The B2B buyer environment is more complex than ever before. Unlike marketing in the past, the digital ecosystem changes so fast that marketers and salespeople can barely make one pivot before another one is required. Luckily there is still a channel that greatly impacts the B2B buyer and lets marketers enable their journey – peers . But why have peers become so highly prized over other channels?

Even though we continue to point to digitization as the reason for the perpetual B2B buyer development, it is but the catalyst. As marketers tried to adopt new digitized strategies the ecosystems became increasingly crowded and the tactics become more aggressive as companies fought for mindshare. Buyers were being flooded with misleading content and bias information. Google and other content hubs saw the declining user experience and realized if they wished to continue to be a credible source of information there would need to be some changes. Consequently:

  • Link buying got banned
  • Third party content sites created restriction on linking to product pages or a homepage
  • PPC quality scores came into effect
  • Google PPC banned words for being misleading/spam
  • Ad blocker
  • Social ads being labeled as sponsored
  • Paid brand content got labeled as sponsored
  • Wikipedia started requiring the citation of sources and non-bias information

With search engines like Google and content hubs putting more restrictions on marketers’ ability to make an impact digitally, it sends a clear message – user experience is now more important than selling and filling the funnel.  Marketing is now in the age of the buyer journey, and building trust with peer referrals has a big impact on it.

The new B2B buyer journey

In 1882 Nietchzsche proclaimed “God is dead.” In 2017 marketers are proclaiming, “Leads are dead.” Both were never meant to be taken literally but rather the idea we once held dear was no more. But what has caused this figurative death?

Buyers have so many different touchpoints involved in their research that the traditional campaign method of serving up an offer and expecting it to illicit the desired response isn’t practical or profitable anymore. Logically at some point a campaign will hit an intended target. But there is a reason that prospecting, ppc, and social media has decreased in effectiveness when done as an individual campaign. Most of the time campaigns  won’t resonate with the B2B buyer because it doesn’t represent where they are in buying journey. It isn’t about filling the funnel with leads anymore but guiding buyers through their buyer journey. In the Forrester blog, Myth Busting 101: Insights Into The B2B Buyer Journey, it shows a chart of the many different contact points that impact the decisions of the buyer journey.

The arrows show just one path a B2B buyer can take among many. Within each point on the buyers’ journey the B2B buyer use multiple channels, and peers or referrals are a big part of it (light blue squares). Zooming in, you will notice that peers are but one of three channels that will build trust with the B2B buyer. This makes it a very important channel to enable.

However, while this chart shows how influence is dispersed it doesn’t tell us how to optimally impact each touchpoint at each stage. That’s because you can’t enable every full buyer journey with so many different variations of buyer stages and channels involved. For instance, a buyer could go Hear, Learn,  Research, Trust and Decide most of the time but than an outlier could have a totally different path .  All you can do is identify  the most likely path of your B2B buyer and enable the channels that inform that journey.

But what channel can most influences the B2B buyer? Analysts and industry leaders say peers.

In the report Be Informed to Connect with B2B Buyers, “Interviewees told Forrester that they want to talk to ‘consultants’ who know their business—at their convenience and with less pressure to sign on the dotted line.” These usually mean peers that can help inform the buyer on the ins and outs of the product or service.

Buyers want to have their peers involved in the buying experience. It has been found that an average 6.8 people are involved in each buying decision (Harvard Business review). While this may often be perceived as people within the organization this usually involves at least one person outside of it (a peer) who is giving a referral and speaking for the service or product’s capabilities.

The new B2B buyer requires a new channel strategy – peer referrals

Peers are an integral part of the b2b buying process. In the Forrester Webinar, Today’s Path to Purchase and the Changing B2B Tech Buyer, analysts name peers as the highest source that influences business decision makers (BDM) in the discovery stage and the second highest source that influence B2B tech decision makers (TDM). For most, BDM are the intended target as TDM are more focused on the IT side.

Moving onto the exploration phase, Forrester found that peers still have the highest influence on BDMs and an above average influence on TDMs. This is where peer referrals done in conjuncture with sales can have a tremendous impact on the B2B buying process.

Taking advantage of this insight, enterprise companies like ADP, Citrix, and RingCentral established an automated referral program to scale peer referrals and increase the influence of the peer on the deal. As shown in the chart demonstrating the many paths of the buyer journey, peer referrals are no longer just a strategy or campaign but a channel that impacts every portion of the buyer journey. This is because peers are one of the main staples of building trust with the b2b buyers. In fact,  at the 2016 SiriusDecisions summit, referrals were named as ADP’s top source of demand creation.

While it is impossible to be up front and center at every contact point in the buyer journey, it is possible to win top mindshare with the most influential touchpoints. If peers are your priority, discover how referral program software can help evaluate some of that pressure with automation. And to get your personal referral program ROI, try the free ROI calculator now!