Is inbound marketing a key part of your technology company sales plan? If not, you're missing out. Technology companies had some natural reservations in the beginning. You're selling complex products to knowledgeable, highly specialized people. Your customers are people who are more likely to search for information through an academic database like JSTOR or in an expensive trade journal than on Facebook or Google. At least, that's how the thinking goes.
Inbound, of course, depends heavily on SEO and social media for its effectiveness. The only problem with that line of thinking? It turns out B2B decision-makers use the same sources as everyone else to find information. Sure, they may need to dig up an academic article on occasion, but in most cases your B2B customers turn to social media and search engines for their research. So your content marketing and social media presence play an important role in your B2B success, as highlighted Demand Gen's 2014 B2B Buyer Behavior Survey.
B2B Buyer Attitudes are Changing
Let's start with some great news from the survey. Overall, buyers indicated that their B2B purchasing experience has improved dramatically over the last few years. Nearly 80 percent would rate their recent purchases at four or five points, in a five-point system. As recently as 2012, only 20 percent of buyers rated their experience at four or five points. Needless to say, that's a huge improvement.
Part of this improvement can be traced to improved purchasing habits. B2B buyers are now more likely to embrace new outlets for research, conduct ROI analysis, and engage through social media before making a purchase. With more information, it's easier to make the right purchasing decision.
B2B buying teams are also getting larger, in response to the complexity of the modern market. 34 percent of survey respondents indicated an increase in team size over the last year, while just 14 percent said that their team grew smaller. Increased team size often leads directly to improvements in research capabilities.
Embracing Content, Social, and Search
The other big changes are where B2B decision-makers are turning for information, and how much time they are willing to spend looking for it. In general, the results point toward the information outlets we've already mentioned. That means B2B decision-makers are more likely to see and act on your content... as long as your content shows up in the right places.
Overall, 68 percent of B2B buyers said they've increased time spent researching, and increased the number of sources they consult. Social media scores strongly, with 72 percent of buyers saying they search social before buying. Of that group, 57 percent said they read existing social conversations as part of their research. So you never know who you public social interactions will influence, in addition to the person your talking to directly.
When B2B buyers first start their research into a solution, search engines are the overwhelming favorite choice. 46 percent of respondents said that search engines were there first choice. Vendor websites come next, at 18 percent. Trade publications scored only four percent, while industry experts came in slightly higher at nine percent.
What's most likely to influence a B2B buyer's decision? Your content, and it's not even close. 64 percent of B2B buyers responded that the vendor's content played a key role in their purchasing decision. Among senior executives, 82 percent rely heavily on vendor content. Buyers who use vendor content as a primary research option are likely to consume between two and eight pieces of content before making their choice. This includes multimedia, in addition to text-based content.
What the Numbers Mean to You
The survey paints a pretty clear picture of where B2B purchasing habits are heading, and it's no surprise that inbound marketing dominates the landscape. That buyers turn to search engines as their first source of research shows the importance of SEO. The increase in social media use, and the way it's being used, show that your social interactions can be an important marketing tool, in addition to the content you share.
Now, we get to content. Inbound marketing devotees have long extolled the value of content, and now the numbers back it up. 82 percent of senior executives? 64 percent of all B2B decision-makers? There's simply no getting around it. Your content, more than anything else, drives the success of your inbound marketing.
So the prescription for technology companies is simple, though executing it correctly takes skill and sustained effort. You need to offer great content, make sure it shows up where your buyers are looking, and be ready to engage through social and other channels. The framework for B2B success is waiting for you, and it starts with inbound marketing.