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The most trustworthy information sources for B2B buyers are also their most influential, details TrustRadius in its second annual B2B Buying Disconnect study [download page]. And that link between trust and influence seems to extend to vendors themselves: those that are considered the most influential in the purchase process tend to take a more consultative, open and honest approach to engaging buyers, per the report.

As part of its study TrustRadius surveyed 438 B2B buyers, finding that 23% considered the vendor they bought from “very influential” (4 on a 4-point scale) on their buying decision. The analysis then measured the responses of this group against the rest of the sample across a list of vendor actions taken during the sales process.

The results indicate that vendors considered “very influential” were more likely to have taken a range of actions as part of their buyer engagement, including working with the buyer on pricing and packaging, and answering questions and providing examples.

One of the biggest gaps was for vendors being consultative and helping the buyer strategize the best approach for their use case. This interaction was cited by twice the share of buyers with very influential vendors (52%) as those with less influential vendors (26%). It speaks to the notion, supported by other research, that B2B buyers want partners, not just vendors.

Another key distinction related to customer references: half of those with very influential vendors said their vendors provided them with customer evidence such as reviews and case studies, while only 27% of those with less influential vendors could same the same. Likewise, 42% of buyers with very influential vendors reported that the vendor connected them with customer references, more than double the share (20%) of other buyers who said their vendor took that step.

Other actions reported more often by those with very influential vendors included vendor invitations to events, workshops and other learning opportunities, as well as vendors helping the buyer understand potential ROI and sell internally.

Vendors also built influence with buyers by being very forthcoming about where the product works well and where it is not a good fit (i.e. not avoiding discussing the product’s limitations).

Buyers and Vendors Generally Align on the Most Important Factors

On an encouraging note, buyers and vendors surveyed for the report largely agreed on the most important factors to the buying decision.

The most important, according to both groups, is that the product can adapt to fit the buyer’s processes. That relates back to the actions taken by the most influential vendors, who took the time to strategize the best approach for their use cases.

Following adaptability are products that scale along with growth and that show measurable results, according to buyers. Vendors also ranked those the second- and third-most important factors, but in reverse order.

The only glaring disconnect related to ease of adoption: products that can be adopted quickly ranked 4th on the buyers’ list of 11 factors, but was seventh among vendors.

Which Content is Most Influential and Trustworthy?

B2B vendors may want to focus on the product factors and buyer interactions that set them apart, because it may be tougher for them to break through with content.

As also seen in last year’s inaugural survey, vendor content tends to fall towards the bottom of the list of information sources considered trustworthy and influential by buyers. That includes vendor marketing collateral, vendor blogs, vendor-produced case studies, and even vendor representatives. (That’s despite other research suggesting that these are oft-used by buyers.)

Instead, buyers tend to prioritize more hands-on experiences: the information sources they consider more trustworthy and influential include their own prior experiences, free trials and accounts, product demos, and referrals from friends, colleagues and peers. Separate research has similarly found that peer recommendations are important for tech buyers when considering vendors.

User reviews also play a role, which more vendors seem to be recognizing: 42% this year rated them a 4 on a 4-point scale of effectiveness (where 4 is more effective and 1 is less effective), doubling the share from last year (21%). Research suggests customer reviews are particularly important in the final stage of the buying journey.

Buyers most commonly use review sites to compare products, per the TrustRadius report, with a majority also using them to understand their options. Close to half rely on them to confirm their decisions and to validate vendor claims.

Buyers Will Leave Feedback… If Asked.

Given the important of user reviews and customer references to the buying process, it makes sense that vendors would want to engage buyers as advocates. However they seem to be missing opportunities on this end, as fully 84% of buyers surveyed said they would be willing to do more than they have already done.

For example, whereas 42% have already recommended a vendor to a peer of acquaintance, another 24% would be willing to do so. And there were even greater discrepancies in other areas: just 22% had written an online review, but an additional 34% claimed they would be willing to do so. Moreover, whereas only 14% had served as a customer reference for a vendor, another 25% said they would do so.

This stems from a general level of satisfaction buyers have with the products they’ve purchased: 42% rated their satisfaction a top-2 box score on a 10-point scale, and 71% rated their satisfaction a top-3 box. By comparison, just 2% expressed that level of dissatisfaction (a bottom-3 box on the 10-point scale).

As TrustRadius mentions in its report, “the majority of customers are potential advocates.” As it stands, though, it’s up to the vendor to get them there…

The full report can be downloaded here.

About the Data: The report is based on a surveys of 678 individuals completing aligning surveys. Respondents included 438 buyers who played a significant role in an important software purchase decision for their organization in the past year, and 240 professionals who work in sales or marketing for a vendor.

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