The ever-evolving B2B selling space, increasingly complex sales process, and changing buyer expectations present new challenges for B2B sales teams on a daily basis. At the same time, traditional sales processes are becoming less effective. In order to remain competitive and hit revenue goals, it is critical that sales reps understand the shifting landscape, why these changes are happening, and how to sell to the modern B2B buyer.

Here are five factors that influence B2B buyer behavior and steps you can take to more effectively sell to the 21st-century B2B buyer and drive bottom-line results.

#1: The Availability of Information

The availability of online content and the growth of social media have made B2B buyers more educated and informed about their options than ever before. And not only is information widely available, but it is also instantly accessible. Prospects are spending more time doing independent research and obtaining info from peers and other third party sources. According to an Accenture study, 94% of B2B buyers conduct online research at some point in the buying process.

As a result, prospects no longer have to engage with sales reps in order to obtain the most basic information about a company and its products / services. Prospects can search online and quickly find information such as reviews, feedback, pricing, technical information, and competitive comparisons. But prospects still need the sale rep to guide them through the increasingly complex sales process, build the business case, and offer value-add insights.

Solution: Offer Innovative Insights

B2B buyers look for vendors who understand their pain points and are knowledgeable about the industry. Sales reps should be subject matter experts in their field and should be able to convey that information to prospects in a clear and concise manner. They should also be able to provide perspective on the market and help the prospects interpret and apply this information to their own situation and challenges. Look to content enablement and sales training as approaches to make your reps experts who add value to prospects beyond online sources.

#2: Skeptical Prospects

The 21st-century buyer is increasingly cynical and critical of vendors. And they do not want to engage with reps who utilize a “one-size-fits-all strategy”. According to Forrester, 59% of buyers prefer to do research online instead of interacting with a sales rep because the rep pushes a sales agenda rather than helps solve a problem.

Solution: Build Trust With Buyers

Research shows that the more trusted an individual is, the greater their sales effectiveness. One of the fastest ways for sales reps to build that trust is by focusing on helping their prospects rather than selling to them. Buyers don’t want to hear a sales pitch – they want to learn something. And while prospects can easily find information online, that doesn’t mean that they always understand it or know how to interpret and apply it to their own business situation. A LinkedIn survey found that B2B buyers are 5x more likely to engage with a sales professional who provides new insights about their business or industry.

#3: Hyper-Connected, Socially-Influenced Customers

The past several years have seen a significant rise in the importance of digital channels in the sale process, for both the sales rep and the prospect. B2B buyers are more connected and more informed, and the availability of online data and content is altering traditional buyer trust models. At the same time, peers have gained greater influence, as decision-makers look to their colleagues, professional networks, and social media followers for advice in making a purchase decision. In fact, an IDC study found that 3 out of 4 B2B buyers rely on social media to engage with peers about buying decisions, and Influitive data asserts that word-of-mouth recommendations from peers influence over 90% of all B2B buying decisions.

Solution: Help Prospects Make an Informed Decision

Many B2B sales are complex, costly, and collaborative. Your buyers need to be able to make an informed decision and feel confident that they made the right one, hence why they consult with peers. Sales reps must know what to say to support a prospect’s business case and offer the information and content that will help prospects advance in the purchase process. Leverage key proof points that will help buyers build that internal business case and sell it to decision-makers. And encourage your sales team to share these insights via email, social, and in-person.

#4: Buyer Confidence and Risk Cognizance

The industry is seeing a rise in the potential for post-purchase dissatisfaction – buyers want to feel confident that they made the right decision. Ironically, this anxiety over opportunity cost is fueled and intensified by the same technology that makes buyers more informed. Prospects often second-guess themselves over making the right choices or are afraid to commit and potentially missing out on a better vendor. B2B buyers are also increasingly seeking out ways to identify and reduce risk factors, including damage to professional credibility, reduction in job security, inability of the software to technically perform as promised, and loss of monetary investments.

Solution: Add Value Via Relevant Content

B2B buyers are now relying on content to guide them through the complicated and confusing purchase process, from research to decision. B2B buyers review an average of 10.4 sources in any buying situation; the more costly or complex the sale, the more pieces of content that are viewed. And a 2014 DemandGen report found that almost 70% of buyers have increased the amount of content used to research and evaluate their purchases.

But while your prospects can easily find that information, they may not necessarily be finding the right information. B2B sales reps should share relevant and engaging content that is appropriate to the prospect’s stage in the sales cycle. Proactively offer them pieces that address their apprehensions, that demonstrate value and the ability to solve a problem, and that show how ROI can be attained. This strategy will also position you as a go-to resource for your prospects. Sales enablement tools are able to automate this process and surface the right content at the right time based on the specific sales situation, as well as provide feedback about which types of content are most effective at advancing the sale.

#5: A New Decision-Making Process

Today’s sales reps must deal with an increasing number of stakeholders in the decision-making process, giving rise to the “consensus sale”, where less importance is placed on connecting with individuals and more emphasis is placed on helping the group effectively reach a decision. These buying groups, ranging from 7 to 20 people, represent a wide variety of jobs, functions, and geographies. As the number of people involved in a buying decision increases, the likelihood of purchase decreases. More so, it takes 5 to 6 prospects to agree for a sale to even progress.

Solution: Understand Your Buyer

It is important to understand who your audience is and how to best tailor the sales process for relevance. Use demographic data (i.e. age, generational cohort, gender, job title / occupation, seniority, company size, industry, number of employees) and psychographic information (i.e. attitude, interests, opinions, pain points) to gain important insights about purchase intent and sales process expectations. With a more complete buyer profile, you will get an indication of how your prospects will react to your content and messaging, as well as ideas into which channels your prospects prefer to use. This information is particularly important in the case of a buying team, where each decision maker likely has a different demographic profile, but they all share similar psychographic traits.

B2B buyers are more empowered and informed and have higher expectations than ever before, and traditional sales strategies will continue to decline in effectiveness. To see continued success, sales reps must adapt to better serve the needs of the modern buyer by understanding buyer personas, adding value to the conversation, and engaging buyers early on in the purchase process with relevant content. The last element is sales enablement technology, which can be used to establish best practices, help organizations better understand buyer needs and behaviors, and provide insight into the customer.

Shelley Cernel is the Senior Marketing Manager for KnowledgeTree.