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From a B2B market view, the new social buyer ecosystem continues to undergo a rapid evolution. The pace in 2011 has noticeably quickened. While the social customer ecosystem in the B2C market space is still legions ahead of B2B, it behooves B2B executives to not fall prey to the false sense that the comparative differences means they have to pay little attention. A new social buyer ecosystem is developing with implications on our conventional thinking about how B2B buyers in particular may actually go about researching and buying.
New Buyer Perspectives Evolving
As a primer to talking about the ecosystem, it is important to first visit how buyers are changing against what we think is actually going on. We know from such sources as Basesone’s Buyersphere Report what B2B buyers are doing respective to the use of social media and the Internet as they ultimately make purchase decisions. My focus has been on using qualitative research to understand how buyers are developing social oriented ecosystems and how does this map to conventional thinking in B2B marketing and Sales. There have been some surprising revelations. I would like to break this down for you in several categories and let the actual voice of buyers speak:
- Buyer’s Journey:
“I’m not sure what that means. I know I don’t go on a so called journey when looking for solutions.”
- Buying Stages:
“One of the biggest changes for me has been that I no longer think of a step-by-step approach. In fact, I can’t even recall when I last did that. It really is an ongoing almost never ending process of staying on top of the challenges you have and knowing what’s out there."
- Content Marketing:
“The term, content marketing, I am seeing here and there. Not sure I get it. What I do know is that the sources of information is abundant but can be overwhelming. You have to pick and choose.”
“Look, I’ve been around a while. Here’s the thing that’s changed. On high ticket items you still need a sales rep to help pull it together but the difference is you expect them to know a heck of lot more than in the past. If they don’t, then it is tough because we can’t spend too much time on bringing them up to speed.”
- Social Media/Internet:
“The game changer has been that with the Internet and Social Media you can really cull information together about products, solutions, companies, and the likes. Basically it is the first thing we do. As for some of the social networks, like LinkedIn, you can connect with people who can help you out. Without a doubt, I am on the Internet or some social networking site daily.”
The above represents consistent themes heard over several conversations. The qualitative interviews are not as rigorous as I would normally do in a buyer persona research and development effort but nevertheless revealing. This has caused me to reflect more deeply on the changes we are seeing and how a new social buyer ecosystem is forming.
Social Buyer Circles
With Google Plus, circles are suddenly the new rage. In this context they do serve a purpose. Circles are not new. I’m influenced by David Armano who came up with the concept of influence ripples or circles to depict blogger spheres of influence as far back as 2006.
Most recently, Michael Brito offered a great perspective via the use of circles on why content still matters and how the social customer is filtering relevant content.
- Always On: the Social Buyer is living and breathing the “always on” life via social media, social networks, and the Internet. The implications are that the Social Buyer – from a B2B prism – is active on the likes of Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook daily. This includes blurring the lines between personal and business.
- Non-Linear Thinking: the Social Buyer appears to not be thinking conventionally with respect to a methodical stage-by-stage buying process or buying stages. Rather, challenges and solutions awareness as well as evaluation are in a constant state of motion and monitoring. This has implications to how we think in the future about sales and content marketing.
- Pull Affect on Challenges: the Social Buyer is exhibiting behavior of setting up what I would like to refer to as “Challenge Circles”. Social Buyers have challenges they are constantly addressing and pull various elements of social networks and social information sources into these challenge circles. The implication for B2B marketers and sellers is how to get pulled into one of the social buyer’s challenge circles. From a sales standpoint, I like Tibor Shanto's perspective via his co-authored book with Craig Elias entitled Shift!:Harness the Trigger Events That Turn Prospects Into Customers and his focus on trigger events. The relevancy here is understanding what triggers one of the challenge circles to activate into motion towards a solution.
- Information Sources Go Social: the Social Buyer is beginning to migrate from a purely search behavior to that of social media stored recall. What this means is that social buyers are using social information sources to recall when a “challenge circle” needs to be addressed with a solution. Storing recall through YouTube, Product Review Sites, Q&A such as Focus and Quora, and blogs they subscribe to.
- Internal Collaboration Rules: the Social Buyer is engaging and collaborating through internal and private social networks. New platforms such as Jive are influencing the way organizations work and migrate towards being a social business. IBM is way out in front on this. This is making stakeholder buy-in and validation happen more rapidly. It is also establishing precedents for more open sharing of solutions which impacts how budgets are created for expenditures and allocating resources.
- Validation Goes Social: the Social Buyer has rapid ability to validate solutions and potential purchase decisions socially through peer networks, social networks, internal networks, review sites, analysts, almost instant feedback on forums, online assessments, and the likes. The implication for B2B companies is that their online presence must extend beyond just their web site and few social networking accounts – it must be extended by influence sources. This is also radically changing the concept of public relations in the social age.
- Become a Circle of Influence: the Social Buyer, as I have previously written about, is also interested in their professional growth and becoming a circle of influence themselves. Through blogging, tweeting, discussion groups, and etc. social buyers are actively seeking to be a “sphere of influence” as David Armano describes. This is new phenomenon in B2B market spaces whereby engaging with a recognized social influencer takes on new meaning.
- Connected Influence: the Social Buyer is more connected, interpersonally as well as socially, than we could ever have imagined. We are finding that many interact with connections through social networks and other forms such as email or telephone. With many never having met their peer in person or arranging to meet peers at conference. The impact of peer influence on the social buyer is immense. The implication is obvious for B2B marketers and sellers – how do you make peer influencers brand advocates?
Surrounding the social buyer circles are interaction points with the top representing the buyer’s perspective and the bottom representing what the seller must provision. I offered a more detailed view of this when describing the importance of organizations to focus on buyer experience interactions.
While circles may be the rage, it is for good reason. They clearly are helping in gaining social intelligence about the social buyer. The driving forces of being always-on, instant accessibility to sources, overwhelming information overload, social networking management, and increase forces of internal collaboration are influencing buyers to have these circular adaptations. Changing forever conventional perceptions of how buyers in the social age work, collaborate, meet challenges, find solutions, engage with sellers, and ultimately make purchases.