If you sell to B2B buyers, it’s important you understand their needs through different stages of a B2B buyer’s journey. If you know what your B2B buyer is looking for, you can influence her decision by providing right information in the right context.
A B2B prospect goes through multiple steps before buying a product or service. If the product is complex or expensive, the buying process will have more steps and it will take more time. If the product is simple or cheap, the buying process will be shorter and faster.
B2B buyer’s journey also depends on the size of the business:
- Large companies have complex buying processes with multiple checks and controls. They generally take longer to make decisions.
- In a small business, the owner or makes all purchasing decisions. Smaller companies have less complex processes and take faster decisions.
The buyer’s journey will be different for the two type of B2B buyers. In this post, I am going to focus on the small B2B buyer’s journey.
The steps a B2B prospect goes through in the buying process is called B2B Buyer’s Journey. The different steps are called Stages of the journey.
If you understand the stages in a prospect’s decision making process, you can better meet your prospect’s needs to influence the buying decision.
The B2B buyer’s journey has three distinct stages:
The goal of your digital marketing strategy and is to align all activities with your prospect’s context throughout the buyer’s journey.The goal of your #digital #marketing #strategy and is to align all activities with your prospect’s context throughout the #buyer’s #journey. Click To Tweet
Awareness is the starting point in a buyer’s journey.
Your prospect’s buyer’s journey starts when she becomes aware of the need to find solution to a problem. One the need is identified, the buyer starts researching the problem and potential solutions. Google is usually the first stop in this research – 72% of buyers start their research with Google.Did you know that 72% of #B2B #buyers start their #journey with Google search? Click To Tweet
At this stage, your prospect does not have a specific solution or solution provider in mind. She just wants to know more about her problem, how others are solving it and what are the pros and cons of each solution.
Your prospect starts her research by searching Google or industry sites for information. At Awareness stage, she is looking for educational content that helps her understand her problems and identify possible solutions.
SEO plays an important role in reaching buyers during awareness stage of a B2B buyer’s journey.#SEO plays an important role in reaching buyers during #awareness stage of a #B2B buyer’s #journey. Are you ready for it? Click To Tweet
The best way to do that is to understand the type of questions your prospects are asking using a good keyword research tool. You can use tools like Google keyword Planner or Long Tail Pro.
You should also look at your buyer persona to understand which other digital channels are a good fit at this stage. You can read more about it in the 4Cs digital marketing frameworks.
Once you know the type of questions your prospects are asking at the awareness stage and the channels to target, you can create educational content to reach and engage your audience.
You should create How to blog posts, eBooks, infogrpahics and videos that focus on prospect’s problems. The content you create should focus on her problems, not your products. The goal is to become a trusted advisor by helping her find the right solution for her problem.Create #content that focus on #customer's #problems, not your products to become a trusted adviser by helping her find the right solution for her problem. Click To Tweet
Let’s see how this works in real life.
Tracy, the marketing manager at a SaaS startup, is struggling with email marketing. She uses MailChimp to store leads and run email campaigns to nurture and convert them.
She is using MailChimp because it’s free. But she is not able to segment leads and has duplicates across lists. She is not able to see subscriber statistics and qualify them based on their actions. She wants to create dynamic campaigns that adapt to lead activities, not static ones she can run in MailChimp.
Once Tracy has decided that she needs to replace MailChimp, she starts her research to find alternative. She searches Google with terms like
- email marketing software
- email marketing tools
- email marketing software for saas
She discovers several case studies, tips, how to articles, guides and software reviews though these searches such as:
She starts building a list of email marketing software she can potentially use. But as she progress through the research, she realizes what she is really looking for is a marketing automation software, something that puts her email marketing on auto-pilot.
So she adjusts her research to include marketing automation software. She finds more information, reviews and software from sites. Reviews and recommendations introduce tools she did not know about and help her develop selection criteria. She also finds very helpful and detailed information on these pages:
Notice that both these articles are not trying to sell her anything; they are just helping her get better at marketing automation. Such unbiased and problem-centric approach helps these sites build trust with Tracy and bump them up in her shortlist.
During the consideration stage of B2B buyer’s journey, the prospect compares different solutions to find one which best fits the needs. At this stage of the buyer’s journey, the prospect will use information collected during Awareness stage to:
- Prioritize her needs
- Identify best practices
- Decide which features or benefits are a must and which ones are good to have
This helps the prospect in evaluating different products and create a shortlist of options. At this stage, the prospect will also create a budget and include price as one of the criteria for shortlisting a product.
With a shortlist of choices, the buyer will return to research each option in more detail. According to Pardot’s State of Demand Generation report, 70% of buyers return to Google at least 2-3 times during the course of their research during Consideration stage.70% of buyers return to Google at least 2-3 times during the course of their research during Consideration stage Click To Tweet
As the buyer dives deeper into each solution, she will need more detailed information about your solution as well as competitors’. She will contact sales reps with specific questions and for product demos.
If you did well at the Awareness stage, you are probably in her shortlist. You also have some information about her – email, what she downloaded from your site, which pages she looked at and for how long. It’s time to use that information to start conversation with her specific to her needs and context.
SEO plays an important role at Consideration stage of the buyer’s journey. Just like Awareness stage, you should target keywords your buyer is going to use at this stage. You can start engaging with the buyer on social channels also, using what you already know about her.
You should create content that compares your product to competitors, webinars that deep dive into your product, data sheets, benefits and RoI calculations.
Let’s see what Tracy is doling in the consideration stage of her buyer’s journey.
We know that Tracy has a shortlist of marketing automation software that includes HubSpot and Drip. She starts visiting websites of these companies to get more detailed information about product features, benefits, cost and RoI information.
She searches Google for product comparison information, reviews by other users / experts and more using search terms like:
- Best marketing automation software
- Best marketing automation tool
- B2B marketing automation
- HubSpot reviews
- Drip.io reviews
- Drip vs HubSpot
As she visits the company sites and collects more information, the software vendors also get more information about her needs and context. They start showing her more relevant information that would help her make a decision. They can show her ads on social media and other sites using Re-marketing, send personalized emails and messages on social media. She sees information such as:
She signs up for free trial or requests product demo with a sales person to get a better feel and understanding of the tools.
As Tracy researches different marketing automation software, she realizes they have different features and price points. Some integrate with dozens of other software, some have deep integrations with social media platforms, some are all-in-one marketing platform while others work on top of existing websites and tools.
The variety, complexity and pricing make it difficult for Tracy to pick a winner. So she decides to develop her selection criteria. She lists features that are a must for her need, such as email automation. She also lists features that are good to have such as all-in-one integrated solution.
She carefully compares products on her list using the selection criteria she developed. At the end of this exercise, she has two products in her shortlist – Drip and HubSpot. While these two are not entirely comparable as HubSpot is an all-in-one solution, both tick all the boxes for must have features. HubSpot has more good to have features but is also more expensive.
With her research complete, she is ready to move to the next stage of her buyer’s journey.
This is the final stage in your B2B buyer’s journey. At this stage, the prospect’s goal is to pick a solution that best meets the needs and budget.
Let’s see how Tracy makes her buying decision.
Tracy has all the information she needs to discuss the two shortlisted options with her boss, the CEO of the company. Remember, B2B buying decisions almost always involve more than one person and some internal discussion. Since Tracy does not have the authority to spend the money on a new software, she needs to get approval from the CEO.
She starts discussing the options with CEO, who asks her more questions about customer references, implementation cost, complexity and timelines, stability of the vendor, support options etc.
Tracy collects the information from the two shortlisted companies and goes back to her CEO for final discussion. While HubSpot clearly has more features and will be a powerful platform for the company, it is also more complex and expensive.
Drip.io, on the other hand, is very well suited for the company’s needs at this stage. It’s also easier to implement and very affordable. Based on the current suitability and cost, Tracy and her CEO decide to go with Drip.
But HubSpot is not a loser – it has created a string impression and may be able to land this customer in future. It should continue the conversation with Tracy, though at a reduced frequency and using more automated channels, till she is ready to engage again.
Your B2B prospect goes through a series of steps that end with the prospect buying your product. You can group these steps into three distinct stages – Awareness, Consideration and Decision. The three stages together form the B2B Buyer’s Journey.