b2c2b is the new b2b

The most recent StackOverflow developer survey shows 77% of developers prefer to use a free trial as a way to research a new service. Forrester Research reported that 93% of b2b buyers prefer self-service buying online. And a Harvard Business Review study found “that [b2b] customers are, on average, 57% of the way through the [purchase] process before they engage with supplier sales reps.” Because of this, b2b sales require internal advocates—called mobilizers—that can build consensus around purchase decisions. That HBR study also explained how important it is for mobilizers to be confident about the value and efficacy of a solution before they champion its purchase (emphasis added):

Research shows that potential mobilizers are inhibited by the perceived risks inherent in fighting for change and promoting consensus. Up to half fear losing respect or credibility in their organization if they push for an unpopular purchase or are unable to attract support, or if the purchase they backed turns out to be unwise. Twelve percent even report that such advocacy could threaten their jobs. (The old saying “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” speaks to this point; potential advocates don’t want to be the person who went out on a limb for the “wrong” supplier.)

Ultimately, the decision to publicly advocate for change is driven much more by the personal value provided to the mobilizer than by the business value provided to that individual’s organization. In studying what inspires mobilizers, we found that factors such as whether a solution could advance a person’s career or help him be seen as a better leader were five times as potent as the offering’s “business value”—things like superior product features, likely impact on business outcomes, or return on investment.

To these factors, add HubSpot’s findings that word-of-mouth was the leading driver of purchase behavior (81% of buyers trust their friends’ experience more than sales materials or market research). A decade ago, marketers were advising companies to embrace impatient b2b buyers, and the trend has grown since then.

The overwhelming trend over the past decade has been for self-service, product-led growth. Growing a b2c or b2b business without self-service signups will be very challenging and dependent on sales tactics that are increasingly unwelcome by today’s buyers.