B2B buyers are including more brands in their consideration set during the purchase journey and are becoming more likely to choose a new brand over an incumbent, according to a report [download page] from Merkle. Additionally, decision times are taking longer, rising from an average of 344 days last year to an average of 350 days in this year’s report.
That tracks with recent research among B2B salespeople, twice as many of whom said that the average duration of their sales cycle had increased (30%) as decreased (15%) over the past year. Additionally, B2B buyers are reporting that the length of their buying cycle for large purchases has increased.
Merkle’s report is based on a survey of 3,622 B2B buyers and users of B2B products and services across key markets in North America, Europe, and APAC, capturing 6,767 B2B brand experiences across the Technology, Financial Services, Manufacturing, and Professional Services sectors.
In each of those sectors, the number of brands evaluated during the buying journey inched up. For example, buyers in the Manufacturing category are evaluating 3.4 brands during the purchase journey, up from 3.2 last year, while those in Finance are now evaluating 3.2, up from 2.9.
On average, buyers are now evaluating 3.2 brands this year, up from 3.1 last year. As that number creeps up, incumbents are finding themselves more under threat. In its analysis, Merkle found that a new brand usurped the incumbent in 34% of journeys, up from 29% last year.
As brands need to up their game to ensure loyalty, buyers are less likely to report positive experiences across different aspects of the purchase journey, from initial research to negotiating/contracting and on-boarding. The analysts believe that it’s unlikely that the average B2B brand experience has worsened, but that buyer expectations have instead become higher.
Merkle also reports that some decision drivers are becoming more important to buyers, including “supports us with expertise” and “integrates smoothly with our processes and operations.” The most important factor influencing success for B2B brands now, though, is “I feel safe signing a contract with them.” This outcome has four other decision drivers that are closely correlated with it:
- “Provides the information, expertise, and support we need”
- “Constantly delivers on time and as specified”
- “Approachable and transparent in their dealings with us”
- “Quick to respond and adapt to changing plans.”
Meanwhile, there were five decision drivers that it was particularly important for suppliers/partners to avoid failing at:
- “Improve productivity, save us time/resources”
- “Increase our revenue or gross sales”
- “Support us with expertise”
- “Products and services just work / don’t fail”
- “Make my workday a little more fun/entertaining.”
Finally, the report reveals that buyers are increasingly seeking third-party validation of brands, being more likely to consult various sources to aid in their decision-making, including industry analyst firms and consultants (56%, up from 50% last year), mentions on social media (51%, up from 46%), online reviews/feedback (47%, up from 43%), and news articles about the supplier (45%, up from 41%). This tracks with other research from McKinsey, which has found a large increase in the percentage of B2B buyers who are using social media posts to research and evaluate suppliers.
For more, download the Merkle study here.