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11 min read

Building B2B buyer-driven digital experiences

B2B marketing

This talk was originally a panel discussion at the B2B Marketing Festival.

Simon Hodgkins

I'm Simon Hodgkins, your moderator today. I'm the Chief Marketing Officer at Vistatec, a leading global content solutions provider. I'm also the founder of the Think Global Forum and the Think Global Awards, as well as the Editor-in-Chief of VTQ Magazine. I'm also the founder and host of VistaTalks, which is a leading podcast featuring many interesting discussions with interesting people from around the world.

But today, we're discussing this important topic: building B2B buyer-driven digital experiences. Before we begin, I would like to introduce our expert panel. I'm delighted to be joined by Carla Chicharro, Head of Marketing with Lodgify, Nirupam Sarkar, Head of Marketing at Digitate, and Igor Kranjčec, who is the Head of Marketing at Mediatoolkit. It's great to have this wealth of B2B knowledge and experience with us. Let's jump in.

Changes in buyer behavior

Simon Hodgkins

The first thing I want to tease out is if buyer behavior has changed. I'm thinking about the global backdrop, current trends and regulations such as the GDPR, and, of course, the pandemic. What is business as normal, and have we seen a change in buyer behavior?

Carla Chicharro

Coming from the hospitality industry, the pandemic changed everything. Travelers stopped traveling or started traveling nationally. At Lodgify, our user segments changed. We saw differences in regions, with more people from the US coming in, and we can attribute spikes and leads to when travel restrictions were waived in certain regions, or when vaccination campaigns were being executed. The pandemic affected us a lot, and in some surprising ways.

Igor Kranjčec

If we believe that buyers' behaviors don't change outside those big global events, we are very wrong. They change a lot, especially when it comes to B2B because the buying process is becoming quicker, more fluid, and more and more focused on the experience.

There are some outside factors, like the GDPR in Europe, that change the way we do marketing. There will always be those big changes on a global scale, and you can prepare for some of them when. I think the sneaky ones that we need to keep track of are those lower-profile changes in buyer behavior outside of big events.

Nirupam Sarkar

All of our lives have changed over the last two years, haven’t they? How we consume, how we behave – everything. It’s no different for buyers. At least for me, coming from the technology industry, we’re seeing a rapid change in how products and services are consumed.

One of the big shifts is that buying is becoming completely digital. Two years back, our product and services needed a lot of in-person meetings, demos, and negotiations. Today, our teams are closing deals completely online, without ever meeting our customers face to face.

Of course, that change has not been easy. It takes a lot more effort, a much longer sales cycle, and a lot of people involved from both organizations. These are some of the new challenges my team and I are exploring. A lot of different personas are now involved in the buying decision, which was not the case before.

So yeah, I would definitely say that buying behavior is shifting and to me, this is not a temporary shift. I believe these changes are here to stay. They may have been triggered by the pandemic and other events, but I think we will see these trends continue into the future.

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B2B vs B2C vs B2H

Simon Hodgkins

We're all consumers; we all probably go home somewhere, so even in B2B, we're all B2C really. Then I hear the term “B2H” – business to human. So you've got business to business, business to consumer, and business to human. Does the B2C part, which we're all living in the day-to-day, world impact expectations in B2B?

Igor Kranjčec

I like to call it B2Me because you're always selling to a person. Regardless if it's one person or a 10-person buying committee, they are all people. I definitely see B2C standards coming to B2B, and I'm living for it. We’re consuming every day as the “C” – the consumer, and we cannot just leave that behind when we go to work.

When I started my career in big telecom 10 years ago, it was very B2B. We had RFPs and all these formal steps to take – no emotions allowed. It was very strict. As I move through my career into bigger companies that do B2B, I see them shifting into a B2C mentality. You have to give the person on the other side the consumer experience, make them feel that you care, and show them how you’re going to solve their problem.

We’re taking all of those things from B2C and sales, and putting them into B2B. It's awesome because whether you’re selling toothpaste or a much bigger service, you’re solving a problem, and you should tailor the experience around that.

Simon Hodgkins

Do you think that personalization plays a part in this new world of B2Me?

Igor Kranjčec

Personalization is a huge part of it, but first, you need to understand who's on the other side. You also need to go beyond the classic approach to personalization. Just mentioning somebody’s first name in an email is not personalization. That's just taking somebody’s name out of a database. People need to feel like you're talking to them, not to a list of customers (even though it usually is a list of potential customers).

Simon Hodgkins

Carla, I'd love to get your insights into this question. What are your thoughts on B2B versus B2H?

Carla Chicharro

Initially, when I was preparing for this discussion, I agreed 100%, but then I started thinking about more traditional B2B in other industries. Although I agree that people don't just become robots when they're at work, I think that obsessing too much over individual-level personalization is probably an error. I would recommend looking more into a role or a team because, at the end of the day, there are a lot of people involved in purchasing a B2B product.

Simon Hodgkins

I think you make an excellent point. The number of people involved in a B2B environment can make it quite complex, particularly at an enterprise sales level, so the personalization of that is a finely balanced tool. It's not the same as a B2C environment or even the B2Me that we touched on earlier. Nirupam, what are your thoughts on this?

Nirupam Sarkar

It is still B2B for me. We can't really compare our industry with B2C and that level of personalization, at least for the product and services that we offer. I tend to agree to some extent with Carla because for us there are also certain buyer groups and personas, and we try to understand them more and package our offering accordingly.

Times are also changing very fast. Nowadays the customer is always at the center of your whole offering, so we’re trying to understand their pain points and the solutions they’re looking at.

When I consider the question of whether our work is B2H, I think it is. Even if it is a complex product, at the end of the day, the buyers are humans. It’s essential for us to understand their expectations and challenges and the constraints they’re under when they’re making decisions. The more we know them, the better we can offer a solution for them. I believe the job of marketing is not to sell; it’s to help buyers to choose the solution they need.

Right now, we’re in a kind of transition phase. We’re moving away from B2B to some kind of a B2H kind of situation or maybe B2Me, as Igor said, because we’re putting customers at the center of everything. The more we know about them, the better we’re able to deliver on their expectations and our promises.

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The rise of machines in B2B marketing

Simon Hodgkins

Before we jump off this topic, I want to ask about something that feels a little bit ironic. As we move to B2H, we're seeing APIs, algorithms, and machine learning being deployed more and more in the B2B environment.

I'm wondering whether you think we still need a human to make sure that that message is getting through, or – sorry for throwing in another acronym – are we now in the age of M2M, machine to machine? We see a lot of buying scenarios where machines are operating much faster than a human can to buy things within milliseconds around the world.

Do you think that that impact is still to come in the B2B environment, or do you think that you'll always need a human because ultimately, as Nirupam was saying, you're talking to a human?

Igor Kranjčec

It depends on the investment. If I'm buying something for $20, I don’t want to talk to anybody. I just want to insert my credit card and buy it. I don’t mind being led by a chatbot that asks me a few questions and recommends something. People are often a bit hesitant about talking to chatbots and prefer to be directed to a human, but I think that's very personal.

When I'm buying something that's a larger commitment – when we were buying HubSpot, for instance – it's not a $20 thing; it's a lot more. I need guidance there. I wouldn't be at all comfortable doing it through a machine because I need the back and forth. I need the “what if” and I don’t think we're there yet. I won't mind if we reach that stage, but at this point, I need human guidance.

Carla Chicharro

These days, you can get a machine to write blog posts for you from scratch. That is interesting, but I feel like there needs to be a human behind it to revise and make sure it fits the brand. I don't think we're in the age of M2M yet. I think it's starting, but I hope we push for it to be delayed, so there's always at least one human revising and giving that human touch.

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Personalizing the B2B buyer experience

Simon Hodgkins

How do you get a data set that allows you to personalize content in a B2B environment? Do AI and machine learning play a part in terms of serving answers to a B2B audience?

Igor Kranjčec

In a perfect world, you should try and collect bits and pieces of data from the first visit. You can’t expect someone to convert on the first visit, although it's lovely when it happens, so try to get a few data points.

We collect things like the primary problem users are trying to solve. When they’re starting a trial, we also ask users what they think they will primarily use our app for, then we tailor their onboarding to the topic that they've chosen. If they're a PR manager and their primary thing is crisis management, since we are media monitoring software, we will tailor their whole experience to crisis management.

Even before they start a free trial, try to find out more about your users. If they're subscribing to a blog or signing up for a webinar, ask an additional question, make it fun, and try to personalize the experience. You should of course be very careful with personalization, but if you're personalizing it with data that the customer has provided, it makes them feel like it's not only a machine on the other side and someone's listening, even though it is a machine.

As for the second part of your question, I think the only answer is yes, if there is such a thing. If there's a machine learning algorithm that can help before you get the data set you need, I recommend using it because then you can provide a better experience before your customers even introduce themselves.

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Building a buyer-driven B2B experience

Simon Hodgkins

What does it mean to build a buyer-driven experience in a B2B environment? Do you have any examples from your own experience?

Carla Chicharro

First of all, if the customer is at the center of your B2B organization, from the moment you hire someone new, they need to have that engraved in their mission. The onboarding process of new hires should include interviews with customers, shadowing sales calls, and shadowing onboarding calls.

It's great to see the presentation of target personas, but actually listening to the customer and seeing how they start using the software is one of the best ways of starting to make your organization more buyer-driven.

Igor Kranjčec

To expand on this, it's a very cliché answer coming from a marketer, but do talk to your customers. Don't work in a bubble; go out there and be with them.

I’m a huge fan of personas, but I think they get a bad rap because they are often used so poorly. We often base personas on internet research, but we need to go and talk to our customers and make sure it’s not a one-time thing.

We've incorporated our persona questions into each and every interview we have with a customer, be it a case study or a churn interview. That's the zero requirement. How can you tailor an experience to someone if you're not talking to them and you don't know what they’re expecting?

The other thing is if you want to understand the customer, be the customer. In every company I’ve joined, they've offered to set me up with an online account for the tool, and I’ve said “No no no. I'll set up the account and go through the onboarding process myself, then you'll get my feedback.” I had two new people join the content team a month ago, and neither of them had the account ready – they had to do it themselves.

In short, if you want to understand the buyer, 1) talk to them, and 2) be the buyer; go through the experience yourself.

This post was a collaboration between

Simon Hodgkins, Carla Chicharro, Igor Kranjčec, Nirupam Sarkar

  • Simon Hodgkins

    Simon Hodgkins

    Chief Marketing Officer at Vistatec, HQ in Europe with operations worldwide. Simon is the Founder of the Think Global Forum, the Think Global Awards and Editor in Chief for VTQ magazine.

    More posts by Simon Hodgkins.

    Simon Hodgkins
  • Carla Chicharro

    Carla Chicharro

    Head of Marketing at Lodgify

    More posts by Carla Chicharro.

    Carla Chicharro
  • Igor Kranjčec

    Igor Kranjčec

    Head of Marketing at Mediatoolkit

    More posts by Igor Kranjčec.

    Igor Kranjčec
  • Nirupam Sarkar

    Nirupam Sarkar

    Head Of Marketing - Europe at Digitate

    More posts by Nirupam Sarkar.

    Nirupam Sarkar
Building B2B buyer-driven digital experiences