The Ultimate Guide to the B2B Buyer’s Journey
The B2B buyer’s journey has changed.
Gone are the days of traditional sales tactics; buyers are more clued-up on products and services than ever before.
This presents a challenge to B2B salespeople and marketers. How can they guide prospects from awareness to purchase when so much information is freely available and influences decision-making?
In this blog, we’ll decode the modern B2B buying journey and show you how to redefine your sales and marketing strategies for this new era.
Scroll 👇 for the ultimate guide to the B2B buyer’s journey.
What is the B2B buyer’s journey?
HubSpot defines it as:
"The process buyers go through to become aware of, evaluate, and decide to purchase a new product or service."
In a nutshell, it’s a series of steps a buyer takes from first recognising they have a problem to ultimately selecting a solution that best solves that problem.
We’ll explore the different stages of the buyer’s journey later, but first...
Why is the buyer’s journey important in B2B?
When a buyer turns up for a product demo, they already know lots about it. They’ve already done their research, Googling your brand and comparing it to the competition.
This is backed up by the statistics. According to Sirius Decisions, 67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally!
What does this plethora of online info mean for sales?
It means that it’s very easy for buyers to collect information independently. And that means your outbound sales reps have fewer opportunities to influence their decisions.
In fact, Gartner research finds that when B2B buyers are considering a purchase‚ they spend only 17% of that time meeting with potential suppliers.
And if you consider that they compare multiple suppliers, the amount of time they spend with your sales rep may only be 5-6%.
SaaS sales leaders often attribute this lack of customer access to a failure on the part of sellers to deliver enough value in their outreach and demos.
However, the problem is rooted far less in reps’ struggles to sell and far more in customers’ struggles to buy.
The typical buying group for a complex B2B solution involves 6-10 decision-makers; each armed with 4-5 pieces of information they’ve gathered independently.
At the same time, there are more options and solutions for buying groups to consider; new B2B technologies, products and services emerge every year.
These factors make it increasingly difficult for customers to make purchases. In fact, more than three-quarters of the customers Gartner surveyed described their purchase as very complex or difficult.
Understanding the B2B buyer’s journey is crucial to solving this problem and making your B2B sales process smoother.
Once your reps know who your buyers are, what they’re looking for and where they’re looking, they’ll be able to...
- Improve the buyer experience.
- Build value for your product or service.
- Increase their win rates.
- Move prospects quickly through the sales funnel.
How does the B2B buyer’s journey differ from B2C?
1. You sell to teams, not individuals
A B2B buyer’s journey is unique in that, a B2B customer is often more than a single customer.
In B2B, you’re selling to an entire team or group of people, all of whom might have input in the purchase decision.
According to a study, 79% of B2B buyers said there are 1-6 people involved in the purchase process. Hence, the decision-making process is longer and more tedious.
This is a clear contrast with the B2C buyer’s journey, where the buyer is often an individual and the purchase decision is faster.
2. The deal sizes are bigger
B2B transactions are typically larger, both in terms of deal/order size and total revenue per customer.
These deals can take a lot longer to develop. But when they do, you often make a lot more money on each sale.
This also means that, as compared to B2C companies, you can be more choosy and afford to pay more to acquire each B2B lead. You want to make sure they’ll be the right fit for your business.
3. The sales cycles are longer
Most B2C purchases throughout the course of a year fall in the ~$100 range. And these can often be made on impulse without too much thought, research, or in-depth analysis.
It’s the complete opposite in B2B.
When you sell a large deal to a big team of decision-makers, the inevitable result is longer sales cycles. The average B2B buying cycle is 6-12 months; this is much longer than B2C.
That means you need a much slower ramp from attention to interest to purchase. You have to break down your B2B marketing and sales strategy into bite-sized chunks that can be consumed over the course of a few months.
The trick is to provide upfront education and value that convinces all the decision-makers to get on board. In other words, you need a logical progression of micro-conversions to seamlessly lead people from one step to another.
4. B2B is more emotional
On the surface, it seems like B2B decision-making would be more logical, while B2C is more emotional. However, that’s not the case.
According to this study conducted by Google, Gartner and Motista, on average, B2B customers are significantly more emotionally connected to their vendors and service providers than B2C customers.
And according to Bain, B2B offerings provide their customers with 40 distinct kinds of value. Some of these revolve around logical decisions (does it offer the features I need? Do I have the budget for it?).
But after that, it becomes more about who’s a better ‘fit’ than which one provides the lowest price. This represents an emotional decision on the part of the B2B buyer.
What are the stages of the B2B buyer’s journey?
From a high-level perspective, the B2B buyer’s journey consists of a three-step process:
- Awareness Stage: the buyer realises they have a problem.
- Consideration Stage: the buyer defines their problem and researches options to solve it.
- Decision Stage: the buyer chooses a solution.
When we compare the buyer’s journey vs the traditional sales process, it’s easy to spot where many sales teams fall down.
Too many reps focus on automation and delivering generic, product-based messaging. Instead, they should learn how to guide buyers through their journey.
To improve your sales effectiveness, you have to invest time in your process. Good product knowledge is important, but more so is knowing which stage in the journey your buyers are at and how you can move them onto the next stage.
Now, let’s deep dive into each stage and see what you can do to align your sales process to the buyer’s journey 👇
Aligning the sales process to the buyer’s journey – in 6 easy steps
1. Create an awareness of need
At this early stage, the buyer recognises they have a problem. They identify a challenge they want to solve or an opportunity they want to pursue.
They also ask themselves if the need is significant enough to warrant action.
An example could be: “I need to improve the quality of my sales data.”
Marketing’s job is to create awareness of your product, service, or company. They must educate buyers about their product and how it helps.
To do this, they should create content focused on your buyer’s pain points - not on your own product or brand.
The best sales professionals don’t wait for the buyer’s journey to start — they start it themselves!
For instance, in order to enter the discussion in this early part of the journey, you can take cues from issues affecting your industry.
Post your thoughts about them on social media; this will build up awareness of your product and make potential clients trust you as a source of information.
2. Educate your buyers
Once your buyers acknowledge they have a pain point, then the research begins.
The first stage of research begins with general, broad search terms as buyers explore their options. At this stage, they typically look for educational material, customer reviews, online courses and testimonials.
As they do some research, they’ll begin to understand what does and doesn’t meet their needs. At this point, they might eliminate some of the vendors who don’t provide the functionality or service they’re looking for. Eventually, they’ll narrow their focus to just a few competing companies.
In this stage, they also define...
- The desired outcomes they want from a new vendor or provider.
- Which stakeholders will be involved in the buying decision.
- How they’ll measure success in the short and long-term.
They often use this information to draft an RFP and establish a budget.
Educational content like whitepapers, reports and surveys are critical at this stage. Make sure you have these types of resources on your website.
Use a marketing automation tool and build lead nurturing campaigns to gradually deliver this content to your prospects.
Sales professionals must engage with B2B prospects at this point.
Because this is the stage where buyers evaluate options and draw up shortlists.
Approach likely prospects with the educational content developed by marketing. Demonstrate how your product/service delivers results that exceed the competition. Case studies and other social proof are very useful here.
How has the B2B buyer’s journey changed? Watch this discussion from Cognism’s marketing leaders to find out 🎬
3. Qualify your buyers
At this stage, buyers have clearly defined their goal or challenge and have committed to addressing it.
Once they’ve narrowed down their choices to just a few companies, they’ll return to the research stage. This time, they’ll dive even deeper into each company’s offerings, reviewing how they address their pain points.
In this buying journey stage, they’ll reach out to sales reps for further inquiries or to sit in on personalised product demos. Your buyers will want to really drill down into the features that matter to their teams.
At this point, more stakeholders will likely enter the picture. This brings more biases and diverging opinions into the mix.
As a result, priorities might change along with decision criteria and requirements. ROI usually enters the discussion at this stage.
As your buyers continue their research, you should update their lead scores in your marketing automation tool.
Your goal is to qualify them and keep track of their growing interest.
Sales reps have to help the buyer see the benefits of making a change.
To do this, they should act like trusted advisors, solving objections and providing as much information as the buyer wants.
Don’t be afraid to let a buyer go if your solution really can’t help them.
4. Prove your product’s ROI
In this stage of the journey, B2B buyers (who aren’t always the ultimate decision-makers) often have to secure buy-in from their managers.
To get sign-off from their C-suite colleagues, your buyers will want to see content that addresses things like pricing and ROI. They’ll want to justify spending money on your brand.
When creating content for this stage, remember to speak the language of the C-suite.
Drop the jargon and keep it real - focus on numbers, statistics and testimonials that prove ROI and value for money.
You’ll find more top tips on Cognism’s ultimate guide to C-suite marketing.
At this stage, your sales reps must act like consultants. They have to help the buyer convince internal stakeholders.
Proving your solution’s value is critical. You have to convince the buyer that your solution is better than the rest.
5. Guide the buyer to a decision
Once your buyers have sign-off from the C-suite, they’re ready to select a vendor and make a purchase.
At this point, they’ll start thinking about preparation, implementation, quick start costs, and customer support - the things that determine which solution best fits their needs and budget.
At this point, the customer gets serious about costs. They’ll consider the risks of doing nothing and the risks of choosing the wrong solution. Customers need assurance that implementation will be fast and pain-free.
It’s time to get brand-specific with your content.
Have a number of case studies and customer testimonials on hand. Show your buyers what other companies have achieved in choosing you, and how positive their experience has been.
Your role at this stage of the B2B buyer’s journey is to keep up the momentum!
There will be lots of stakeholders involved and lots of questions to answer. Make sure you’re available and ready to deal with sales objections.
A good way to create urgency is to show the buyer the rewards of choosing your product vs what will happen if they stick with the status quo.
6. Ensure a smooth implementation
Finally, after all these months, your buyers have chosen your product and are ready to purchase. It’s time for paperwork, setup and implementation.
At this stage, pricing and terms enter the discussion. Negotiations will occur; customers will often seek a lower price to reduce risk and financial exposure.
While procurement, finance, and other stakeholders compare the implicit and explicit costs associated with your solution, your buyer will continue to research best practices, implementation guides, and more; they’ll want to hit the ground running with their new solution.
Create a drip nurturing program containing helpful content; this will move your customers through the B2B marketing funnel. You can also supply tips for using your product more effectively and efficiently.
If you can help them see more value in your product, they’re far more likely to remain your customer when renewal time comes around.
In this last phase of the B2B buyer’s journey, the sales rep is like the glue holding the deal together!
Liaise with your product and CS teams to ensure the implementation process goes smoothly. When the deal is done, hand your new customer over to CS; make sure you manage the handoff process correctly, or it’ll leave a bad taste in the customer’s mouth.
What is the future of the B2B buyer’s journey?
Where is the B2B buyer’s journey headed?
Our take is this:
It’ll be shaped by three things: technological advancements, changing customer behaviours and evolving market dynamics.
Here are some trends and possibilities 👇
The B2B buying process will be heavily influenced by digital channels.
Buyers will increasingly rely on online research, social media, and virtual interactions to gather information, evaluate options, and communicate with vendors.
Personalisation and AI
Artificial intelligence and machine learning will enable more personalised experiences for B2B buyers.
AI-driven analytics will provide insights into individual buyer preferences, allowing businesses to deliver targeted content and recommendations.
This trend is already coming to pass with the rise of ChatGPT for sales.
The rise of remote work and virtual interactions may lead to a more prominent role for virtual selling techniques.
Video prospecting, virtual product demonstrations, and online collaboration tools will become even more critical in engaging buyers.
Emphasis on customer experience
The focus on delivering exceptional customer experiences will intensify.
B2B buyers will demand seamless interactions, efficient communication, and responsive support throughout their journey.
Account-based marketing (ABM)
ABM strategies will gain prominence, allowing businesses to target accounts with personalised messaging and solutions tailored to their needs.
B2B buyers will seek more interactive and engaging content to aid their decision-making.
Videos, virtual reality experiences, and interactive product demonstrations will become key parts of the B2B buyer’s journey.
Predictive analytics will play a role in helping businesses anticipate buyer behaviour and preferences.
The future of the B2B buying journey will be proactive, not reactive; salespeople and marketers will be able to address buyer needs in advance.
The buyer’s journey will extend beyond the purchase.
Post-purchase engagement, customer support, and ongoing relationship-building will be crucial to retaining customers and fostering brand loyalty.