I was recently talking about the age of the self-educating buyer to my friend Mark, a partner in an accounting practice. He told me that almost all of his clients were referrals and that he didn’t need to think about this way of buying because accountants won business based on trust and referral. Tried and trusted methods of generating new business like client referrals are still incredibly valuable sources of new business, but things are changing.
Consider this: business owners, new prospective clients, are getting younger; they’re not all going to be Gen Xers for much longer. Future new B2B business is going to come from younger owners who live and breathe self-education and researching first - trust is now built and develops online.
In the age of the self-educating buyer there’s a whole lot of prospects, young business owners, that are going to be a long way down their purchase funnel - doing their trust building online - before they ever decide to build a relationship with you. Even if they have got a referral they’re going to check you out for themselves first. After all it’s exactly what you’d do, isn’t it?
The Changing Face of B2B Marketing
In fact a Google Think's study conducted with Millward Brown on the changing behaviour of B2B buyers found that 81% of B2B research for new suppliers was done by non C-suite (CEO, CFO, CIO, CMO) executives and just under half of all B2B researchers are Millennials (aged 18 or younger in 2000). What’s not surprising to the initiated is that 89% of B2B researchers use the internet during the B2B buying process and that over 70% start with what is called a 'generic search' meaning they'll search for "accountants in Perth CBD” rather than a brand. Marry that to the fact that on average most B2B researchers do twelve searches prior to engaging a specific brand's site and the penny (is hopefully) starting to drop.
As I said to Mark the accountant, we need to consider not only that our new prospective clients are getting younger, but that even clients of our own 40-something vintage are undoubtedly going to check out referrals to new suppliers online because the days of making decisions solely on the recommendations of associates is long gone.
So if you’re not regularly putting out content in the form of smart thinking via your blog or at the very least helping your prospects with valuable information via a newsletter you’re going to look old hat when you could be quite the opposite.
Are you missing prospects?
Tried and trusted methods of generating new business like client referrals are still incredibly valuable sources of new business. But what about all the prospective clients that you could help that don't know you or your referrer sources? Aren't you limiting the growth of your business by not connecting with this much larger group of prospects? There's a ton of new business out there that doesn't know someone you know but who's looking for someone like you. Your job is to fill the gap with valuable, ‘helping’ content to help those prospects choose you.
Trust is still important; it's vital. But the buying journey of your future clients has changed and, as I said to Mark, just as your own accounting practice has been disrupted by outsourcing of accounting compliance work to cheaper labour markets, so also has the web disrupted the way your prospective clients are making decisions and building trust in the accountants they are choosing to advise their business.
There are now many more opportunities online to build trust and relationships with other prospective clients before you meet them in person. It's a fact that in the age of the self-educating buyer, if you do it right, your new clients will trust you long before you know them.
Shane Davies is a strategic marketing and business development consultant based in Perth Western Australia. He helps B2B companies with the work they should be winning. You can follow him. Follow Shane on Twitter @shanedavies or check the updates at the Davies BDM's LinkedIn Page
Photo: Flickr: Robert S. Donvan Mind the Gap