In a perfect world, the journey a prospect takes to turn into a customer would be simple – They see the product, then they buy the product, they use and enjoy the product… and then repeat.. But in reality, the buyer’s journey is far more complicated and understanding how they arrive at a decision is critical to maximising engagement, optimizing sales and marketing efforts and creating a loyal customer base.
In the new B2B marketing landscape, buyers are in control of their journeys. According to Forrester, 74% of buyers do more than half their research online before making a purchase, and the Corporate Executive Board reports that 57% of executives reach a decision before they contact sales.
With changing buyer behavior the seller’s job is becoming more complex. Successful B2B sellers have always excelled in understanding and influencing the buyer decision making process; however with a significant portion of the journey now happening digitally, sellers need to reinvent their go-to-market motions.
The go-to-market motions have to align with the new-found buyer journey. While a closer relationship and continuous interaction with the buyer provides the necessary cues to the seller, it is becoming critical to develop the capabilities to capture, interpret and process available digital signals at a scale. Sellers will need to invest in assistive intelligence and automation in order to remain competitive.
Let us dive a bit deeper into the buyer’s journey to highlight different perspectives, shall we?
Stages of B2B buying process-
In the B2B world, it’s not about selling to a single buyer but it’s about selling to a group of people (usually about 3-6 people) who are involved and would have some stake in the purchase decision. This not only makes the whole decision-making process complex but also elongates it more than usual.
For any B2B seller, understanding the buying journey will help adjust their marketing and sales strategy to improve the buyer journey. Gartner provides a great example of a non-linear B2B buyer’s journey that includes multiple stakeholders, as well as some common setbacks that sometimes occur during the buying process:
There are three broad stages that a buyer may go through in this process.
- Identifying the problem : This is the first stage where buyers become aware of a business need. They identify the need and acknowledge that they want to address it. The trigger could be a discussion with an industry expert, an internal discussion around business priorities, competitive intelligence or a chance engagement with the sellers (or competitors) outreach. During this time, buyers are expected to spend time researching the topic. While it is important for the sellers to ensure their discoverability, it is equally significant for sellers to prepare themselves to capture any signal(s) emerging from the buyer across first party viz. website visits, whitepaper downloads, information requests from SDRs or third party channels viz. reading relevant blogs/ articles. By capturing the signals and interpreting them appropriately, the sellers can not only influence the buyers’ journey but also expedite it.
- Exploring solutions and internal validation: Once the buyers understand their pain points, they would start to explore potential solution approaches. At this stage, they could speak to their industry peers, consume content from industry experts or even reach out to a potential solution provider to develop a deeper understanding.
According to Gartner, while considering a purchase, roughly 45% of the buyer’s time is spent on researching solutions independently, either online or offline, while only 17% of that time meeting with potential suppliers. This time, though, they’ll delve even further into each company’s unique products to see how they might help with their specific problems by checking videos or demos on the company website.
After getting a good handle on the solution approach and potential benefits, buyers try to get a larger internal consensus on the project. At this stage, a larger buyer group gets active.
In our research, we came across a few clear signals that the buyer might transmit at this stage – viz. contact request from the website or through a reference, requesting information or even consuming large volumes of content, active engagement on social channels with identified influencers or competition. A spurt in engagement across the buyer group could signal a potential move to the next stage.
- Decision making and implementation: After driving an internal consensus on the solution approach, buyers initiate a formal engagement with the sellers. This is followed with in-person meetings, more often, with a wider stakeholder group on both sides.Here again, it is vital that sellers not only draw cues from the in-person meetings, but also capture any signals emerging digitally, viz. competition engagement, buyer group engagement with sellers outreach campaigns, website, etc. A holistic understanding of the journey as it progresses on ground, helps sellers take corrective actions to improve their chances of winning.
Typically the main roles in a buying side are the users, influencers, buyers, deciders, and gatekeepers, who could be in the various stages of the buyer’s journey which is rarely linear. Each one of these typically don’t start at the same points and move through subsequent stages of the process. Instead, they may enter early at the top or middle of the funnel or join later in the journey before making the purchase. So it’s important to have a strategy to catch these decision makers at every entry point and plan how to market to these influencers at each stage of the buying decision process.
B2B customers typically revisit the particular steps in the buying process a few times from the start to the purchase decision. Needless to say, at different phases of their buying journeys, buyers have varied needs. Understanding the buyer’s context and addressing the buyers’ needs at each step is thus extremely imperative for the seller. It is also crucial to understand what helps the buyer to advance to the next step and the roadblocks that prevent them from doing so.
The buyer journey is neither unidirectional nor similar across buyers.You might have buyers who skip a step or run these steps in-parallel or move back and forth between the steps. When it comes to examining a buyer’s journey, there’s never a one-size-fits-all option. However, building a capability to capture and interpret the available signals could not only help in determining the buyer stage but also take appropriate actions to further the buyer journey.
Undeniably, COVID-19 is changing how buyers and sellers interact. Mckinsey surveyed B2B business across 11 countries and observed that B2B companies now see digital interactions with their customers as 2-3 times more critical than traditional sales interaction. As per the study, only 20-30% of B2B buyers wanted to interact with sales representatives in person, even post-pandemic.
It’s time to take a moment and relook at how the marketing and sales groups can work together, to engage and build long-term relationships with the buyers and their companies. Now that you have learnt more about the changes in the B2B journey, and what signals to look for in understanding the journey, in our next blog we will dive deeper into how B2B companies need to approach the buyer journey. Stay Tuned!