It's a topic of great interest across the marketing spectrum. How has consumer behavior changed post-pandemic? Many have attempted to answer this question, and those answers all lean in one direction. The change is digital. Consumers have been venturing out and re-engaging in pre-pandemic activities despite the morphing variants, vaccine effectiveness, and resurgent waves. Consumer behaviors have shifted, conditioned to adapt to digital engagement, online learning, e-commerce, telehealth, and many other activities. The change in how consumers' want' to engage in this new era seems obvious.
This topic could go on for volumes and should. Changing consumer behavior is central to marketing and advertising, crucial to how marketing decision-makers research and find new agency resources, and the nature of the business development role at your agency. McKinsey, Gartner, Forrester, and others have weighed in on B2B buyer behaviors during and post-pandemic. Have you seen any changes in your prospect interaction? Have you noticed different behaviors among marketers, procurement, or search consultants?
The changes we do see are not solely an outcome of the pandemic. These changes had been well underway before Covid. The last couple of years accelerated fence-sitters and foot-draggers to adopt them. Today, many seem to be keeping them. For example, 41% of workers are fully remote compared to 17% before the pandemic. 82% want to work from home at least one day per week. Digital self-serve had been growing, but now it's practically mandatory. E-commerce has almost doubled compared to pre-pandemic levels. Are these behaviors industry or age-specific? Are they here to stay?
How does this translate to ad agency new business, or do we go back to business as usual? One thing to note, Millennials now account for a significant portion of B2B decision-makers. Shifting workplace demographics are now favoring millennials, the first "digital-native" generation. Millennials are already responsible for about three-quarters of B2B purchasing decisions. But does that include ad agency decisions?
It stands to reason that Millennials are taking over many roles across every industry as Gen Xers ascend to leadership positions and Boomers age out. It used to be that agency prospecting was heavily relationship driven. Today, with marketers pushing through 60% of the buying journey before reaching out to selected agencies, you have to wonder if that is still true. Gartner found that 44% of millennials prefer no sales rep interaction in a B2B purchase setting, and by 2025, 80% of B2B sales interactions will occur in digital channels only. Do relationships matter anymore, or will that aspect of selling fade with the generations?
A survey from McKinsey found that vendors who provided "outstanding" customer experiences were more than twice as likely to be chosen than those who had poor experiences and about 70% more likely than those that provided only fair ones. We know this applies to agency selection. A poor website experience, outdated capabilities pdf, and inactive social media presence have been the undoing of agencies pre-pandemic and even more so today. I've been railing about the agency experience for years. Unfortunately, not everyone listens.
Another McKinsey study revealed that 80% of B2B customers are now entirely happy to deal with vendors remotely or through digital self-service. Simply put, buyers have gotten used to new ways of making transactions, and they see the value. As mentioned, self-service options are preferred until they can't answer the questions. Personalized customer journeys with video and live chat satisfy buyers who don't trust or want to invest time in face-to-face interaction. Increasingly they rate a self-serve journey as a more convenient and satisfying buying experience. The million-dollar question is whether this applies to marketing decision-makers and their pursuit of agency resources.
My early experience with post-pandemic prospects indicates a trend in this direction. It seems to lag other industries and services but shows signs of movement. Yes, behaviors are evolving, albeit slowly. These changes, whether adopted or experienced in other aspects of life, shape the expectations of the prospects you seek to engage. Just like the recommendation engine of Netflix, the convenience of Amazon and the ease of Carvana provide satisfying and helpful experiences that we naturally compare to other online services. Is it possible that sometime in the future, a marketer can have an agency delivered to her door that perfectly matches her needs with a 30-day money-back guarantee?
Imagine the possibilities, but only for a moment. You've got work to do. Today, marketers expect an agency's website experience to be enjoyable, fast, and complete, with additional information should they drill down. The attitude I get from some agencies is that if a prospect wants more information, they have to fill out a website form and request to schedule a call. This may not serve the needs of today's prospects. A marketer's time and patience are at an all-time premium. A good website experience, regardless of how hard or expensive it was to produce, will not win the pitch but may keep you from being excluded. Too many agencies don't appreciate the role their website plays in the process or the increasing importance the prospect places on it.
As you plan for 2023, consider these changes and others you observed or read about. Make it a priority in your planning to plot your customer's journey from start to finish. Identify all the touchpoints and steps along the way that you can control and turn each into a design project that delivers the best customer experience. That experience must first provide what the marketer is looking for simply and quickly while demonstrating the agency's strategic thinking, creativity, and passion. Ask your team, and keep asking, is it possible to select our agency without having a conversation?
Go down the list, experience by experience along the journey. Each one must deliver on those two requirements, rational information and agency culture. If you treat yourself and this challenge like you do your best client, your prospects will be legitimately wowed. For those things you have little control over, like your 4A's listing or Clutch profile, brainstorm ways to move a visitor from your listing to an environment you can control, like your website. Regardless of how much a 4As membership costs or the premium for a featured Clutch listing, those investments are primarily for the traffic they deliver. Take full advantage of that traffic by taking control of it. The same is true for social media platforms, other directories, PR, and any place or method you may engage with your future clients.
Finally, considering the momentum of digital transformation. In your planning process, assemble your brightest minds and go through a brainstorming session or three to define the complete self-serve experience a marketer could go through that ends in hiring you. What might that look like? What additional content and experiences would you need? How would you build the confidence, trust, and differentiation necessary for them to decide? What tools are required, video, chat, AI, virtual experiences, or virtual people?
Undoubtedly, the pandemic has changed how we engage and interact—some sectors more than others. There is no question that the B2B buyer has changed the way they want to research and choose vendors. There should be no doubt this is an important topic to include in '23 planning. That's not to say that face-to-face interaction is no longer necessary. That is likely to be a part of new business forever. The real question is how much of the buyer journey can we influence before we know that there is a marketer investigating us.
Let's talk if you'd like help adjusting to your prospects' journey post-pandemic. There's no better time than now to rethink and reset your efforts, especially in these uncertain economic times. I am always open to discussing your challenges and offering my opinion on possible solutions. If you like this post, sign up for my new business newsletter. And find me on LinkedIn for daily tips and insights. Feel free to reach out at any time. #LetsGrow!