The internet has fundamentally changed the way we discover, and purchase new products and services. In the pre-internet days, buyers had limited ways to discover, and research as a part of their buying journey. They would read trade magazines, talk to colleagues, and even attend industry events to see new products and services in action. The content marketing game in the pre-internet consisted of publications in popular magazines, brochures, and pamphlets. Deals were closed over lunch with a zealous salesman.
The internet came around and completely changed the dynamic, it removed the information asymmetry that existed in markets throughout the world. Buyers went from having to laboriously round-up limited information about prospective purchases, to having information about all of the offerings in the market – available within a matter of minutes.
Modern-day buyers are now in the habit of doing all of their preliminary research before they speak with any salespeople. This takes the form of taking a look at a potential vendor’s website, social media pages, online advertising, and available content. This of course opens up a world of opportunity for marketers, but hand-in-hand a lot of complexity in being able to nurture a prospect into revenue for their business. This is the nature of the modern B2B buying journey!
In this blog post, we’ll be covering background information on the B2B buying journey, giving you the full context you need in order to strategically help your company succeed in this digital world. We’ll also share ways to structure, and optimize your B2B buyer journey as well!
Read on to learn more about this topic! Click on the sections below to jump right to your specific question.
What is the B2B buying journey?
The B2B buyer’s journey is complex, constantly changing, and difficult to map out for both buyers, and marketers. The buying journey doesn’t only include you and your offerings, but also the unique psychology of your prospects. Think about it this way, people really only purchase products and services in two ways: they solve a pain or solve a need.
The buyer’s journey takes a different shape based on whether your product or service solves a pain, or need. Marketers don’t really need to create new markets in order to solve pain points for prospective buyers – as long as the need is substantial and common enough! The more challenging task for marketers is to solve a need, that’s where the B2B buying journey takes a more pronounced shape. We’ll discuss this further in this blog, and you’ll understand why.
What you need to understand for now is the buyer’s journey (or B2B buying journey) is the process that the customer goes through to eventually purchase a product or service. This includes all of the steps they take in order to research, evaluate, and eventually make a decision about which vendor to go forward with. The intricacies of each step depend on your industry, your product, and your geography.
Before we get into those intricacies, let’s quickly establish two things. Firstly, the difficulty of building a buyer’s journey can be reduced by at least 80% by investing in a b2b marketing automation tool. Second, it is crucial to understand the differences between a B2B and B2C buying process. Read on for a brief explanation of their differences.
How are B2B and B2C buying processes different?
The key difference between B2B and B2C buying processes is that when most businesses (B2B) are buying new products or services, they will have specific requirements and specifications in mind when they are evaluating options in the market. Consumers (B2C) are much more flexible and willing to make impulse buying decisions, so their buying process is completely different.
It will be easier to show you two examples, that will help you see the differences between B2B and B2C buying processes.
B2B: Most businesses use a customer relationship management (CRM) software of some sort in order to manage their existing customer relationships, as well as manage their relationships with prospective b2b customer(s). Depending on the size of the business, the buyer for the CRM software may be the Founder, CMO, CIO, COO, CTO, or any related role. So you are dealing with people who have deep expertise, and seniority in order to make key decisions like this.
Accordingly, these buyers will assess their decisions with these criteria (not mutually exclusive):
- How much will the software cost?
- Are there implementation fees associated with this purchase?
- What features does the software offer, and how does it compare to market comparables?
- What level of integration does the software offer, meaning how will it fit with our current ecosystem of in-house and external software suites?
- What are the overall benefits that the software will bring to the company? Especially the long-term, strategic benefits?
- Who else needs to be a part of this decision-making process? Do we need internal buy-in before we can go ahead?
B2C: Let’s say that the consumer is in the market for a new smartphone. They will use these key criteria as a part of their decision-making process:
- Am I getting the best deal, or can I find it cheaper elsewhere?
- How does this phone compare to alternatives?
- What do review sites say about this phone?
- How credible, and reliable is this brand?
- How will this brand make me look?
The two examples above show how the B2B buyer is thinking more strategically, and long-term. They care more about the implications that their purchase will have throughout the organization – the reason being is that if they make poor purchasing decisions, it can hurt their organization and ultimately lead to them being let go. Consumers on the other hand don’t need to answer to anyone else but themselves.
Now that you’ve got an understanding of the differences between the mindsets of B2B, and B2C buyers, let’s take a look at the ways you can influence the B2B buying decision.
What influences B2B buying behavior?
People or Teams Involved
First, let’s talk about the people involved in the B2B buying decision. In most companies (depending on the size of the organization, of course), a junior or mid-level employee may source, evaluate, and set up meetings with prospective vendors or suppliers. However, depending on the size of the organization, the final decision may be made by a C-suite executive or a formal procurement team.
Larger organizations (think Fortune 500 and above), will usually have some sort of procurement function, whether that is a single person or a full-on procurement team. Smaller organizations will likely rely on the buying verdict from a C-Suite executive. In some cases, the junior or mid-level employee may be able to make the final decision as well. So depending on your target firmographics, you’ll want to keep the ideal buyer in mind as you start to shape your B2B buying journey.
Beyond the specific person, or team that you would be dealing with, you can also factor in the decision-making model that the company may use in its procurement process. This usually comprises of the actual B2B buyer journey, but we will cover that later in this post. Here is a succinct, generalized decision-making model that companies use:
- Recognizing that there is a problem (or Pain) or Need: Problems are generally brought up when people in the organization complain about a key process that hinders stability or growth for the organization. Needs are brought up when stakeholders in the organization observe their local business environment (competitors, external stakeholders, etc.,) and see processes, or ways of doing things that show new ways of doing things. Both needs and problems are evolving, just like anything in life, so as we advance in society and technology both needs and wants will continue to evolve.
- Evaluating and Comparing Available Solutions: After internal stakeholders have agreed to solve the problem, or need, they will have someone do research on market offerings. This means using keywords, searching on Google, or speaking to their colleagues to find a solution. This means that you should invest in SEO, and this is something that organizations of all sizes can invest in. In fact, here is our Ultimate Guide to SEO for Small Business!
- Defining the Requirements for the Product or Service: Now that the internal stakeholders have got a sense of what solutions exist in the market, they are able to intelligently decide what a potential product or service will need to do for them. This is going to be unique for each organization, and there are dozens of different criteria or factors they will use to define the requirements.
- Selecting a Supplier: Once the organization finds a supplier that fits their requirements, they’ll take the appropriate steps to go ahead with the investment. Keep in mind, that there are ways to influence the purchasing process, it is not a black-and-white process – just like anything in life and business. Larger organizations that have procurement committees may make use of RFPs, longlists, and shortlists. Smaller organizations may have a less formal process and will be quicker to execute their purchase decision.
- Justifying the Decision: At any given time, a successful organization is balancing its investment decisions between various projects. Depending on the size of the organization, the executives may have to answer to a board of directors or even shareholders. So once an investment decision is made, the organization is going to do everything that it can to either make that investment succeed or fail as quickly as possible. Once again, this is not black-and-white, especially in larger organizations where there is a higher chance of office politics.
Key Factors that Influence B2B Purchase Decisions
At the end of the day, even though you are dealing with B2B buyers, you are still dealing with human beings. When you’re dealing with human beings, you have to remember that people make decisions using rationale, and emotions. So let’s dive in on some of the key rational, and emotional decision-making motivations that B2B buyers may have:
- What is the Lifetime, or Strategic Implication of their Decision? Meaning, what is the ‘big picture, what implications will this purchase have for the organization as a whole, between departments, and how will this decision fare over the long term?
- How does the potential vendor stack up against our specific buying criteria? Larger organizations that use a formal RFP process will often score potential suppliers against specific buying criteria or factors. This helps buyers avoid emotional decisions.
- What does support look like after I have purchased the product or service? Expensive purchases will likely need upkeep, and support from the supplier over the long-term
- How much social proof does this supplier have? Have other people from my industry worked with them? What are their reviews like? Is there enough proof that this is a reputable, and trustworthy supplier?
- Status Quo Bias: Humans prefer no change if possible, it’s just a part of our nature. So if the potential buyer doesn’t have an urgent or compelling reason to act, they’ll usually prefer to take things slow, and maybe even let the buying process fizzle out.
- Loss Aversion: According to research, people are 2-3 more likely to make a decisive action in response to a threat of loss, than they are likely to respond to the opportunity to gain something. This means that people are more motivated to avoid the possibility of loss than they are motivated to gain something.
- Decision Paralysis: The more buyers there are involved in the buying decision, the less likely that the group will be able to come to a consensual decision, so they’re more than likely to let the deal fizzle out. The fewer decision-makers there are, the better!
- High Stakes: Once again, buyers are more motivated to avoid loss. So if the potential buyer may have their job hanging on the impact of their decision, they may try to avoid making the decision – because they’re scared that they will lose their job!
Now that you’ve got a sense of the complexity behind the B2B buying journey, let’s discuss why the B2B buying journey is just so important, and why you should dedicate some time to shaping your B2B buying journey!
Why is the B2B buying journey so important?
As you’ve seen by now, the buyer journey is often a very complex decision-making process for B2B buyers. There are usually numerous internal stakeholders involved (roles vary by industry and the size of the organization), and the decision-making criteria are also multi-faceted.
That’s why B2B buyer usually does the bulk of their research before they even engage with potential suppliers. In fact, b2b buyers usually complete about 60% of the purchase process before speaking with suppliers. According to research, B2B buyers only spend 17% of their time meeting with potential suppliers. And when buyers are comparing multiple suppliers, the amount of time spent with any one sales rep may be less than 6%.
That’s why your team will want to invest a lot of effort in showcasing your company and product or service on all available mediums so that you can attract as much interest as possible. There are key distinctions in marketing a B2B solution vs. a B2C solution, so check out this next section to look at some of the key characteristics buyers look for in B2B marketing!
What are the main characteristics of B2B marketing?
There are two main components behind a successful B2B marketing strategy; choosing the right channel & choosing the right messaging. We covered this topic in depth in our article on B2B demand generation, and we urge you to save it in a new tab and study it after this article!
On a high level, B2B marketing differs from B2C marketing in that you are trying to break through a professional’s busy work day, and help them solve a pain, or discover/solve a need. Also, in most cases for high-ticket products or services, B2B marketing is meant to make the job of a B2B sales team easier, by conditioning the prospect to think of your firm as a market leader.
Channels for B2B Marketers
Channels for B2B marketing break down into these two groups:
- Offline: These are basically the traditional marketing platforms that marketers have been using since the 1900s. Think print ads, tv ads, in-person events, etc.,
- Online: Anything, and everything that lets marketers connect with their target audience over the internet. This has changed the game for marketers, and accordingly had a huge impact on the B2B buying journey as well!
Choosing the right channel is a whole different topic, but it depends on these key criteria:
- Who is your target buyer?
- What is the purchase price of your product, or service?
- What industry are you targeting?
- Which geography are you targeting new business in?
- When are purchases for your product, or service usually made (which quarter, what stage of the economic cycle, etc.,)
- Many, many more key criteria. This list is not exhaustive!
Messaging for B2B Marketing
This is basically what your marketing actually says to potential buyers. Of course, if you’ve gone through the homework of choosing your target channel(s), you’ve got a great sense of your typical buyer.
Accordingly, you’ll need to use your content, and messaging to progress leads through the sales process cycle. The messaging can be impacted by your company, and industries’ brand and tone. For example, the financial industry is more corporate and focused on logic and reason. Whereas, whereas creative industries are light-hearted and open to novel approaches.
Getting the right messaging for your marketing is easier when you’ve got an established list of customers, and you know how to talk to your customers. There is usually industry lingo that salespeople use in the sales process, and it’s definitely a good idea to use that in your marketing in order to help buyers associate themselves with you.
What are the types of B2B Buyers?
An easy way to figure out what kind of lingo your buyers may use, you can place your ideal B2B buyer into one of these four categories:
These are companies that purchase goods and services, that they then transform into other products or services. Alternatively, they may also be direct producers of goods or services. This makes up the largest number of B2B buyers, and chances are your target market falls into this category as well.
These companies sell goods, and services produced by other firms, without changing them to a large degree. Companies that usually fall into this category are wholesalers, brokers, and retailers – because they don’t change the products or services as they sell them, they only market them.
This category is self-explanatory but includes direct governments and their administrative bodies. So, for example, NASA would also fall into this category, since it is a government institution. This category is generally referred to as the business-to-government (B2G) market. Still, we’re including it in this post since the buying process is very similar to larger B2B firms.
If you sell within this category, great news because government (B2G) buyers constitute the biggest purchasers of goods and services in the world!
Institutional buyers consist of nonprofit organizations and larger public-serving private organizations (maybe for-profit). There is a gray line here, as some of the companies that identify as ‘institutional buyers’ may also fall into the government category.
What are the stages of a B2B buyer’s journey?
The traditional B2B buyer’s journey is generally broken down into three distinct parts, as they all influence a different part of the customer’s psychology, and readiness to buy.
Generally, a B2B buyer will go through these three stages: Awareness, Consideration, and Decision. We’ll cover a more robust version of this in the following section, but here is a quick overview of each stage before we get to that:
Buyers in the awareness stage are realizing that they have a problem, and they need to solve it. They are still in exploratory mode, further scoping out the problem, and figuring out if other firms are also experiencing similar problems. This is usually referred to the top of the funnel, and you can use top of funnel marketing in order to get in front of prospective customers who are at the beginning of their research phase.
Once they definitively understand that the problem is shared by other organizations as well, and they need to solve this problem, they will begin to research companies that may be able to offer solutions. Keep in mind, there are usually many ways of solving any given problem, and in the B2B context firmographics plays a key role in how organizations seek solutions. This is a larger discussion and will be a part of our positioning series.
Irrespective, let’s say that your firm offers a solution that is a good fit for the B2B buyer that is actively pursuing solutions. If the B2B buyer successfully finds and identifies your offering as a solution, they will be looking to gauge the following in order to qualify your firm:
- Do they understand our business needs?
- Do they understand our pain points?
- Can I easily understand how this solution will help meet our business needs?
B2B buyers will be looking through your marketing collateral to answer the above questions. If your firm can successfully showcase that you are a good solution, the B2B buyer will move you along to the Consideration stage.
At this stage in the game, the B2B buyer has identified a few solutions that may potentially solve their business problem. They will be independently researching all of their shortlisted solutions, to see how they can help resolve their pain points.
A B2B buyer is basically looking for proof that your firm can solve their problem, so it would be a good idea to share case studies, guides, and customer testimonials.
If your firm has reached the decision stage, great news because you’ve made it to the shortlist! The bad news is that you’re up against other firms. All you have to do at this point is to prove to the buyer that you can successfully solve their problem, and create value for them and their organization over the long term.
At this point, you will want to have your salespeople speak with the customer, and provide testimonials, and bottom-of-funnel collateral that will push the prospect towards closed business.
The three stages described above are a holistic, high-level overview of the B2B buyers’ journey, but you might want to break down your buyers’ journey with a few extra steps that we’ll describe in the following section. Before we get to that, let’s give you a quick understanding of the different types of content that you can use to guide your B2B buyers along their buying journey!
How to structure a B2B buyer’s journey with different types of content?
Your buyers are seeking out different types of content at every stage of their buying journey. Accordingly, if you are looking to win in today’s market, you should be creating content that will help move buyers along the funnel, or buying journey, so that you can acquire customers at scale. You really need to use your content to shape the buyer experience, as it plays a critical role in the customer experience as well, as you are conditioning your prospects to think of you as an expert. Let’s take a look at the different types of content you may want to use at each stage of the B2B buyers’ journey.
Every business will have unique marketing and sales funnel, so the examples below are generalized. You should consult with experts, in order to create content and collateral that best serves your target audience.
Once again, buyers at this stage are searching for solutions to pain points, or challenges. They are also trying to figure out if their pain point or challenge is experienced by other firms as well. Therefore, content in this stage should ideally be more focused on informing the prospect, and educating them, so that they proceed to the next stage.
Here are some types of content you can produce in order to educate your audience in the awareness stage:
- Blog Posts: You can create blog posts that address the pain points, and challenges faced by the buyer. Sharing perspectives from different angles, and different considerations. Once again, your task at this point is to make the prospect feel understood, and let them know that others face their challenges as well.
- Social Posts: This is a more easygoing, accessible format where you can provide bite-sized chunks of information that your prospects can engage in. You can also spur a conversation when your target audience posts comments, and share your post.
- Videos & Infographics: This type of content is most accessible and easily shareable. If you are able to effectively visually communicate your prospect’s pain points, and challenges, and give them background information, you’re setting yourself up to be moved into the consideration stage.
At this stage, your buyers have understood that they need to solve their pain points, or challenges, and have begun researching solutions. This means that they are in the market for potential solutions. Your content should accordingly help your audience understand that you are an expert in the area, and that you can address their needs well.
Here are some types of content you can produce in order to educate your audience in the consideration stage:
- Whitepapers & Reports: B2B Buyers love building in-depth knowledge about an important business challenge they are looking to solve. So creating whitepapers, and reports is an excellent way to showcase that your company is a thought leader, and you understand the full extent of your buyers’ potential challenges. This type of content also provides your buyers with credible information, so that they can move further along their buying journey, as they’ll share these reports internally to get buy-in for potential solutions.
- eBooks & Guides: Similar to reports, eBooks and Guides are slightly more robust, and broad-covering content assets that will help move your buyers along their buying journey. The opportunity that you have with eBooks, and guides is to make your content a bit more visually appealing, this will increase accessibility and shareability for your target audience.
- Webinars: This is the most engaging way to inform your prospect about how to solve their business challenges – in real time! Also, you have a great opportunity to get the contacts of your target prospects this way, and potentially set up sales demo calls during the webinar as well.
At this stage, your prospects are just vetting different vendors, and making their final purchase decisions. Therefore, content in this stage should convince the prospect that your solution can best address their needs, and provide them with proof that convinces them. Prospects at this stage are essentially ready to make a purchasing decision, so your content needs to play a key role in buyer enablement and building buyer confidence in your solution!
Here are some types of content you can produce in order to educate your audience in the awareness stage:
- Case Studies: Giving your prospects examples of other companies that have had similar challenges, and successfully solved those challenges using your solutions is excellent proof. This way your prospects can get a glimpse of how your solution has benefited others.
- Video Testimonials: Visual content is usually better than written content because it makes the information more accessible, and shareable. By putting a human face to your business, and your current customers, this type of content is a very convincing resource that they can use to build the case for your solution, internally.
- One-Sheeters & One-Pagers: At the final stages, busy executives trust that their management teams have taken the time to properly vet all of the solutions in the market. Therefore, your buyers will share one-pager resources internally with their higher-ups to get the final OK before proceeding. These documents are meant to highlight your unique value proposition, provide social proof, and encourage them to make a purchase decision. One-pager documents are great in today’s day and age because our attention spans are at an all-time low as well.
Building your B2B buyers journey
If you are looking to invest in your B2B buyers journey and do buyer journey mapping (or customer journey map building), you are in a place where you want to be the expert in your field. The only challenge is that your target market can’t see that yet, that’s why they are considering other solutions hand-in-hand with yours.
There are as many buyer journeys, as there are buyers, as you’ll have to construct a different journey for each of the various buyer persona(s) that you are targeting.
If you need a hand in figuring out how to build your B2B buyer’s journey, feel free to schedule a complimentary strategy session with our team here. Wishing you continued success, and prosperity!