The B2B Buyer’s Journey: Then & Now – Pt. 2
The New B2B Buyer’s Journey
In our last blog, we explored the traditional B2B Buyer’s Journey – Awareness, Consideration, Decision – and argued that it was time for an update. We propose a new B2B Buyer’s Journey that is more fluid with the buyer having the majority control of the journey. Buyers can now decide if – and how – they move through the process, and when and where they get their information.
Gartner’s Hank Barnes had this to say about the new B2B Buyer’s Journey:
“The traditional model is we build awareness, and then, we drive interest, and then that creates desire, and finally, that leads to action. That’s been the traditional model of marketing and sales approaches in technology for a long, long time.
That’s really not what’s going on on the buyer’s side – and it’s particularly not what’s going on given how the availability of information via the web and social networks has changed. What we see is a buying process that’s much more fluid, and there’s a lot of complexity…
We don’t compartmentalize. While I’m exploring, I’m also evaluating. In many cases in technology, earlier in the buying process, I may be engaging with providers to learn about new ways to do things. We see these as streams that ebb and flow throughout the buying process.”
This shift in power means that the seller’s marketing team is now much more involved in the lead-to-revenue cycle. Instead of just focusing on getting leads in the door, they now have to produce content that drives awareness, answers questions, provides support, and delights and retains.
Instead of assigning a stage to the buyer, the new B2B journey should focus on answering: Who? Why? When? What? Where?
Who? As we mentioned above, B2B purchase decisions are made by teams. The new B2B Buyer’s Journey should consider the customer not as an individual, but as a group of individuals with different needs and desired outcomes from the transaction. A CEO might want the product/service for a reason completely different than a Project Manager, but both people could be involved in the final decision.
Why? When thinking about the buyer, it’s best to determine why they’re interested in your company. What pain-point does your company offer to resolve? How do you compare to competitors in your field? What unique value do you offer to the buyer’s company?
When? Meet the buyer at their stage in the buying process. What questions does the buyer currently have? Are they just doing some comparison research? Or, have they decided to hire you, but are just evaluating which services they need? Have they already purchased your software, but aren’t sure if they want to subscribe for another year? By understanding their motivations you can then provide answers to help move them along in the buying process.
What? What can you do to support the buyer’s decision? Do they want regular how-to emails? A downloadable ebook with case studies about your service or product? The buyer’s role should also be considered when deciding what content to deliver. A CEO may want a printed proposal with examples of previous projects, whereas a marketer may want a photo-heavy case study.
Where? And, finally, think about where your buyer discovers information about your company. Did they meet your Business Development team at professional events? Are they following your social media profiles? Tailor your content offering to match the buyer’s stage, location and role.
Asking the 5 W’s above results in a B2B Buyer’s Journey that’s more fitting for today’s environment. Forrester Research suggests that an updated version of the journey would include 6 stages: Discover, Explore, Buy, Ask, Use, Engage, where the journey is always in flux and the buyer is getting information from different sources during all stages.
The chart below shows how the different stages of the new B2B Buyer’s Journey interact. Each of the 6 rings (Discover, Explore, etc.) represents a stage, but the buyer does not necessarily pass through them in order or in a vacuum. For example:
During the Discover stage, the buyer may be doing research on a mobile device and the web, while also browsing print material and social media.
Listening to peers and sales people – they’re also processing input from many sources and discovering information on their own terms.
From the Discover stage, the buyer may jump to the Explore stage and start doing in-depth research on the seller’s company website or at events, among other channels.
It’s even possible that the buyer may altogether bypass any further research/evaluation and move straight from the Discover stage to making a buying decision and becoming an advocate.
There’s no one predetermined journey for today’s B2B buyer; each will have a unique timeline, budget and desired outcome. The best thing for a seller to do is to keep their marketing content up-to-date and to support the new journey in a nimble fashion.
As a seller, it’s crucial to accept that the B2B Buyer’s Journey has changed and resulted in the buyer having more power in the buying process. This is a good thing. Sellers may feel powerless in this new era of B2B sales, however, a cohesive marketing strategy that understands the new buying process can help you determine how to successfully engage buyers. Read the B2B Buyer’s Journey, Part 3 now, where we’ll discuss how your marketing and sales team can work together.