LinkedIn marketing VP: Understanding ‘complexity’ of B2B buyers is key to growth

B2B marketers must take into account the needs of both ‘target’ and ‘hidden’ buyer groups and tap into their ‘true emotional states’ to drive growth, according to research from LinkedIn and Bain & Company.

Source: Shutterstock

The B2B sector offers the potential to drive growth across the entire economy, according to LinkedIn VP of marketing Minjae Ormes.

Delivering a keynote address on the Rotonde Stage at Cannes Lions yesterday (17 June), Ormes told the audience that B2B companies are shaping the world we live in.

Ormes presented new buyer group marketing research, conducted with management consultancy Bain & Company. The study, ‘Unlocking B2B Opportunities: Why FOMU is Greater than FOMO’, found that brand familiarity is the most important factor behind B2B purchasing decisions.

Value of top 100 B2B brands up 10% versus last year, study finds

“B2B businesses are the next growth engine of the global economy. B2B is where some of the most industry-shaping and innovative categories are coming to life – just take a look where we are headed with generative AI,” Ormes said.  “The opportunity here is massive, if you know how to tap into it by giving your buying groups what they need the most – permission to agree.”

Key to tapping into that opportunity will be really understanding the B2B buyer group, she said. The B2B buying process can involve a whole group of decision-makers, with LinkedIn research suggesting the process typically involves six to 10 stakeholders.

The key challenge for B2B marketers is to “understand the wonderful complexity” of these buying groups, Ormes stated, and helping them arrive at a decision by “giving them permission to agree”.

Understanding ‘target’ and ‘hidden’ buyers

The research conducted by LinkedIn and Bain & Company splits out the buying group into two distinct sub-categories: ‘target’ and ‘hidden’ buyers.

Target buyers are those who are experts in the B2B service or product being bought. B2B businesses might have access to some of their information through their databases, and they probably generate buying signals.

On the other hand, hidden buyers are process experts, for example, decision-makers in legal, procurement or finance.

There can be a tendency for B2B marketers to ignore hidden buyers, Ormes said.

“If we really want to break through in B2B, we have to fully understand what drives target and hidden buyers,” added Jamie Cleghorn, senior partner at Bain & Company, speaking alongside Ormes in Cannes.

Target buyers are more willing to take some risk for innovation, something that is reflected in a “lot of marketing messages”, Cleghorn said.

“But this is where marketing efforts usually stop because our current efforts fundamentally ignore the needs of hidden buyers,” he added.

Over three quarters of B2B marketers focused on ‘bolder creative’

Behind the scenes hidden buyers hold considerable power, with the research suggesting they control nearly half of the decision-making processes for big purchases. Instead of risk and innovation, these hidden buyers favour peace of mind, reliability, and trust.

The study finds that these less demonstrative customers are more likely to be responsive to brand recognition than target buyers, and are driven more by a fear of messing up (FOMU) rather than a fear of missing out (FOMO).

“Think about that: the hidden buyers, who don’t generate marketing signals, who are not targeted in marketing campaigns, have 50% of the influence in buying decisions and are more responsive to brand recognition than anyone else in the buyer group,” said Cleghorn.

Both sides of the buying group need to feel “career-safe” about the recommendations they make, he noted.

“Recommending a well-known brand that colleagues have confidence in, is the best way of doing that,” he said.

For big B2B brands, then, leaning into brand and emphasising its “safety” is crucial. For those without significant brand power, they must find a way to strategically create a sense of agreement between hidden and target buyer groups.

Understanding the “true emotional states of B2B buyers” and giving target and hidden buyers “permission to agree” is crucial, Cleghorn concluded.