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The Six Stages of the B2B Buyer’s Journey

There have been many articles on buyer’s journeys over the last few years and how businesses need to transform to accommodate the changes in buyer behavior digitally. The phases that a buyer walks through are a critical aspect of your overall sales and marketing strategy to ensure that you provide the information to prospects or customers where and when they’re looking for it.

In Gartner’s CSO update, they do a fantastic job of segmenting and detailing how B2B buyers work through to buying a solution. It’s not the sales funnel that most companies have adopted and measured against.

B2B Buyer Journey Stages

  1. Problem Identification – The business has an issue they’re trying to correct. The content you provide at this phase must help them comprehend the problem comprehensively, the cost of the problem to their organization, and the solution’s return on investment (ROI). At this point, they’re not even looking for your products or services – but by being present and providing the expertise for them to define their problem thoroughly, you’re already leading out of the gate as a likely solutions provider.
  2. Solution Exploration – Now that the business understands its problem, it must find a solution. This is where advertising, search, and social media are critical to your organization being contacted. You must be present in searches with amazing content that will provide the confidence your prospect needs that you’re a viable solution. You must also have a proactive sales team and advocates who attend when your prospects and customers request information on social media.
  3. Requirements Building – Your business shouldn’t wait for a request for a proposal (RFP) to detail how you help fulfill their needs. If you can help your prospects and customers write their requirements, you can get ahead of your competition by highlighting the strengths and additional benefits of working with your organization. This is an area that I’ve always focused on for the clients we’ve assisted. If you do the difficult work of helping them create the checklist, understand the timelines, and quantify the impact of a solution, you will get fast-tracked to the head of the solutions list.
  4. Supplier Selection – Your website, your search presence, your social media presence, your customer testimonials, your use cases, your thought leadership visibility, your certifications, your resources, and industry recognition all assist in putting your prospect at ease that you’re a company that they wish to do business with. Your public relations (PR) firm needs to ensure you’re always mentioned in industry publications as a recognized supplier of the products and services buyers are researching suppliers for. Business buyers may choose a solution that doesn’t hit all the checkmarks… but that they know they can trust. This is a critical stage for your marketing team.
  5. Solution Validation – Business development representatives (BDR), sales development representatives (SDR), or solutions development representatives (SDR) are masters at aligning the customer’s needs and setting expectations on their ability to deliver the solution. Case studies that align with your prospect’s industry and maturity are essential here to let your prospects visually see that your solution can solve their problem. Companies with the resources may even invest in prototypes at this point to let the prospect see that they’ve thought through the solution.
  6. Consensus Creation – In business, we’re rarely working with the decision-maker. More often than not, the buying decision is left to consensus by a leadership team and then approved. Unfortunately, we often don’t have access to the entire team. Mature sales representatives fully understand this and can coach the team members on presenting the solution, differentiating their business from the competition, and helping the team get through the approval process.

These stages don’t always run consecutively. Businesses will often work through one or more stages, change their requirements, or expand or narrow their focus as they advance toward a solution. Ensuring your sales and marketing are aligned and flexible to accommodate those changes is critical to your success.

Moving Upstream In Your Buyers’ Journey

Many B2B marketers limit their company’s exposure to prospective clients by focusing on their visibility of being found as a vendor that can provide the product or service. It’s a limiting strategy because they’re not present earlier in the buying cycle.

If a business is researching a challenge they have, they’re not necessarily looking for a company to sell a product or service to them. The majority of stages of the B2B Buying Journey precede vendor selection.

Case in point: Perhaps a prospective client works in Financial Technology and would like to incorporate a mobile experience with their customers. They may start by researching their industry and how their consumers or competitors incorporate mobile experiences into their overall customer experience.

Their journey begins with research on mobile adoption and whether their customers will likely utilize text message marketing or mobile applications. They discovered integration partners, development partners, third-party applications, and many additional resources as they read the articles.

At this point, wouldn’t it be fantastic if your business – which develops complex integrations for Fintech companies, was present in helping them understand the complexity of the problem? The simple answer is yes. It’s not an opportunity to promote your solutions (yet); it’s just to provide them with the information they need to be successful in their job function and within their industry.

Suppose you build the most comprehensive guides around problem identification and provide supporting research. In that case, the prospect already understands that you fully understand their problem, industry, and challenges. Your company is already of value to the prospect and is early in building authority and trust with them.

The Stages of the Buying Journey and Your Content Library

These stages must be incorporated into your content library. If you want to develop a content calendar, starting with the stages of your buyers’ journey is essential to your planning. Here’s a great illustration of what that looks like from Gartner’s Chief Sales Officer (CSO) Update:

b2b buyers journey

Each stage should be broken down with extensive research to ensure that your content library has the pages, the illustrations, the videos, the case studies, the testimonials, the checklists, the calculators, the timelines… everything associated with providing your B2B buyer with the information they need to assist them.

Your content library must be well-organized, easily searchable, consistently branded, concisely written, have supporting research, be available across mediums (text, imagery, video), be optimized for mobile, and have pinpoint relevance to the buyers you seek.

The overall goal of your marketing efforts should be that your buyer can advance as far as they’d like along the buyer’s journey without contacting your company. Prospects will want to largely move through these stages without your staff’s assistance. While introducing your personnel earlier in the stages can be advantageous, it’s not always possible.

Incorporating omni-channel marketing efforts is critical to your ability to close this business. If your prospect cannot find the assistance they need to inform and advance their journey, you’re more apt to lose them to a competitor who did.

Search, Social Media, And Email

Having a prominent presence across search engines and social media is paramount for guiding potential buyers along their journey. Both channels play distinct yet interconnected roles in capturing the attention of prospects during their research phase, helping build awareness, credibility, and trust. Let’s explore the differences in each channel’s impact and discuss the importance of providing an email solution for nurturing leads who aren’t quite ready to purchase.

Search engines are often the first stop for B2B buyers when they embark on their journey to find solutions to their challenges. Organic search results provide a wealth of information buyers use to educate themselves about industry trends, best practices, and potential solutions. Content that ranks high in search results showcases a company’s authority and expertise, positioning it favorably in prospects’ eyes.

  • Differentiation: Organic search results emphasize authority and relevancy. Companies with well-optimized content are more likely to be seen as credible industry leaders.
  • User Intent: Search queries often reflect specific problems or questions. Crafting content that directly addresses these queries can attract prospects actively seeking solutions.
  • Long-Term Impact: High-quality SEO content can generate long-term traffic and visibility, attracting prospects long after its initial publication.

Social media platforms offer a dynamic space for B2B companies to engage with prospects more personally. Paid and organic social media efforts can amplify content reach, foster engagement, and create community. By strategically sharing valuable content, companies can keep their brand top of mind and establish a two-way dialogue with potential buyers.

  • Engagement: Social media allows direct interaction with prospects through comments, likes, shares, and messages, fostering a sense of connection.
  • Content Amplification: Paid social media advertising can extend content reach beyond the immediate network, exposing it to a broader audience.
  • Visual Appeal: Platforms allow B2B companies to visually showcase their products and services.

Not all prospects are ready to purchase immediately after encountering your content. Providing an email solution, such as a newsletter or lead magnet, is a strategic way to maintain engagement and build relationships with these leads over time. By capturing their contact information, you can continue delivering value, insights, and updates, gradually nurturing them toward a purchasing decision.

  • Drip Campaigns: Automated email sequences can deliver relevant content to leads at strategic intervals, keeping your brand in their consideration.
  • Education and Trust-Building: Email allows you to share in-depth resources, case studies, and success stories that help prospects understand your solutions’ value.
  • Personalization: Tailoring email content based on the prospect’s interactions and preferences enhances the relevance of your communication.

In the multifaceted landscape of B2B sales and marketing, a comprehensive approach that combines search engine visibility, social media engagement, and thoughtful email nurturing is essential. Each channel serves a unique purpose, from educating prospects through search engines to fostering relationships on social media and maintaining engagement through email. By strategically leveraging these channels, B2B companies can guide potential buyers along their journey, creating a seamless and valuable experience that ultimately leads to conversions.

I’d encourage everyone to register and download the report.

Download: The New B2B Buying Journey and Its Implication for Sales

Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is CMO of OpenINSIGHTS and the founder of the Martech Zone. Douglas has helped dozens of successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to assist companies in implementing and automating their sales and marketing strategies. Douglas is an internationally recognized digital transformation and MarTech expert and speaker. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.

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