A recent study by DemandGen Report is indicating that b-to-b buyers have changed the way they research and engage in the buying process. The budget creation, solution criteria and RFP distribution phases are being supplemented with a more peer-oriented approach that’s occurring through the use of social media and networking.

The study, released earlier this month, was underwritten by Genius.com, a marketing automation services company.

According to the study, which collected responses from more than 100 b-to-b solutions buyers, 78 percent of respondents who were involved in a purchase in the last 12 months said the process did not follow a "traditional path." Instead, buyers are closely monitoring what other adopters in their markets are doing. Almost 60 percent of respondents said they engaged with peers who had already "addressed the challenge and learned more."

While vendor Web sites and search (70 percent each) are significant sources of influence for product research and selection, buyers are also counting Webinars (43 percent), whitepapers (54 percent), and social media (26 percent) as heavily-used resources.

Among those using social media, discussion threads are a significant source (43 percent) of education. Respondents also indicated that they post questions on social networking groups (38 percent) and like to connect directly with vendors via social networking (21 percent).

"Often, even before a buyer is really looking for a solution, they are looking for topical information to help solve business challenges and they want to know how their peers are addressing the challenge," says Scott Mersy, vice president of marketing and products for Genius.com.

An overview of the report is available here.