B2B Buyers Go Social, But How Can You Influence Purchase Decisions?

There are endless examples out there of how consumers block out marketing messages and put a lot of weight on the opinions and reviews expressed through social media as they make purchases. You would think that since B2B buyers are consumers too, the same behavior would carry over to their business purchases. But our research shows that this isn't the case. 

While business buyers make heavy use of social media for business purposes, they still rely heavily on traditional sources of information when making business purchase decisions — sources such as peers and colleagues, consultants, analyst firms, and even vendor salespeople. 

The good news for marketers is that business buyers are increasingly "going social" when they first realize that they have a problem and are looking to learn from and interact with experts in their problem space. 

In our recent report, we advise B2B marketing leaders who are formulating their social media marketing strategies for 2011 to use social media to interact with their target audiences earlier in their problem-solving cycles and demonstrate expertise in the problems those audiences are looking to solve.

This requires a big shift for many marketers who are simply using social media to pump out the same old marketing messages. It requires you to build trust well before your prospects have entered into an active buying cycle and to show that your people are experts in the problem, not just your product.

Forrester subscribers can read the entire report, "When To Socialize Online With B2B Buyers." If you think you're doing a good job at this already, we want to hear from you. 

Comments

We Are Still Confusing Channels With Sources

Jeff,

It is interesting to see what sources people turn to, and how they find them. In this case though, I think the key point is that the rise of a channel has not materially changed (at least not yet) the information sources people turn to. Peers, analysts, even vendors, continue to be key sources. However, social is one of the ways that people get this information, and often times it is so integrated that the audience may not think of it as 'social'. Highly influential 'social' sources often even start consultancies or join analyst firms (Forrester has had a couple examples). We need to separate here the source from the channel.

Look at Forrester as an example. Forrester doesn't publish a blog because people rely on blogs, Forrester publishes a blog because people rely on Forrester. The blog makes information from Forrester more accessible to a wider audience. Forrester's blog is so integrated into the publishing platform that I get information from Forrester, but much of it actually comes through your blog. The same is true of other analyst firms and consultants, particularly when we haven't paid for full research access or consulting engagements. But I associate the information with the source (Forrester), not the channel (blog). I'm sure I'm not the only one.

I would be great to see a study that breaks these two apart, and looks at both who we value information from and how we want to get it. Bloggers, not blogs, are a potential source. Blogs are a potential channel. I would expect a different conclusion, with people wanting information that is easy to consume on their terms (not from a sales person call) for sources with an agenda (selling) and more direct engagement and personalized information exchange from more respected and independent third parties and peers. Unfortunately the reality of how we get information is likely the opposite, those with an agenda (selling) will take time on the phone and in person, those we really value that more personalized discussion with (analysts) are more difficult to reach.

(Note the post originally had a chart that helped illustrate the differences in sources that looks to have been removed. My comment is based in part on the data that was removed).

-- Eric
@wittlake

We Are Still Confusing Channels With Sources

Eric,

Yes, your points are right in line with the findings of our research. Buyers are not confusing channels with sources. They are using social media as another channel to interact with the sources they trust. But too many marketers treat social media as just another channel to push out their press releases and product announcements. They need to focus more on the "social" than the "media".

Look for more research from Forrester this year on authority relationships between people. Thanks for your comments and keep them coming.

Jeff