Those of you in the B2B industry or involved in B2B marketing have likely seen the statistic “67% of the buyer journey is now digital”. Does that mean you can slack on lead generation or that you can ignore the sales funnel? Does that figure represent a loss in gross revenue or an opportunity cut out the middlemen?

In this article, we break down the B2B buyer journey and tell you how to take advantage of each of the different stages to maximize your potential.

What is a buyer journey?

To get off on the right foot, let’s get our definitions straight. The “buyer’s journey” is the process a person goes through when deciding to purchase something, be it for themselves or for their company. It differs slightly from person to person, but everyone’s buying process largely follows the same general steps.

We differentiate between B2B and B2C journeys because, while they’re motivated by similar needs, businesses necessarily operate on different principles. Namely, logic. Whereas a customer’s purchasing decisions are partially influenced by factors like price and degree of need, emotion plays a large part (“I like that so much – I need it!”). A business, on the other hand, must consider budgets, inventory needs, forecasting future demand, and the like.

Why the B2B buyer journey is important

Simply put, understanding the methodology a buyer uses when making a buying decision gives you the power to influence that decision.

A common trap new businesses fall into is the, “if you build it, they will come” mentality. There are thousands of excellent products and services that have never seen the light of day for lack of marketing.

In the B2B sphere especially, it’s more important than ever to target customers early in the journey. It may seem difficult to market to other businesses since, say, the auto dealer you’re targeting might not notice your social media ads, but the individuals that make purchasing decisions are ad-susceptible people like any other.

Once we understand the phases of the buyer journey we can create a comprehensive marketing plan to address each step individually, which will maximize the efficiency of conversions as compared to a general marketing campaign that isn’t well-focused.

Stages of the B2B buyer journey

In order to understand the B2B buyer journey, here’s a mock scenario: A small-town pet store needs new uniforms for their employees for this season. As luck would have it, we run an apparel-printing business.

The following describes the customer’s process and gives examples of ways to turn it to your advantage.

1. Identifying the problem

The pet store is entering its third year of operation. Last year, the pet delivery truck was a smash hit, so they reinvested the earnings into a small storefront on the side of a busy thoroughfare.

There was a small issue, however, in that customers couldn’t distinguish the employees from the other patrons of the establishment. Of course, they can’t be behind the register all the time – that one cockatiel requires practically constant attention.

Still, it didn’t help that those darn teenagers kept wearing their joggers and yoga pants to work, blending in with the other hooligans.

Customers not being able to find an employee is a big problem for a storefront. There’s no way to collect money or make sales, nor is there a person to field customer questions and provide support.

The problem has coalesced in the potential customer’s mind: customers are having trouble finding my employees.

This is a difficult stage to address because it’s so early in the process. We can respond indirectly, however, and lay the groundwork for more involvement in future stages.

Our efforts here have to be preemptive. After all, they’ve only just realized there’s a problem. They haven’t even begun to consider solutions. There are two primary ways to market to Stage 1.

The first is through general-purpose marketing called brand awareness. When running brand awareness campaigns you’re not trying to get sales; the goal is to infiltrate the subconscious of the public. They should have already seen your name and logo somewhere, as well as having a general idea of what you do.

That turns the potential customers into warm prospects when it’s time to convert a sale, instead of having to work uphill from a cold prospect.

Another way to approach Stage 1 is to actually “create” the problem for the customer. No, you don’t need to sabotage their wardrobe. An easier and legal-er way is to create content that showcases the value of uniforms and their effect on team cohesion and customer satisfaction. Or do the opposite – make humorous or satirical content about organizations that have no uniform or identity.

Any business owner that stumbles across the content will realize that their business is suffering for lack of uniforms and will jump right into the buyer journey.

2. Research potential solutions to the problem

Customers in the pet store are getting irritated because they keep getting the question “Do you work here?” The owner is fully convinced of the problem and so starts to search for ways to fix it.

Our prospective buyer sits down to Google their issue. “Customers can’t find my employees” or “How to increase employee visibility”. This is sometimes called the consideration stage. The best way to determine what terms they’ll search, and therefore the terms you should use as keywords in your content marketing, is to first create a buyer persona to characterize your target customer and understand their motivations.

The potential customer will approach Stage 2 in two ways.

Many people start by gathering more information on their problem. It pays to know what you’re up against, and they’ll want to know the full extent of the problem. In this case, the pet store owner will probably ask other business owners or trawl forums to see if anyone else has had the issue.

The next step would be to look for solutions to the problem they just mapped out. That’s when they begin researching products or services that will fix it. The searches reveal several ways to fix employee inconspicuousness:

  •        Requiring matching uniforms.
  •        Wearing high-visibility vests.
  •        Hanging a cowbell around their necks.
  •        Mandate that employees stand in one place for the duration of their shift.

This is where things really ramp up during the buyer journey. It’s a place for us, the B2B supplier, to interject our services and begin the process of winning over the customer.

The way to market to this stage is comparison content. Product review comparisons, pros, and cons, or lists detailing solutions to the problem in question are all ways to take advantage of the research stage. We want the customer to be reading our material – both to get our brand and style in the back of their mind and because we’ll present our solutions in a positive light, obviously.

3. Budgeting and justification

The customer is pretty sure he wants to get matching uniforms for the team, but now he has to justify that cost. Is there room for it in the budget?

Selling to businesses has a few more steps than selling to customers. There are a lot of factors to take into account when making a purchase for a company, not the least of which is the budget. Furthermore, the person sourcing new products is not always the same person that has the authority to finalize the purchases.

In this example, the owner of the pet store does indeed have purchasing power, but they’re still trying to make the most fiscally responsible decision on behalf of their business.

With B2C sales, justification is easier. A product might help them feel better or look better and that’s all the reasoning they need. A business, on the other hand, is always concerned about the bottom line.

B2B sales language shouldn’t include flowery language to appeal to the emotions of the buyer, it should be focused on the ways it will improve their business – increase revenue, lend a positive ROI, or lengthen customer retention.

Content such as case studies that prove the worth of your product is invaluable to B2B customers. In our scenario, we would espouse the many virtues of matching uniforms: increased dedication to the company, more professional attitudes, less time-theft, etc.

4. Purchasing and support

The customer has identified the problem, researched potential solutions, crunched the numbers, and decided to pull the trigger. It’s time to go shirt shopping.

If our company has executed a targeted campaign based on this theoretical customer’s buyer journey, the odds are very good that the pet store owner will approach our apparel printing company.

Keep in mind that many B2B sales aren’t simply an exchange of goods and services. They may expect us to continue providing support after the transaction. We can expect to field questions like “Is this machine-washable?” or “Is there a discount for ordering in bulk?” Industries other than our apparel printing might provide warranties or ongoing technical support, such as in the case of software.

There isn’t too much for us to do in response to the purchasing, other than to make it as easy as possible.

Ongoing support, while not a huge deal for an apparel printer, is important in many other industries. Many B2B interactions become long-term arrangements as it’s much easier to do repeat business with a trusted and reliable vendor than to source from new companies all the time.

You can market to customers looking for this sort of arrangement by including materials that advertise your willingness to create sustained business and professional relationships. The customer experience is very important to purchasers, so it’s a valuable asset for companies looking to take advantage of the B2B buyer journey.