April 8, 2022

Why buyer behaviours are changing - and how to respond

COVID-19 has completely changed the way we work. Hybrid working is here to stay. Business continuity and contingency plans have come to the fore. And many businesses have found that they need to rebuild, rather than simply to recover. 

However, it’s not just the way we work that’s changed. The ways in which our customers behave and buy have changed, too. 

Our colleagues at Vistage US have recently published a report that investigates how to respond to changes in buyer behaviour. While the report is based on the US market, its findings and recommendations apply equally to the UK. 

Read on to learn why buyer behaviours are changing, as well as ways to respond to this changing market.

 

Why buyer behaviours are changing

The Vistage US report reveals that buyer behaviours are changing in four different ways. 

 

1. The shift to digital

Q3 2021’s Vistage US CEO Confidence Survey revealed that CEOs are spotting more digital activity from consumers. Some stated that they are seeing a clear shift in purchasing habits, with more buyers now completing their purchases online rather than offline. Others stated that buyers are now more likely than ever to undertake comprehensive research online before contacting sales to buy. 

 

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While many businesses already had an online presence, others are having to work hard to establish themselves. This changing behaviour also means that companies need to work out how best to cater to both new and existing customers alike to meet their digital needs.

 

“People’s desire for digital interaction has completely accelerated. Buyers want to do their own research and make their own evaluations. They want to decide with which vendors to engage. They interact with salespeople later and later in the process.”

Karen Hayward, Managing Partner & CMO, Chief Outsiders

 

2. Virtual selling

As a result of COVID-19, buyers have embraced virtual selling as an alternative to face-to-face sales. The US report highlights that face-to-face selling is likely to return, but it is unlikely that levels will be as high as pre-pandemic. 

For businesses, this means integrating virtual technology into their in-person sales processes. It also means that digital marketing and sales collateral are more important than ever. Salespeople must also ensure that they have high levels of knowledge - not only of the product and the market, but also of their customers. 

 

3. Slowing sales cycles

Of course, there are some sectors that have seen sales cycles accelerate due to increased demand or panic buying. However, many sectors have seen their sales cycles slow thanks to COVID-19. 

Some consumers are spending less due to reduced levels of disposable income. Others are holding back on spending because of uncertainty about the economy or their own finances.

 

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Vistage CEOs have also noted that many buyers are taking a more risk-averse approach to buying, as well as spending more time on research, as previously noted. All of this has combined to slow down sales cycles. 

 

4. COVID market dynamics

The world may be going back to a post-COVID “normality” - but do our CEOs agree? The truth is, many are still feeling the effects of the last two years. 

The lack of trade shows has had a significant impact on those who rely on face-to-face sales, but that’s not all. 44% of US SME CEOs surveyed stated that supply chain problems continue to get worse, with just 24% saying that these challenges are starting to improve. 

This had led to multiple issues: longer delivery times, product shortages, rising costs, and the need to panic buy or stockpile just to survive. 

 

How to respond to a changing market

It is clear that COVID-19 has changed buyer behaviour. To remain competitive, this may mean that you need to change the way you do things too. 

Our Vistage US colleagues have highlighted three ways in which businesses can adapt to changing buyer behaviour. 

 

1. Fill the knowledge gap

No matter the product or service being considered, a buyer needs to be armed with all the information they need before making a purchasing decision. This information will come from a range of different sources. 

Much of this information will be gained from digital resources - even more so since COVID-19 began. However, at some point the buyer will reach the knowledge inflection point (KIP): the point where digital information is no longer enough, and they seek out a salesperson to fulfil their information needs. 

There is a clear gap between the digital sources available to the buyer, and their desire to remain autonomous. This gap becomes even more of a challenge - and may turn potential buyers away - if your sales team isn’t ready to provide buyers with the exact information they need at their KIP, no matter where in the purchase journey this point may fall. 

Filling this gap will give you a competitive advantage. It will require your sales and marketing teams to work closely together to ensure that you can develop and maintain that digital relationship, as well as aligning your value story with sales - and employing virtual selling techniques, if required. 

 

2. Increase marketing investments 

42% of the US CEOs we surveyed stated that they plan to increase their marketing budgets above pre-pandemic levels this year. A further 50% stated that they will maintain their existing budget. As a result, 68% state that they expect sales revenues to grow over the next 12 months. 

With the consumer buying process having changed, businesses are focusing on aligning their marketing with what customers really want. This includes an emphasis on investment in digital marketing. 

 

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82% of our US CEOs stated that they were investing in digital marketing in 2021 - although other forms of marketing were still seeing investment. With the frequency of interactions with salespeople falling and the buyer journey focused more on the digital space, many CEOs are finding that they need to make changes to their marketing tactics to account for an increasingly digital experience. 

 

“Digital transformation is no longer just a trend, it is now a matter of survival for companies that won’t win through traditional means such as trade shows and sales calls.”

Marc Emmer, President, Optimize Inc.

 

3. Be prepared to adapt

When times are tough, marketing budgets are often one of the first areas to see cutbacks. And there’s no denying that the past few years have been tough for businesses of all types and sizes. 

However, tough times don’t normally involve such wholesale changes in buyer behaviour as we have seen in the last few years. Businesses who invest in marketing with these changes in behaviour in mind will find new opportunities. Businesses who fail to adapt to these behaviours may struggle. 

This isn’t to say that the traditional sales role is dead. However, buyers are now spending more time on research - and on researching in different ways. Improving digital engagement throughout the buying process can give your target market a compelling reason to buy long before they make contact with your sales team - and preparing your sales team for a different breed of buyer can make closing the deal far more likely. 

 

Your peers are a great source of information about adapting to new buyer behaviours. Join Vistage to connect with other local SMEs who are determined to succeed.

 

Image: By adragan vis Adobe Stock

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