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Despite the move toward a digital marketplace -- in which buyers research and make purchases online -- in-person meetings with sales reps and other human interactions are still important to b-to-b buyers, according to a new report from research firm SiriusDecisions.
Vendor content, such as websites and free trials, also ranked high in the b-to-b buying process.
SiriusDecisions' "2015 B2B Buyer Study" was based on a survey of more than 1,000 b-to-b buyers and was released last Thursday at the SiriusDecisions Summit in Nashville, Tenn.
"We think that because everything has gone digital, people don't matter anymore," said Marisa Kopec, VP-group director at SiriusDecisions. "You still have to enable a buying process that has handshakes and human interactions. There is still a people part to b-to-b buying."
The report examined two categories of interactions in the b-to-b buying process: human interactions and non-human interactions.
"We decided to take out the word 'digital' and introduce a different lexicon to talk about the buyer's journey that is more precise," Ms. Kopec said. "Human-to-human means there is a person involved, and non-human is any interaction over the computer, phone, email, text or any other self-serve interaction that does not involve a human."
She said that about half of the interactions in the typical b-to-b buying process are human, and about half are non-human. To rank the most valuable types of interactions, SiriusDecisions identified three phases of the buying process -- education, solution and selection -- and asked b-to-b buyers which types of interactions were most important during each phase.
During the education phase, when buyers are trying to understand a business problem or learn more about an opportunity, the top three non-human interactions were searching on the internet (cited by 20% of b-to-b buyers), exploring a vendor's website (17%), and accessing a free trial (16%). Other non-human interactions used during this stage were taking a virtual tour (8%), attending a virtual event (7%) and watching an online demo (7%).
The top three human interactions during the education phase were attending a live vendor-hosted webinar (14%), meeting with a vendor sales rep (9%,) and attending an industry conference (8%). Other types of human interactions during this phase were attending a sales event (7%), talking to a vendor customer service rep (7%) and talking to a vendor product manager or consultant (7%).
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During the solution phase, when buyers are comparing different solutions to solve a problem, the top three non-human interactions were the same as in the education phase, although the percentages varied slightly; searching on the internet was first (17%), followed by exploring a vendor's website (17%) and accessing a free trial (16%).
The top three human interactions during this phase were meeting with a sales rep (10%), talking to a vendor customer service rep (8%), and having a conversation with a vendor product manager or consultant (8%).
Finally, in the selection phase, when buyers make a selection on a product or service, the top three non-human interactions were exploring a vendor website (17%), accessing a free trial (15%) and searching on the internet (14%).
The top human interactions during the selection phase were meeting with a sales rep (13%), meeting with a vendor executive (9%) and having a conversation with a vendor product manager or consultant (8%).
"These are complex deals, so the human element is very important," Ms. Kopec said. "Buyers are meeting with reps of provider organizations, whether it's a sales rep, a product manager or an account person. Trust, validation and confidence are important throughout the buyer's journey, and those handshakes still matter."