The competition between B2B brands has never been so intense. Buyers are more cautious than ever when it comes to change, choosing to evaluate more brands, increase decision times, and look further afield than their incumbents.
Buyer expectations are moving at pace, and a lot of B2B brands are struggling to keep up. Instead of sellers simply being a source of information, Gartner’s Future of Sales 2025 report states that the best sales organisations will be those that help customers make sense of information, regardless of its source.
According to the Superpowers Index, which has tracked B2B buyer expectations and needs for the past four years, traditionally ‘softer’ decision drivers are starting to come out
on top. Buyers in 2023 are prioritising feelings of safety and connection to their business partners, with attitudes and feelings becoming the most important ‘currency’.
So, how can brands work harder to drive loyalty, adapt to shifting buyer expectations, and ultimately create the haven that today’s B2B buyers want?
The new decision drivers on the block
Although brands are still expected to do the basics brilliantly, such as comply with regulations, offer competitive pricing, and respond quickly to changing plans, ‘softer’ decision drivers have now become a necessity. The number one most important factor influencing brand success is ensuring that B2B buyers feel safe signing a contract – and this is clearly reflected in a more human-centric approach to decision-making.
B2B service providers must behave more like a partner than a supplier and deliver more human, emotion-led support. Decision makers are looking for brands that truly care – not just about their buyers, but their own values and ethics. They are choosing brands that prioritise environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles, look after their own staff, and commit to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) improvements.
The Superpowers Index identified the ‘softer’ decision drivers that have become a new priority for buyers, revealing that B2B brands that score highest win faster, bigger, and for longer. The Index showed that high-scoring brands were almost twice as likely to see increased spend from their customers in the future and received much higher NPS scores than other brands.
Behave like a partner, not just a supplier
In the current economic climate, businesses have been finding creative ways to do more with less. This process has strengthened the bond between B2B buyers and their suppliers, becoming more reliant on each other for operational, and emotional, support.
Brands performing well under this economic pressure are supporting their buyers with expertise. Instead of simply providing expert tools and best practice guides, they offer fully-formed brand experiences and support in the form of initiatives like executive briefing programmes. This human connection and opportunity to help clients understand and solve their problems makes a seller an invaluable resource.
Another core part of becoming a partner, rather than another supplier, is integrating smoothly with processes and operations. With so many plates to spin and disruptions to deal with, B2B buyers need partners who can put everything in one place and integrate seamlessly into their day-to-day. Creating this sense of ease and safety is vital to win and retain business.
Be a partner that cares
Now, when B2B buyers make decisions, they look much further than their immediate working relationship. ESG and DE&I considerations have fast become a key part of the purchasing process, and brands that align with buyers’ personal values and ethics are more likely to come out on top.
In the current climate, it has become increasingly difficult to retain and hire staff. Brands that are known as good employers stand out from the crowd, going further than flexible working practices and standard learning and development programmes. Brands that deliver personalised support and safeguard employees’ mental health and wellbeing can expect to be treated more favourably by buyers – and the same goes for DE&I. Having standard policies in place is a given. But when brands go above and beyond to prioritise these values, they can secure a competitive advantage. For instance, evolving hiring processes to be more inclusive of underserved groups or having policies that accommodate neurodiverse employees. When brands create a safe atmosphere for their employees, buyers can expect the same treatment.
Looking to external relationships, brands that take care of their suppliers, business partners, and communities are also more likely to be selected as a trusted partner. By prioritising ESG, not just through financing projects but by getting their hands dirty and setting up their own initiatives, sellers can show that they truly care about their social and environmental impact. ESG requirements are no longer just a focus for younger generations of decision makers. Generation X and older decision makers have become increasingly demanding in these areas and are now just as likely as younger generations to see significant room for improvement in these measures.
In a turbulent time for many businesses, nurturing partner relationships is a necessity. When brands prioritise traditionally ‘softer’ decision drivers and create a greater sense of safety for B2B buyers, they can effectively build and earn trust over time. Not only does this help to retain and grow existing relationships, but to win new business. And when buyers’ priorities have changed, it’s up to sellers to keep up or lose out.
Chris Bailey is a Strategy Partner at Merkle B2B, a dentsu company, delivering Brand, Creative and Content Strategy across a range of clients and categories including Tech, Manufacturing and Professional Services. He has a wealth of experience in developing strategies that sit at the heart of the client’s business to create world-class customer experiences and drive commercial outcomes.
A business graduate, he has 25 years experience working globally with range of Multi – National Companies in both B2B and B2C across multiple industries including FMCG, Finance, Automotive, Tech, Transport, Retail, Travel. He is also a former expert council member for Business Superbrands.