Google Shares Exclusive Data On How B2B Buyers Changed, Adapted During COVID-19

B2B buyers are finding that online video and online search have become more important to find the information they need. In fact, 64% of buyers have increased their use of online video, and 51% of B2B buyers have increased their use of search.

Marketers have doubled their use of digital during the COVID-19 pandemic, compared with sales and offline marketing channels. Their use of online marketing has increased by 88%, and of that total, 45% began using digital for the first time during COVID-19.

These figures can be compared with the results for sales reps, whose use increased by 45%, while print, TV and radio increased by 35%. For reference — net of digital, the results were as follows: social, 51%, email, 51%, display, 48%, video, 43%, and webinars,  40%, according to Google.

Marketers have doubled their use of digital during the COVID-19 pandemic compared with sales and offline marketing channels. Their use of online marketing has increased by 88%, and of this total, 45% began using digital for the first time during COVID-19. 

The data comes from a three-part study of B2B marketers conducted in partnership with Ipsos. Some 600 buyers and marketers participated in the survey, which analyzes topics ranging from budget allocations to media strategies and was conducted between June 3 and June 15.

The three-part study -- intended to provide insights on the types of strategies marketers can adapt to thrive in the months to come -- is from the first wave of data, which examines how B2B buyer behavior has changed as the COVID-19 crisis unfolds.

Some 77% of marketers reported that their business return on online marketing and advertising efforts during the past month were “much better or slightly better” -- 25% more than reported return on investment improvements with offline marketing.

Not surprisingly, B2B marketers report that offline marketing was nearly four times more likely to perform more poorly during over the past month.

How COVID Changed Behavior For B2B

COVID-19 has accelerated the change in human behavior. One thing is certain -- “constraint breeds creativity.” As new customer needs emerge, companies will look for new ways to solve them. This is true for both consumers and businesses.

For example, during the oil embargo recession in 1975, Microsoft was founded around the concept of easy-to-use computing for homes and offices. Groupon was founded in 2008 in the midst of a recession to connect businesses with customers.

The findings show that 30% of B2B buyers have begun to purchase or have added a new supplier in the past 30 days, with 59% saying they are likely or extremely likely to switch providers in the next 30 days.

Small businesses say they are most likely to “stay the course and remain loyal to their current suppliers,” although 34% say they are extremely or very likely to switch in the next 30 days. Midsize companies at 67% said they are extremely or very likely to switch within the same time frame.

Buyers may be indicating an openness to switch, but they also say they are spending more. In the past month, 56% of B2B buyers say they have increased spend from anywhere between 10% to more than 50% during the past month.

When asked their top priorities, 40% of B2B marketers said increase business’s digital presence, 45% said generate new customers, and 46% said improve relationships with existing customers.  

While buyers have been using digital for some time, in the past 30 days the majority are using these channels even more.

While there are many rational factors that contribute to the customer relationship, B2B marketers say emotional factors are the most important. In fact, customers often have stronger emotional connections to B2B brands than B2C brands, perhaps because there is more at stake when making business purchase decisions, according to the survey.

The emotional factor includes the idea of being supported. Some 83% of buyers rank customer support as important or very important. In past studies, this factor was not ranked nearly as high. For example, Google’s 2018 path-to-purchase research revealed that only 29% of buyers said that “great post-sale customer service” was an important attribute in making a purchase decision.

Expectations: Meeting And Below

Google’s study also suggests that companies must be there for buyers.

Some 81% of buyers want to have some level of vendor or salesperson support when they are ready to make a purchase. Three-quarters of buyers say self-service is important to the purchase decision. Some 82% want a user-friendly website, while 74% want an optimized mobile experience, 70% want online or app-based chat, and 66% want one-click checkout.

While these are often top contributors to a purchase decision, many buyers think B2B brands are delivering below expectations.

For example, more than one in three buyers were dissatisfied with the website experience in the past 30 days, and about one in four said their experience with mobile was below expectations.

The level of dissatisfaction is even higher among millennials, who are increasingly key stakeholders in business purchase decisions. Nearly half of 25-to-34-year-olds reported that B2B website experiences delivered below expectations in the past month.

One strong recommendation is to invest in digital experiences. While some projects can take weeks or months and require resources that marketers don’t have access to or influence over, purchase decisions are being made on a variety of factors.

Some 80% of customers say they care about speed of installation and delivery, while 75% care about variety of communication options, 75% view warranty and refunds as important, 75% think payment flexibility is key, and 68% point to the ability to try the product first before they buy it.

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