Originally published here.

Having worked across customer success, product management, and now product marketing, I've always taken a keen interest in buyer behavior – and, in turn, have picked up some valuable insights into how it has changed and developed over time.

In this article, we'll take a look at a range of factors that have influenced some key changes in buying behavior over the last five years. We'll examine the role of personalization and community-building in shaping buyer behavior, and show how businesses can market to different generations more effectively, and harness the power of data analytics.  

Let's dive in!

How has buyer behavior changed since 2019?

Firstly, let's take a trip down memory lane. Our world has undergone some major changes over the last few years, with undeniable implications for sales, the B2B sector, and go-to-market strategies. Let's revisit 2019 and early 2020, to discuss what we observed in terms of pre-pandemic buyer behavior, what has changed, what's stayed the same, and what's different.

A lot has indeed changed. In 2019 or early 2020, many marketing teams, particularly in the B2B space, were generating leads and gauging buyer intent through avenues like in-person events. However, with the onset of the pandemic, this landscape shifted dramatically, virtually eliminating in-person events, which were quickly replaced with webinars.

We saw the rise of webinar attendance between 2020 and 2021, and to some extent, we’ve seen its fall in the past year – except when the content is really high quality. That emphasis on great content has become absolutely crucial.

Despite these changes, a few things have remained consistent. Even back in 2019, there was a growing emphasis on personalization and relationship building. I believe this aspect will always hold true.

When you consider a buying committee, your key champion or lead evaluator is staking their professional reputation on recommending specific solutions. Ensuring that this buying committee and lead evaluator have all the information they need, nurturing relationships, and building personalization for these individuals is a constant priority, whether it's 2019 or 2022.

The importance of meeting buyers where they are

The changes brought by the pandemic nudged us into becoming more creative as marketers, and probably much faster than we might have otherwise. The tactics we’d traditionally relied on, such as in-person events, were suddenly off the table, and then we had "webinar fatigue" to contend with. Marketers had to innovate to meet buyers where they were.

At Akeneo, we experimented with alternatives like virtual happy hours. We even hosted a pizza-making event, shipping all attendees a DIY pizza kit. It was these types of adaptive shifts that marketers had to embrace much quicker than anticipated. This period also saw buyers venturing outside their comfort zones as the landscape pivoted toward more human-centric marketing.

The most surprising change during this time was the blurring of the lines between traditional B2C and B2B buying behavior. This trend was likely accelerated by buyers having more time at home, and shopping during their lunch breaks for both consumer items and potential B2B purchases.

The growth of community-building as a marketing strategy

Reflecting on the last few years, there are several innovative and exciting approaches that could be useful additions to our toolkits.

The rise of community stands out. Many companies started placing more emphasis on this due to people spending more time at home. The focus shifted to nurturing communities and fostering interaction, instead of just constantly pushing out content.

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Companies that adopted a more human-centric approach stood out too. For instance, here at Akeneo, most of our team is based in France. When a major outbreak shut down schools here, our CEO gave everyone with children the next two days off.

Companies that prioritized their employees and shared these moments – like virtual happy hours – really showcased a positive culture shift. It was refreshing to see businesses transcending their corporate identities, taking their brand and cultural values to a more relatable, human level. That’s something I’d like to see continue as we move forward in the post-pandemic era.

How can marketers target and serve different generations?

There's a lot of chatter around Gen Z and how their preferences are influencing businesses – which, in my opinion, is largely positive. Their focus on sustainability and ethics has started to significantly shape how marketers and salespeople engage potential buyers.

However, it's crucial not to pigeonhole an entire generation based on stereotypes. While understanding generational trends can provide insight, if we overgeneralize, we risk overlooking the human touch needed for a successful sales cycle. For instance, assuming a boomer will inherently be more hesitant would be an overgeneralization – especially if that boomer happens to be the CTO of a top-performing tech company.

Instead of relying on generalizations, it's important to conduct a buyer persona study to guide our sales teams on the profiles of the people they're typically talking to and what those individuals value the most. So, leveraging a buyer persona study, if possible, is my recommended approach.

How to harness the power of data for marketing

Let's shift gears a bit and discuss data, specifically how marketers can leverage analytics to evaluate performance.

As marketers right now, we're swimming in data. There's so much information that we could dissect almost any element of our operations. However, what really matters is your business strategy and how that’s reflected in the numbers.

For instance, the metrics you track for a brand awareness campaign will be entirely different from those you monitor for a product-led growth campaign aimed at driving people through a free trial and converting them. The most important factor isn't necessarily the raw analytics but rather what insights you can draw from them.

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On our marketing team, we keep a close eye on our customer acquisition cost (CAC) and lifetime value (LTV). We also conduct weekly check-ins on our MQI to MQL to SQL (marketing-qualified interaction to marketing-qualified lead to sales-qualified lead) conversion rates and the number of opportunities opened.

The goal is to ensure we're giving our sales teams high-quality leads. This process also helps us identify where we're providing the most value and where there might be gaps in our sales cycle that need filling.

How marketers should prepare for the future

Nowadays, AI-generated content is a hot topic. It raises all kinds of questions about job security in our field and whether we’ll still have work to do. I believe we'll always have plenty on our plates. However, it's crucial to be prepared for such advances.

We're also witnessing the beginning of an era where there's a fine line between "creepy" and "highly personalized" with AI-generated content. For instance, how many times have we thought, "How did Starbucks know I was just walking by, and now I've received a rewards coupon?"

Straddling that line can be tricky, but it's also exciting. The way technology has revolutionized how buyers buy and marketers market makes this an incredibly exciting time to be part of this journey.

We’re living in an era of constant change, but we can’t let these changes catch us off-guard. Preparing for the future comes down to the right combination of people, processes, and technology.

When these elements are in place, along with the right messaging, it doesn't really matter what the next big channel is – your team will be ready. They'll have the assets they need to communicate a consistent brand image and values, regardless of the platform.

Whether it's navigating the metaverse, capitalizing on the continued surge in e-commerce, or adjusting to changing buyer behaviors – having your messaging and the necessary systems, people, and processes in place sets you up for success. It prepares you to tackle whatever new channels and challenges may emerge.

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Key takeaways

Well, there you have it! I think it's fair to say that the world of buyer behavior is always changing and always thrilling! The key is to stay adaptable, truly understand your audience, and keep an eye out for the next big thing.

So, as we wrap up, let's recap some takeaways to help you navigate this ever-changing landscape:

👥 Human-to-human marketing is now more important than ever: Authentic, relatable content and interactions are key for creating strong bonds between businesses and customers.

🔍 Personalization is key: Stereotypes don't work in marketing. You need to understand your audience and your buyer personas to truly connect and meet their specific needs.

🌎 Sustainability and ethical sourcing matter, especially to the younger generation. Make sure your brand resonates with these values to stay relevant.

💾 We're swimming in data, but it's crucial to draw valuable insights from it: Know your business strategy, focus on relevant metrics, and ensure you're delivering high-quality leads.

🤖 AI is evolving and becoming more prevalent in marketing: While this might seem daunting, it offers exciting new opportunities for personalization and efficiency. But remember, there's a fine line between personalization and being creepy.

⏭️ Preparing for the future is all about having the right people, processes, and messaging in place: Being adaptable will ensure you're ready to tackle whatever comes next.

This article was adapted from Sarah’s brilliant chat with Jarod Greene on the Sales Enablement Podcast. Click here to listen to it in its full, relatively unedited glory!

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