Decision-making is becoming more complex. A survey of 1,100 business leaders by Raconteur found that the number of people involved in major purchases is 11 in 53% of cases. A fifth (21%) of the time it is more than 16.
Business leaders are now influencing decisions across at least four product or service lines outside their immediate remit. And 62% of the time it is not the most senior executive that ultimately signs off on purchases.
For speakers at Raconteur’s event to discuss the research, the findings chime with their experience of decision-making – both in their own businesses and those they sell to.
“We’re seeing a lot more involvement in the buying process – a lot more engagement – particularly from procurement functions but also from legal functions in any decision-making,” says Paul Coxhill, the CEO of Warc, a marketing insights firm. “Anything that’s above £10,000 is a big commitment and so we’re seeing a lot more involvement from across the business.”
Kate Cox, the CMO at BrightBid, has also found procurement and finance more involved in decisions to buy the ad-tech the company sells. That is particularly the case once the conversations shifts to integrating BrightBid’s offering with the rest of the marketing tech stack. “That area gets very cross-functional,” she says.
LinkedIn’s James Davies, who leads the tech vertical in the UK and EMEAL for its marketing solutions, agrees. The company’s own research has found that, in 2014 75% of businesses in the area where he works thought tech was the main decision-maker but now that number is down to around 30%, with “a range of other functions kicking in”.
“Six or seven years ago, it was very, ‘I need to target the IT person because they are the decision-maker’. Now we see there is a committee influencing [buying decisions],” he explains.
Bringing excitement to B2B marketing
This added complexity sounds like it should make life more difficult for B2B marketers. How do they reach their target audience if that target audience is no longer one person in an organisation? But it should also make the job more interesting.
“A B2B marketer’s job is more complicated, that’s what the research shows,” says Rob Gold, CEO of the agency Merkle B2B. “But it’s also a much more interesting, exciting place to be.
“The legacy of B2B marketing was very narrow, with few people making big decisions. Now the complexity brings a lot more dynamism. It’s an amazing opportunity to do better work.”
He believes the results point to a way for B2B marketers to elevate their work to talk more about the impact it can have on their business and the benefits of working with them, rather than simply trying to sell.
“B2B businesses want to buy from companies that can actually help them. And they want to be proud to be associated with that company, whether because of what they do for the environment or the economy or society,” Gold adds.
Adapting to new audiences
Another result of this shift to a more egalitarian buying model is that younger staff are often now key decision-makers. This means brands have to rethink how they reach their target audience, both in terms of messaging and media.
Coxhill cites the example of Sage, which was the first B2B company to run a marketing campaign on Tiktok, back in 2021, aimed at SMEs. Its #bossit2021 messaging received more than 8 billion impressions and showed how B2B marketing is shifting in response to changes in where its target audience spends time.
“The use of different channels to reach decision-makers is really interesting,” he says. “It’s no longer enough to rely on email or the old channels that B2B used to use. The best work is in the context of a fully integrated, singular message with lots of different messages going to different people.”
LinkedIn’s Davies agrees that key for B2B now is to run a unified brand strategy that looks at longer-term effectiveness. “The more that brands can be relevant and build an emotional connection, the better. On LinkedIn we have seen brands pushing messaging around sustainability or cybersecurity – key themes tied to their brand strategy,” he says.
He also warns against companies that just do lead generation targeting the 5% of buyers likely to be in the market for a product at any one time. The other 95%, he points out, are possible future decision-makers, future buyers and future cash flow.
Marketing’s focus on the customer
Cox adds a note of caution, however, warning that for some businesses where demand is strong top-of-funnel marketing is less necessary, and that companies have to do what is right for them. “You have to take every client, business, category and vertical separately, do the analysis, and figure out what is right for them. There is no magic formula,” she says.
Coxhill agrees, saying businesses need to be clear on what they are trying to achieve. Some, especially during difficult economic times, may simply be trying to survive the next six months while other businesses are building for the longer term.
Gold, however, believes brands need to make sure they don’t lose sight of what the customer really needs. He describes a brand as a “promise delivered”, meaning that factors such as delivery, an easy-to-navigate website and simple checkout are all as important.
“What I don’t think [B2B] people are doing well enough is typing up their customer experience,” he says. “Investment in the brand doesn’t just mean flashy advertising. It means a good website, the right content for the right audiences – that’s the next area where B2B should be focusing.”