Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, the traditional B2B buyer journey has changed significantly. As a result, the way B2B service providers market their brands to buyers changed, and businesses that adapted have gained a measurable competitive advantage.
However, when the pandemic ends and the world goes back to in-person events and face-to-face sales meetings, it’s unlikely that B2B buyers will instantly shift back to pre-pandemic buying habits. Some things may have changed permanently.
With that in mind, it’s critical that B2B brands understand the “new normal” of marketing post-pandemic. According Hinge Marketing’s Inside the Buyer’s Brain research study, there are three key factors B2B buyers look for when choosing service providers today, and businesses that shift their marketing strategies and investments to prioritize these factors will win more sales in 2021 and beyond.
1. Visibility When and Where Buyers are Looking for Help
Coronavirus not only necessitated a short-term change in some vendor evaluation preferences but it also accelerated a long-term change. Specifically, for years, B2B buyers have consistently ranked peer and colleague recommendations as the top way they search for work-related topics, find solutions to their problems, and learn about vendors. However, digital methods are taking over.
In 2020, B2B buyers ranked “asking peers and colleagues for recommendations” at 8.0 on a 10-point scale, followed very closely by “doing a general web search” at 7.7. “Looking on social media” ranked third at 6.4, which is a significant increase from Hinge Marketing’s 2018 study when social media ranked in the twelfth position of importance. Reading an article or blog post ranked fourth in 2020 (6.4) followed by attending a conference or event (6.2), attending a webinar (6.0), watching a video (6.0), reading a research report, ebook or how-to guide (6.0), and listening to an expert speak on a topic (4.8).
The data is clear. B2B brands must be visible online when buyers are actively looking for information and help. That doesn’t just mean B2B brands need to advertise their services online. It means brands need to publish useful, meaningful, and relevant content that educates target audiences and helps buyers get the information they need to believe a brand can be trusted to provide solutions.
It all starts with a company blog where your brand can publish the type of content your target audience is looking for without overtly self-promoting or selling. Share that content across social media, send it to your email lists via email marketing campaigns, and use it to generate new leads and nurture existing leads as they make their way through the buyer journey.
2. Digital Content that Establishes a Brand and Team as Visible Experts
Hinge Marketing’s researchers wrote, “Visibility has got to be a top marketing priority, right behind content development and differentiation. You need to be visible and respected wherever your prospects are looking. But you don’t have to break the bank. Try deploying targeted thought leadership content through blogs, articles, webinars, collateral, and email.” This advice is 100% accurate for B2B brands.
Visibility is essential to prove your brand and team members are subject matter experts. According to the Hinge Marketing research report, the percentage of B2B buyers who rank “knowledge of the industry and subject matter expertise” as the number one way they evaluate service providers increased 56% since 2018. In fact, subject matter expertise now ranks higher (32.2%) for service provider evaluation among B2B buyers than “talented staff/team skills” (31.7%), “relevant experience and past performance” (31.2%), “client service (flexibility, responsiveness, timeliness)” (22.2%), and “ability to deliver results” (16.5%).
For service providers in the cannabis and hemp industries, the data tells you it’s imperative that you invest time and money into developing your brand and team not only as subject matter experts related to the services you provide but also as industry experts. This is particularly important for service providers that primarily operate in other industries and are expanding into the cannabis and/or hemp industries. Make sure your team fully understands the cannabis and/or hemp industries before you start promoting your services!
You can establish your brand and team as visible experts using content. Publish authoritative blog posts, ebooks, research reports, white papers, videos, and so on to prove to B2B buyers that you understand their market, industry, problems, and needs. Without this content, buyers won’t be able to find the trustworthy proof they need to consider your business in the selection process.
3. Transparency to Verify Expertise, Ability to Deliver on Promises, and Cultural Fit
Being visible and establishing your brand’s expertise is just part of the equation to be considered in the B2B buyer evaluation process in 2021. Hinge Marketing’s research found that the top two concerns that B2B buyers have when choosing service providers are vendors that overpromise and underdeliver (19.6%, which is an 80% increase from 2018) and vendors that are a bad fit or have the wrong values (19.2%, which is a 68% increase from 2018).
Again, content marketing provides the perfect opportunity to prove your brand’s expertise and ability to deliver on its promises as well as to communicate your company culture and values. Write blog posts, publish social media posts, create videos, and share them across digital channels to prove your brand can be trusted to deliver on its promises.
Consider this – price is smaller piece of the vendor evaluation process than overpromising and overdelivering, bad fit or wrong values, and poor quality deliverables. In fact, price ranks fourth in terms of B2B buyers’ concerns when selecting service provider vendors today, but in 2018, it ranked number one.
In other words, as the buyer journey has changed in the past few years, so has the way B2B buyers evaluate service providers. Price has lost importance while expertise, delivering on promises, and cultural fit have all increased in importance. As a result, the way you market your services and what you say to prospects needs to change as well.
Key Takeaways about What B2B Buyers are Looking for When Choosing Service Providers in 2021
Digital communications and marketing dominate in 2021. Buyers are actively using digital methods to find and evaluate vendors more than ever, and this is a trend that is highly unlikely to reverse. The winning brands of the future will be the ones that adapt their marketing plans to meet buyers where they are (online) as soon as possible.
Susan Gunelius, Director of Email Marketing Strategy for Cannabiz Media, is also President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company offering, copywriting, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, and strategic branding services. She spent the first half of her nearly 30-year career directing marketing programs for AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more as well as small businesses around the world. She has been working with clients in the cannabis industry since 2015. Susan has written 11 marketing-related books, including the highly popular Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing for Business, Content Marketing for Dummies, 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, and she is a popular marketing and branding keynote speaker. She is also a Certified Career Coach and Founder and Editor in Chief of Women on Business, an award-winning blog for business women. Susan holds a B.S. in marketing and an M.B.A in management and strategy.