B2B buying patterns are getting more chaotic and unpredictable – even to the buyers. That makes it more important than ever to track what prospects do, rather than what they tell you, so you can find those who suddenly need your products or services.

Four out of ten B2B buyers had little advance notice of when they would need what they bought, according to a recent survey by the Demand Gen Report and sponsored by marketing automation vendor Act-On Software. It found that 43 percent of the buyers it surveyed who made purchases had no budgets for those purchases at the start of the year.  Thirty percent said they set a budget only after soliciting multiple bids. That makes the question “What is your budget?” one a buyer may not even be able to answer.

The obvious conclusion is that B2B customers are making purchase decisions much more quickly. A customer who tells you they’re not ready to buy – however sincerely – might be a hot prospect months or weeks later. This is especially true for small to medium-sized businesses,” says Act-On Chief Marketing Officer Atri Chatterjee. “Don’t assume that just because they’re not buying now, that decision is fixed.”

To reach and grab prospects caught in this new world:

  • Give them more help than ever making the business case to buy from you. Along with case studies and ROI calculators, spend the time to understand their needs and make a bulletproof purchase case.
  • Prospects themselves often don’t know when they’ll need to buy. Monitor their reading habits to learn when their purchase needs and timetables have changed. (Read how an IT services provider found a latent need in an existing prospect.)
  • If in doubt, share more information with prospects, rather than less – especially when it comes to pricing. Many “may not pick up the phone to call you to find out about your pricing,” says Chatterjee. When they do, they don’t want any surprises.

We all talk about the marketing funnel, an upside down triangle in which buyers enter at the “awareness” stage, with prospects drop out through the education, consideration and evaluation stages before a select few make a purchase at the “bottom” of the funnel.

But in today’s uncertain world the funnel is like a tornado. Prospects spin unpredictably from awareness to evaluation, then back to the awareness if they can’t make the business case or get distracted. The CIO may then fling the organization back into the evaluation or conversion stages overnight if the business suddenly needs (or panics into thinking it needs) a new capability.

Consumer companies know this unpredictable, event-driven process is how we buy everything from junk food to iPads. That’s why they’re always keeping their brand names in front of us. With prospects caught in the marketing tornado, B2B vendors must do the same.

Author: Bob Scheier
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