounts for almost half of buyer research.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that suppliers have to meet buyers in person. It does mean that customers are more likely to engage when they link to a named person with a point of view and a reputation. You still need digital and social channels, but digital alone won’t make a big B2B services sale.

Buyers—whether from IT, finance, or the business lines, and throughout every region of the world—also say that they want to hook up with experts. But fewer than three in 10 say that they have enough access. That’s why marketers need to enable more substantive sales conversations.

Three-quarters of buyers were satisfied with their most recent interaction with sales (and most of the rest were neutral). The source of this satisfaction was the ability of salespeople to convey knowledge. Salespeople can be thought of as accessible “SME lites” with the time and skills to deliver the personal interactions buyers want.

The implications for you? Buyers are still hungry to learn. Solution providers remain the experts that buyers rely on. But while buyers can and do learn through digital, it is not enough. Buyers switch effortlessly from digital to physical. Marketing enables both—including the salespeople and SMEs that provide the personal touch.

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