B2B Marketplace Competition Soared 54% as Seller Visibility Dropped 37%

New Study Uncovers How Much the Past Two Years have Reshaped B2B Buyer Challenges, Preferred Channels, and Decision Making

The past two years have reshaped buyer behavior for good, and sellers are struggling to keep up, according to the fourth edition of “Inside the Buyer’s Brain,” the Hinge Research Institute’s (HRI) study of professional services buyers and their sellers. Competition and technology/data issues made the list of top buyer challenges, jumping 54% and 137%, respectively. As competition heated up and the need to stand out was more urgent, sellers’ visibility plunged an alarming 37%. Buyers faced with uncertainty stuck to brands they knew, their use of “existing relationship” as a method to evaluate vendors surging 79%, setting back sellers who were either new to the marketplace or had failed to promote their work with clients.

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The impact of constant disruption

“Since 2020, nothing has returned to equilibrium,” said Hinge managing partner Lee Frederiksen. “Constant upheaval is generating new business pressures, setting off demand for new areas of expertise and services. Knowing what buyers want at any given moment gives firms an advantage over their peers. Firms that can monitor the upheaval’s impact on buyers’ needs and decision-making will find themselves able to settle into their own equilibrium sooner than their competitors can.”

Sellers’ disconnects with buyers

The study uncovered areas where sellers misjudged buyers’ priorities. They underestimated buyers’ demand for help in three key areas: acquiring talent, dealing with “budget pressures”, and how best to “motivate people”. Sellers overlooked the importance to buyers of having an “existing relationship”, the “ability to deliver results”, and offering “competitive price/value for cost” as vendor selection criteria. In so doing, sellers missed opportunities to win new or more business serving those client needs.

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Where buyers are looking and what they’re consuming

Sellers’ marked drop in visibility coincided with changes in where buyers looked for information and in what format they preferred to consume it. Since businesses moved to the cloud two years ago, buyers learned about work-related topics as much by searching online as by seeking recommendations from peers.

However, some platforms did a better job than others of maintaining buyers’ interest. Buyers showed a preference for channels that offered less noise and more helpful information from experts. In the same period, “listen to an expert speak about a topic” rose from ninth to third place while “look on social media” dropped from third to ninth place. Interestingly, the latter had risen from 12th to third place in 2020. Are social media platforms losing B2B users? Not in LinkedIn’s case. Among all the social media platforms, only LinkedIn experienced an uptick in work-related usage.

Some formats were more popular than others. Buyers preferred reading over watching, consuming blogs (fourth place) and research reports, ebooks and guides (fifth place) more than webinars (sixth place) and videos (seventh place). Attending a conference or event was eighth place, down from fifth, likely reflecting the decrease in in-person events amid COVID-related concerns.

Constant disruption’s winners and losers

Sellers’ relevance has dipped in the last two years. Two industry segments bucked this trend: “accounting and financial services”, as well as “architecture, engineering, and construction”. Two segments whose relevance ratings flagged the most were “consulting” and “technology and software”. Both segments also suffered the most reductions in visibility.

“Buyer behavior will continue to change in the face of today’s evermore frequent disruptions,” said Kelly Waffle, HRI managing director. “The best way for sellers to stay relevant is by researching their target audience to understand their challenges and needs, where they look for information, how they evaluate providers, and how they can deliver more value than competing firms.”

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