Buyers of business products long relied solely on sales contacts for information about new products and services. But today, thanks to the rise of mobile and social technology, the role of the sales team in the business purchasing process is dramatically changing. B2B buyers, just like B2C shoppers, now have a wealth of information right at their fingertips. So how are enterprise buyers utilizing these new channels?

I spoke with Florin Rotar, the chief technology innovation officer at Avanade, about a global study he commissioned on this topic. The research involving 1,000 C-level executives, business unit leaders, and IT decision makers looked into the impact of new technologies on B2B shopping behavior. We’re well aware that consumers are exploring social networks and online expert reviews to inform purchasing decisions, but are B2B buyers following suit? Florin’s study came back with a resounding yes.

According to the research, B2B buyers are now mimicking consumers when they make business purchases. The breadth of information from a wide variety of sources has shifted the relationship between B2B buyers and sellers beyond the reach of a company’s salesforce. In fact, 61 percent of business decision-makers report that third-party sites and feedback from social channels are more important than conversations with a company’s sales teams when making a purchasing decision.

 Customer experience is king

For years, the price of a product or service was one of the most important factors when making a purchase. But the research found that there’s another compelling reason fueling purchase decisions in business;the customer experience. Buyers report that they are willing to pay up to 30 percent more for a superior customer experience.

Taking the human out of interactions

Avanade’s research revealed that seven out of 10 executives believe that technology will mostly replace human interaction with customers in the next decade. That doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll soon interact with robots and computers instead of a vendor’s sales team. However, it does mean that businesses are seeing tremendous value in mobile sales channels, automated sales processes, and more digital self-service options. This also means IT will play an ever-greater role in sales and customer support. Currently, 83 percent of businesses say IT, marketing, and manufacturing now play larger roles in directly managing customer experiences than they did three years ago.

What does this mean for B2B sellers?

While technology is the catalyst for this change, it’s also seen as the solution. Sellers need to put a renewed focus on improving the customer experience by modifying existing sales processes and organizational roles, while making a stronger investment in technology. The good news for customers is that a majority of companies recognize that this shift needs to happen. According to a previous Avanade survey, 70 percent of companies have changed at least one business process to capitalize on the rise of mobility and consumer technologies. They are investing in customer sales and support technologies (44 percent), expanding the number of employees interacting with customers (40 percent), and building greater automation into the sales process (32 percent). Encouragingly, the businesses that have incorporated new technologies and processes are already seeing big benefits especially in the areas of increased customer base, loyalty, and revenue.

It’s now “B-to-Everyone”

As enterprise buyers prioritize premium customer experiences through the lifetime of a product or service, sellers need to keep the customer top-of-mind. The barriers between the business and consumer no longer exist, and negative reviews of customer experiences can go viral very quickly. B2B and B2C buying models are merging as businesses lose control of the sales process. It’s no longer business-to-business or business-to-consumer; it’s business-to-everyone. Those businesses that understand the nature of today’s complicated customer relationships are creating longer-term and more lucrative relationships with customers. Ultimately, if a customer isn’t receiving a positive experience from your company, they’ll find someone else who can deliver it better.

If you are interested in learning more about the new customer journey, you can dig into the full results of Avanade’s research.