There have been interesting shifts in the purchasing behavior and decision-making processes of buyers of consulting services. 89% of B2B decision makers/ researchers use the internet during the B2B research process. This percentage of people using digital has not changed significantly since 2012. But over the past two years, there has been a dramatic shift in the B2B researcher demographic, millennials accounting for almost 50% of them. This has significant impact on buying decisions of consulting clients and B2B marketing strategies of consulting firms (Source: The Changing Face of B2B Marketing, Google/ Millward Brown Digital).
Millennials are involved in buying decisions
The millennial generation is the demographic cohort with birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s. This generation is particularly tech-savvy and is called the digital natives. In 2014, half of all B2B buyers have been millennials. And since 81% of non-C-suiters have a say in purchase decisions the people who are familiar with digital and are heavily relying on online search to identify and explore prospective suppliers are gaining importance and influence on purchasing decisions.
Quelle: Google/Millward Brown Digital, B2B Path to Purchase Study, 2014
Online search prior to contacts
Research shows that 57% of the decision-making process takes place without any involvement of prospective suppliers or their websites (see box). On average, B2B researchers do 12 searches prior to engaging on a specific brand's site. Direct contact occurs only in an advanced stage of the process.
Say you’re the buyer of IT services for a mid-sized company. One day, the CEO – your boss’s boss – comes to you, disgusted. He’s tired of his computer freezing all the time, and Sales has been complaining for months about problems running live demonstrations. He wants it fixed, but there’s a catch: The overall IT budget for the year can only increase by 10 percent.
What do you do? There are dozens of IT vendors and thousands of available specifications. First, you figure out what you need. Then, if you’re like most business buyers, you go to the internet. You start with some well-known corporate IT suppliers, companies whose names you’ve heard before. For some additional leads, you check out some well-respected voices in the corporate IT world: Bloggers, people you’ve seen at conferences. You might even visit a web forum or two that you’ve gotten valuable information from in the past. You come up with three or four vendors that can fulfill your needs, invite them to present, and go with the lowest bid. Success! You’ve solved the problem and the CEO loves you.
Makes sense, right? But if you’re a B2B marketer, this narrative should give you pause: Nearly all of this has happened without the input of a single salesperson.
(Quelle: B2B’s Digital Evolution, CEB Marketing Leadership Council)
Impacts on B2B marketing of consulting firms
The more important Millennials become for the purchasing process and decisions and, therefore, the more traditional purchasing practices will be replaced by the internet as preferred method of search for consulting services and consulting firms, the more important it will be that consulting firms are marketing to this changing audience and reaching them where they are: Even though not on the C-level suite, Millennials get promoted into positions where they are involved in important purchasing processes of companies which are buying consulting services, whether as part of purchasing organizations/ units or in staff positions (for example: strategy, planning or business development units of organizations). More rigid regulatory and compliance requirements within buyers’ organizations restrict direct assignments, obtaining information on a wider range of providers is required. Last but not least, consulting clients become increasingly cost and quality conscious when engaging external consultants. Comparing and assessing different providers of consulting services and fostering competition among suppliers becomes common practice.
This means, for B2B marketing, that consulting companies should provide content that is relevant and useful for (younger) B2B researchers in the decision-making stage. It’s not enough to create “interesting” content: Digital marketing has to focus on consistent and “content-rich” messages in order to make core capabilities and core positioning of a consulting firm clear and in order to help B2B decision makers “pre-select” consulting companies without personal interaction. Besides increasing the visibility of a consulting firm and its services in the web, consulting firms have to provide value to the marketplace before they make the sale. Developing a reputation for quality and for producing results (performance) is necessary to allow buyers early differentiation and assessment of a consulting firm’s capabilities. Characteristics that distinguish top tier management consulting firms from the competition are for example track record/ reference projects, testimonials/ customer reviews, quality labels and certificates. Delivering content prospective buyers are seeking is the only way to successfully reaching B2B customers and moving them through the path to purchase.
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