Business buying in digitalized world – what do we know?

We keep constantly reading on the headlines that there is a shift in business-to-business (B2B, b-to-b) buyer’s buying habits, but what do we actually know about b-to-b buyers and their decision making in the digitalized world? During spring 2015 I have been familiarizing myself with what is known about b-to-b buyers and their buying habits in the digital world. So far the topic has been researched more in the commercial sector than in academia.

Commercial players and consulting companies have constantly released headlines about their survey results. For example a recent survey by Forrester forecasts a huge growth in b-to-b online commerce, and discovers that buying preferences of b-to-b buyers are changing, as already 74% of b-to-b buyers research at least one-half of their work purchases online. In addition, 30% of B-to-B buyers complete at least half of their work purchases online. About at the same time Google released their own survey results, indicating that 89% of b-to-b buyers use the Internet during their research process. Some of the key findings of Google survey include the shift in b-to-b buyers’ demographics as younger professionals are rushing in, the increase of employee influence on top management’s decision making, growing importance of video material in b-to-b buying and intensified use of mobile devices during purchase process.

In the academia, the digitalization of b-to-b markets has received lesser research even though the topic is of importance both scholarly and from managerial perspective. Similarly to commercial reports, also academic research has reported that business buyers seek information increasingly online. The use of digital content and social media has gained increasing scholarly interest, and studies have evidenced that adoption of social media has been somewhat slower among b-to-b companies compared to b-to-c (business-to-consumer, B2C) environment even if it has been noted that digital channels enable huge opportunities for b-to-b companies as well. Based on prior research, b-to-b companies use social media to build relationships, identify prospective partners, interact with their customers and suppliers, and communicate their brand online.

Different studies show different results, but for sure we know that buying habits of a b-to-b buyer are less well-known to us than those of an individual consumer. Therefore more information is needed to better understand b-to-b buying behavior in the digitalized world. That is where DIVA project is aiming at – to gain more understanding of b-to-b buyers’ way through the purchase journey. Conventionally there has been a clear dichotomy between B2B and B2C markets, but digitalization has enabled new opportunities and brought business and consumer buyers closer to each other. Studies indicate that business customers base their decision making increasingly on the habits learned as a consumer. For example, people increasingly carry smartphones and tablets where ever they go – these devices enabling a constant access to the Internet. How much do b-to-b buyers utilize digital tools and services in their work and at what point of the purchase journey? These are among the questions we are interested in.

Heli Hallikainen