There's been a lot of articles on buyer's journeys over the last few years and how businesses need to digitally transform to accommodate the changes in buyer behavior. The phases that a buyer walks through are a critical aspect of your overall sales and marketing strategy to ensure that you're providing 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 from the issue through to buying a solution. It's not the sales funnel that most companies have adopted and measure against. I'd encourage everyone to register and download the report.
B2B Buyer Journey Stages
- Problem Identification – the business has an issue that they're trying to correct. The content that you provide at this phase must help them to fully comprehend the problem, the cost of the problem to their organization, and the return on investment of the solution. At this point, they're not even looking for your products or services – but by being present and providing the expertise for them to fully define their problem, you're already leading out of the gate as a likely solutions provider.
- Solution Exploration – now that the business understands its problem, now they have to search for 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 that are in attendance where your prospects and customers are requesting information on social media.
- Requirements Building – your business shouldn't wait for a request for proposal to detail out how you help fulfill their requirements. 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're going to get fast-tracked to the head of the solutions list.
- 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 firm needs to be on top of ensuring you're always mentioned in industry publications as a recognized supplier of the products and services that buyers are researching suppliers for. Business buyers may go with 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.
- Solution Validation – Business development representatives (BDR) or solutions development representatives (SDR) are masters at aligning the needs of the customer 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 is capable of solving 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.
- 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 member on how to present their solution, differentiate their business from the competition, and help 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're advancing towards a purchase. Ensuring your sales and marketing are both 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 there's a prospective client that 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 are incorporating mobile experiences into their overall customer experience.
Their journey begins with research on mobile adoption and whether or not their customers are likely to utilize text message marketing or mobile applications. As they read the articles, you discover that there are integration partners, development partners, third-party applications, and a multitude of options.
At this point, wouldn't it be fantastic if your business – who 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 guidance to them to help them be successful in their job function and within their industry.
If you built the most comprehensive guides around the problem identification and provided the supporting research – the prospect already understands that you fully understand their problem, their industry, and the challenges they face. Your company is already of value to the prospect and your company 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 an essential element in your planning. Here's a great illustration of what that looks like from Gartner's CSO Update:
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), most be optimized for mobile, and have pinpoint relevance to the buyers you're seeking.
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 the need to contact your company. Prospects will want to largely move through these stages without the assistance of your staff. 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 is unable to find the assistance they need to inform and advance their journey, you're more apt to lose them to a competitor who did.