For obvious reasons, B2B marketers have always craved insights about their current and potential buyers. Such insights can enable astute marketers to craft more compelling value propositions, run more effective marketing programs, and deliver better customer experiences.

Every year, I review several research studies that focus on the attitudes, preferences, and behaviors of B2B buyers. In most years, these studies address a diverse set of specific topics, as the following examples from 2019 illustrate:

Most of the published B2B buyer research focuses on “non-professional” buyers. By “non-professional,” I mean individuals who do not work in their company’s procurement/purchasing function. The research has given far less attention to the attributes and behaviors of individuals whose primary job responsibility is purchasing goods and services for their company, even though many B2B companies derive significant revenue from sales involving these “professional” buyers.

Late last year, PROS (a provider of dynamic pricing software) published a report that provides important insights about “professional” business buyers. What B2B Buyers Want was based on a survey of 1,053 “leaders in procurement and purchasing” that was conducted in association with Hanover Research. The objective of this survey was to capture insights about the current expectations of professional business buyers and identify what matters most to them.

Here is an overview of some of the major findings.

Most Professional Buyers Prefer Incumbent Suppliers

The buyers polled in this survey exhibited a strong preference for incumbent suppliers. Sixty percent of the survey respondents said they switch suppliers occasionally or less frequently (24% said rarely and 4% said never). This preference for incumbents isn’t difficult to understand. First, switching suppliers requires time and effort. And second, buying from a new supplier can entail significant risk if the products or services involved are mission critical.

The preference for incumbent suppliers is not, however, unconditional. Buyers will remain loyal if they believe the prices they are paying a supplier are fair and reasonable given the current market conditions. In this study, nearly three-quarters of the survey respondents indicated that they are very or extremely confident they are paying fair prices. When the survey participants were asked what had caused them to switch suppliers, 39% said it was because of price increases, and 30% said it was because they found a cheaper supplier.

Professional Buyers Value Personalization

The buyers participating in this study want personalization if it helps them increase the value they obtain from a supplier. Ninety-two percent of the survey respondents said they desire personalized recommendations, and 69% strongly or somewhat agreed that personalized offers and recommendations enabled them to obtain more value from their suppliers.

A majority of the buyers in this research acknowledged that personalization can have real economic value. More than half of the survey respondents said they are willing to pay a higher price to receive personalized product and service recommendations.

Ecommerce Becomes Mainstream

The PROS research also found that professional B2B buyers are increasingly using digital channels for self-service purchasing.

  • Only 15% of the survey respondents said they were making the majority of their purchases online two years ago.
  • 30% said they are currently making the majority of their purchases online.
  • 44% said they expect to make the majority of their purchases online within two years.
This finding does not mean that professional business buyers see no value in person-to-person interactions. In fact, a majority of the survey respondents said they prefer talking with a sales representative in several circumstances. For example:
  • When products involve complex configurations – 61%
  • When asking about special prices – 61%
  • When inquiring about specific purchase terms – 58%
  • When learning about new products – 52%
The Takeaway
The findings of the PROS survey provide three important takeaways for B2B marketing and sales professionals:
  1. Professional business buyers are risk averse, so they prefer to work with trusted suppliers.
  2. They want personalization, so long as it provides pragmatic value.
  3. They are shifting more of their purchases to digital self-service channels, but they still want access to a human when facing more complex decisions and when learning about new products or services.
Image Source:  PROS Holdings, Inc.

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