Do you know the B2B Purchase Process has changed?
Or, does most of your marketing budget remain focused only on raising awareness and attracting leads?
Or, do you lose control of prospects once Sales gets involved?
Regardless of how you answered these questions, you’re not alone.
To understand how the B2B Buyer Journey has changed, we’ll examine and analyze the following issues based on research:
- What B2B Customers want when they purchase;
- How the existing customer purchase process works; and
- How the new B2B Purchase Process works.
To put the new B2B Customer Journey in perspective, here’s what it looked like across buying and marketing tasks back in 2015 (Forrester).
Since then, the B2B customer playing field has changed. In 2019, instead of speaking to sales executives, Gartner’s B2B Buyer Research surveyed and listened to B2B buyers. They explained how they approach major B2B purchase decisions now.
As a result, they discovered the linear B2B Buyer Journey no longer exists!
To drive profitable sales and satisfy customers, the new B2B Purchase Process requires that both marketing and sales change to meet and fulfill prospect and customer needs.
“Buying isn’t about progression, it’s about completion,” said Gartner’s Brent Adamson in 2019. “The organizations that will succeed going forward will be those that materially simplify the purchase process for customers.”
To improve your B2B Purchase Process, let’s examine what you need to do going forward.
What Are The Top B2B Sales Challenges?
B2B Buyers Going Omnichannel
The top 3 B2B Sales Challenges reveal the impact of Seismic Marketing Shift.
- 46% of teams have challenges using data and analytics to improve their performance. They have missing or poor quality internal data. With increased use of AI, they need additional and more complete data.
- 40% of teams require increased specialization and coordination across marketing and sales functions. To prevent siloed activity and information, create cross-functional teams and get senior leadership buy-in.
- 38% of teams lack aligned go-to-market strategies in light of dynamic buyer behavior.
Since 2016, the number of channels used by B2B customers has increased from 5 to 10 in 2021. (Source: McKinsey) Of note, B2B buyers use voice options such as video conferencing and web chat.
More importantly, the firms that used more marketing channels increased their market share in 2021. (Source: McKinsey)
B2B Content Marketing Thought Leadership Takes Buyer Time
Half of B2B purchase decision-makers spend 1+ hours per week reading thought leadership (Edelman/LinkedIn). Since one in 9 purchase decision-makers think that thought leadership is an effective way to introduce a business and its capabilities.
Unfortunately, B2B marketers have a problem since their content marketing often hurts their brands because:
- Less than 1 in 5 (or 17%) decision-makers view content marketing as either very good or excellent.
- Two thirds don’t get any valuable insights from the content marketing (Source: Edelman).
And even worse, from a B2B marketing perspective, about 3 out 4 marketers can’t associate their thought leadership with buyer actions or sales!
Content marketing assets influence B2B buyers towards purchase (Source: LinkedIn research).
- 65% of B2B buyers were influenced by marketing activities including online options such as websites, blogs, videos and ebooks.
- 36% of B2B buyers were influenced by sales activities including in-person events and webinars.
Actionable B2B Purchase Process Marketing Tips
- Make B2B content marketing available across all content formats, platforms and devices including voice. Otherwise you may not enter the consideration set.
What Is The New B2B Purchase Process?
Due to the changes caused by the Seismic Marketing Shift and the pandemic, the B2B Purchase Process continues to evolve.
B2B Process Consists of 6 Tasks
To simplify B2B purchasing, companies use 6 separate functions that don’t move in a linear fashion. They include: (Source: Gartner 2019)
- Problem identification,
- Solution exploration,
- Requirements building,
- Supplier selection,
- Validation, and
- Consensus creation
How do these 6 B2B buying tasks differ from the traditional customer journey?
- Six to 10 B2B buyer stakeholders must complete each of the 6 tasks. While some functions may be done concurrently, validation and consensus matter more than the order of function completion. The need for team consensus creates buyer’s remorse in 2 out of 5 deals.
- Within B2B buyer teams, each stakeholder consults 4 to 5 sources of information or 24 to 50 pieces of content. As a result, 55% of B2B buyers feel overwhelmed by the amount of information they need to review and evaluate.
- Since 44% of buyers get conflicting information, they must resolve different facts and points of view to reach consensus. So 90% of B2B buyers revisit at least one function during the process.
- Information overload and conflicting input increases the process by as much as 15%. Or, 2 months for a one year deal.
According to Gartner’s Brent Adamson:
“The organizations that will succeed going forward will be those that materially simplify the purchase process for customers,”
Actionable B2B Purchase Process Tips
- Assess and address differences between your organization and your competitors. Where possible, highlight points of difference.
- Examine buying tasks to determine what content, information and data is needed. Also, determine the content format, platforms and devices needed. Work across functions to assess existing content and gaps.
- Facilitate information consumption and sharing among buying groups.
- Update buyer personas due changes in the purchase process. Talk to the members of each team since needs may vary.
10 Key B2B Buyer Questions
To meet the needs of the new B2B Purchase Process, address these 10 B2B Buyer questions (Source: Gartner)
- Does your content marketing help your buyers to complete the specific 6 purchase functions?
- Do buyers have trouble completing a specific purchase task? If so, what content or other support can you offer them?
- Does your content help buyer stakeholders complete their tasks? To be sure, ask them.
- Is your content relevant to your buyers? If not, then speak with prospects to find out what information they need and provide it.
- Do your buyers find your content easy-to-find and consume? Also, is this information available in different content formats and across a variety of platforms and devices.
- Do prospects find your content useful to complete their buying tasks? If not, change how your information is presented to meet their needs. Alternatively, create content tailored to their needs.
- Can buyers easily share your content with other stakeholder peers? Do you offer prospects the variety of sharing options they need?
- Is your content aligned with prospects’ emotional needs? This can relate to your branding or the tone of your content. Speak directly with prospects to know how to improve it.
- Does your content make purchasing stakeholders feel confident they can complete their specific tasks? Also, ask if they face conflicting information since it slows down decision-making.
- Do prospects view your content as trustworthy and supplier agnostic? Speak directly with customers who have made purchases as well as prospects that didn’t convert to get these answers..
Actionable B2B Purchase Process Tip
- Distribute this list of B2B Customer questions across your entire organization to get a full view of responses. Don’t assume that Marketing knows everything. Also, where possible get senior management support to get these responses.
B2B Purchase Process Goes Omnichannel
Don’t take your B2B customer loyalty for granted since customers will change for better omnichannel experiences. Also, B2B buyers will change suppliers if these 5 “must-haves” aren’t met (Source: McKinsey):
- Give performance guarantees (including a full refund) (78% of respondents):
- Show product availability online (74% of respondents);
- Able to purchase from any channel (72% of respondents);
- Have real-time/always-on customer service (72% of respondents); and
- Provide consistent customer experience (aka: CX) across channels (72% of respondents).
Listen to the respondent feedback McKinsey received from their 2021 survey of close to 3,500 decision makers in 12 markets:
- “When asked what they wanted most from their sales rep, please stop asking to meet with me in person. I’m busy enough as it is.”
- [They] liked the fast and easy access to their suppliers’ product and subject-matter experts via remote engagement.
So it’s no surprise that 90% of B2B sales organizations view B2B omnichannel as critical to reach and serve their customers.
If your B2B business wants to retain your customers over the long–term, listen to Victoria Morrissey of Ferguson Enterprises. (Source: McKinsey)
“The power of true omnichannel is understanding all the channels our customers use, and how they want to use them, throughout their entire journey. If you don’t understand what that journey is, you can’t provide the right information at the right time.”
In 2021, more than two-thirds opted for remote human interactions or digital self-service across the sales process.
From a revenue point of view, B2B customers will spend big on a single transaction using a remote or self-service model. 71% would spend over $50,000 in a single transaction and 27% would spend $500,000 or more.
Actionable B2B Purchase Process Tip
- Offer your B2B prospects omnichannel options. Allow them to choose their device, content format, platform and context for consumption. Also, make it easy for them to share with their buying team members.
B2B Buyers Like Hybrid Sales Teams
Cultivate next-gen sales capabilities and attract more diverse talent to orchestrate the B2B buyer’s journey on their terms
In addition to field sales experience, hybrid sellers can handle and close deals using videoconferencing, online chat and supporting online transactions.
60% of businesses increased their hybrid sales teams in 2021. (Source: McKinsey 2022)
Capture detailed customer and seller insights end-to-end. This involves combining clear notes, careful call logs and detailed meeting notes with automated data tracking. By doing this, you prove improved sales conversion.
While B2B customers generally like hybrid sales methods, be agile to meet your specific B2B buyer needs. Offer in-person sales engagement when your customers prefer it.
- 68% of B2B buyers view sales visits as a sign that the supplier values their relationship.
- 40% of B2B customers prefer to buy from a new supplier only if they’ve met the sales rep in person.
Actionable B2B Purchase Process Tip
- Allow B2B customers to talk to or get a visit from a sales representative when they want one. Never force them to use voice or digital options.
How Does The New B2B Buyer Process Increase the Marketing Role?
Changes in the B2B Purchase Process and providing B2B customers with an omnichannel approach increases Marketing’s role across your entire organization. Since information, data, processes and employees must work together to deliver an optimal customer experience (CX). Or risk losing your prospects and customers to competitors.
Marketing enables you to meet the B2B buyer’s needs best:
- 62% of B2B purchasers prefer to learn independently by finding and consuming information on their terms.
- 83% of B2B customers access digital channels during late purchase stages. So provide relevant content at every buyer stage. Include onboarding and retention content across content formats.
Charles River Laboratories’s CIO Mark Mintz says it best (Source: McKinsey):
“Being agile has elevated marketing’s ability to translate the sales message better. They’re closer to what the customer needs are and better equipped to create tools and materials that resonate with them.
… [W]e integrate seamlessly with marketing, sales and operations, with direct connections to customers, to create digital capabilities that bring together disparate data and create seamless experiences, regardless of the channel.”
Optimize your technology stack across your organization to be remote-first. Optimize existing technology problems to reduce wasted employee time before investing in new technology since new systems require time to learn and integrate with current systems and procedures.
Personalization matters for B2B prospects and customers.
According to Noble’s CTO Tom House (Source: McKinsey)
“There is greater demand to instantly know who they are, what they want, and how they can get the product/service they’re interested in.”
Actionable B2B Purchase Process Tips
- Provide a variety of information entryways.
- Offer content and solutions in plain language and terms buyers understand.
- Transform content into all content formats and deliver it across platforms and devices.
- Make it easy for B2B buyers to share your content with peers via the options they choose.
- Tailor content to support your updated buyer personas.
- Allow buyers to speak to a human when they want to.
Does B2B Marketing Address Changing Buyer Behavior?
B2B marketers must reassess their priorities and better align them with revenue generating objectives.
B2B marketers must balance the use of long-term branding with short term sales activation focused on “hot” prospects. Les Binet and Peter Fields recommend using a 45% branding and 55% activation mix.
Since branding provides an emotional element B2B organizations need, B2B marketers must invest in branding over time.
Quality B2B content marketing thought leadership helps sales (Source: Edelman/LinkedIn):
- 1/3 of B2B content marketers found original research performed best.
- 2/3 of B2B content marketers received support from across their organization. And they attributed this to their success.
- 3/5 of B2B content marketers used a variety of content distribution approaches including support from employees.
Actionable B2B Purchase Process Tip
- Incorporate branding in every element across your organization. Also have a branding guide on your intranet and give a copy to your agencies.
- Make content marketing available across content formats, platforms and devices. This includes digital and voice options.
How Sales Enablement Helps The New B2B Purchase Process
To help the new B2B purchase process, use Sales Enablement content and tools to help both sales and buyers. Among your options are:
- Calculators simplify data analysis;
- Advisors help with specific activities;
- Diagnostic frameworks and tools to identify buying options;
- Benchmarks spotlight peer comparisons;
- Connectors allow stakeholders to find common ground;
- Simulators show how the solutions would work in the buyer’s business; and
- Recommenders provide a set of options based on a specific buyer function.
Actionable B2B Purchase Process Tips:
- Help sales and other departments to develop the content and information they need. For example, LinkedIn created the “Read Me” sales material series.
- Continue to distribute content over time. Include different content formats and other distribution channels and platforms. Also add paid distribution where appropriate.
- Add calls-to-action (or CTAs) and tracking to improve content marketing metrics.
How Do B2B Marketing and Sales On-board and Retain Customers?
To improve B2B customer retention and expand revenues, sales must evolve from preventing account loss to growing accounts.
88% of B2B sales managers focus on providing superior customer service to grow accounts and revenues (Gartner November 2017). While this approach retains accounts and keeps customers happy, it doesn’t reveal new sales and growth opportunities.
How do you improve lifetime customer revenue?
Start by working with new B2B customers to help onboard them since this is where the Loyalty Loop is won or lost. If they don’t use your products and services within 90 days, you’ve lost them and your marketing acquisition investment.
Shift on-going B2B customer conversations from providing service to helping buyers to improve their results. Often this is best accomplished through a well developed marketing retention strategy.
As a result, B2B sales executives can (Gartner 2018):
- Increase their ability to grow accounts by 48% and
- Increase the likelihood of renewing or retaining the same level of spend by 94%.
Continue to focus on improving customer performance. This requires organizational support, sales enablement, tools and team design.
Accomplishing this allows sales to help customers by:
- Offering customers another perspective on their business.
- Showing customers what business improvement will look like for their company.
- Translating improvement into financial terms to make the case for change.
Actionable B2B Purchase Process Tips
- Create improved customer on-boarding processes. Tailor information to help users who may not have been part of the purchase process. Also offer self-learning options.
- Support customers and end-users with online and/or offline community and events. Distinguish your offering by providing unique customer benefits.
B2B Purchase Process Conclusion
The B2B customer journey is dead.
Because B2B purchasers have changed how they buy.
To succeed in this dynamic environment, provide the omnichannel experience that your prospects and customers want. But always allow prospects and customers to talk to a sales representative when they want to on their terms.
This omnichannel approach means that Marketing must work together with departments across the organization as well as across content formats, platforms and devices to meet your buyers’ needs.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on November 20, 2019. It has been significantly updated and revised based on recent research.
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