Feb 21 2024
Eric Nelson

How B2B Marketers Can Adapt to Industry Changes


From raw materials to professional services, from healthcare supplies to technology, and everything in between, the business-to-business (B2B) industry boasts a truly vast spectrum of categories. And while B2B buyers are also varied, they’re all ultimately looking for the same thing: a product or service that provides a solution to their problem.

But the characteristics of those B2B buyers are changing, as is their path to purchase. Perhaps the most noticeable changes stem from their evolving demographics, which has contributed to the shift towards digital across all aspects of the B2B buying journey. As a result, the best ways B2B advertisers can reach their ideal customers are also evolving.

Looking to understand what the B2B buyer of today and their path to purchase looks like? Read on for the insights B2B marketers need to foster deeper connections in this relationship-based industry.

Evolutions in the B2B Consumer and Their Buying Journey

In order for industry marketers to be visible and influential throughout a B2B consumer’s path to purchase, they’ve got to understand the shopping habits and purchase motivations of the more than 15 million buyers that make up the consumer base. And these consumers look a lot different than they used to.

To start, the baton of B2B buying is being passed from boomers and Generation X to more digitally fluent generations. Millennials, totaling 60% of all buyers, now hold the greatest purchase influence. As a result, 59% of US buyers—and 77% of global buyers with the highest buying budgets—start their buying processes online. When the buyers of today are looking for inspiration, searching for a product, or making a purchase, all five of their top sources are digital: a supplier’s website, a supplier’s app, a marketplace like Amazon Business, emailing a sales representative, and social. Social media has become the most effective channel for driving B2B revenue: In 2023, 60% of US B2B marketers ranked it as their preferred option, followed by content marketing. Among social channels, YouTube and Facebook are particularly influential.

Despite this shift towards digital, person-to-person interaction is still key for the B2B buyer’s journey. One, B2B buyers prefer to work with people offline to negotiate purchase prices and make product repairs, and they’re equally apt to deal with warranties offline as online. Two, buyers score their in-person relationship with their sales rep higher than any other channel of their B2B buying experience. And three, among the other places buyers find inspiration, search for, or purchase business products, in-store and in-person are hot on the tails of the previously mentioned digital channels.

It’s also worth noting that the shift to digital hasn’t been without its hiccups: Case in point, 38% of US buyers say they’re “frustrated” with the online buying experience. They want better ease of product discovery, aided by features like enhanced search filters, personalized recommendations, and better product details. They also want a better experience on mobile—three out of the top four areas where buyers want businesses to invest and innovate are mobile apps, mobile sites, and mobile payment options.

Beyond wanting a more streamlined digital experience, what do B2B buyers care most about? Throughout their research, they’re most heavily influenced by customer ratings and reviews, as well as promotions and marketing. And, their most important consideration factors when purchasing online are price, payment terms, product availability, fulfillment speed, and ease of return.

What this means for advertisers:  In order to evolve with the industry and meet their buyers’ needs, B2B marketers should refresh their strategies and prioritize investing in digital tactics, as the majority of buyers are now younger, digital-first shoppers.

How B2B Marketers Can Adapt to Industry Changes

As B2B buyers devote more time to online research and purchasing, industry marketers must focus on utilizing strategic digital advertising channels and tailoring messaging to address consumers’ needs during their buying journey. A robust digital advertising presence will help with reaching consumers where they’re at, and keeping up with competitors.

Programmatic advertising with an omnichannel approach allows for efficient use of media budget to connect with consumers throughout that broad, deep journey. Using programmatic will allow brands in the space to spend their media budget and reach target audiences efficiently.

Other tactics can elevate advertising relevance, like using a data management platform for audience segmentation and personalization, and pulling in web-based product catalog feeds for dynamic product insertion to enhance product discovery.

From an inventory standpoint, along with running display ads for reach and tapping into preferred social channels YouTube and Facebook, online video can create impact thanks to its visual storytelling capabilities.

Creative is another key aspect, which marketers should tailor to B2B buyers’ preferences and pain points. Options to consider in creative messaging include:

  • Competitive pricing: This can address buyers’ needs for lower costs and may shorten the negotiation process.
  • Customer reviews and testimonials: Providing digital “word of mouth” can generate influence and trust.
  • Ease of use of online sales platforms: Pointing to users’ desired functions and accessibility can mitigate their frustration.

What this means for advertisers: B2B marketers must consider what today’s buyers value and tailor their creative messaging to answer those needs. Emphasizing customer reviews, competitive pricing, and technology features will capture buyers’ attention and allow brands to stand out in a cluttered environment. Consistent messaging will help establish brands and engage potential prospects throughout a long buying process, driving conversions and growth.

Wrapping Up

The B2B buyer and their process has changed, and B2B marketers must change along with them. These consumers expect businesses to create a more seamless, B2C-like shopping experience that fuses digital autonomy and personal attention. A strategic approach in a growing digital advertising space that considers relevant ad inventory and creative appeal will benefit B2B marketers who strive to be part of the solution.

Advertisers today have a lot of noise to sift through. Advice, insights, headlines… much of it valuable, some of it hype that diverts attention from strategies and tactics that count. Knowing what to tune out and where to focus is critical. Our 2024 digital advertising trends report, Future in Focus, highlights the trends that advertising pros should follow and notes the hype they can safely watch from afar.

Get the Report