It’s their B2B buying process, not yours.

It’s stating the obvious, but your prospect’s B2B buying process is totally different to the sales process you’ve laid out for them.

As marketers firmly focused on the sale, we think about how we think the sales process should go – from early first touches in marketing, right through to the point of conversion. The process is usually pretty linear, but in reality, the prospect’s B2B buying process is not.

In a couple of other posts we’ve shared how buyer’s engage with high value tools to discover information and get insight about their organisations. Not only that, they also don’t buy alone – they share that information with other members of their team and often collectively make decisions as a buying group.

Buying groups can be as large as 10 people and they spend most of the buying process researching and then coming together to discuss options, ideas, research, potential pathways and routes forward. Each member of the team will have their own view, requirements and opinions – battling with the rest to be heard, understood and have their viewpoint taken into account.

“It’s estimated that buyers only spend 17% of their time talking with sales.”

Gartner 2019

If buyers only spend 17% talking of their time talking with sales people, what are they doing the rest of the time during the sales process?

The B2B buying process

When it comes to sales, B2B buyers typically move through four stages according to Gartner:

Problem identification > Solution exploration > Requirement building > Supplier selection

These stages aren’t linear, in fact, the buying group move between them entering at different stages. That said, the buying team will only move to the next stage once they have come to a collective consensus.

Gartner, The New B2B Buying Journey, 2019

The process is complex with a myriad of decisions, conversations – both internal and external, research and consultation with vendors, analysts and colleagues.

Ultimately, buyers are looking for information to help them through the stages of their B2B buying process so they can collectively agree and move onto the next stage. In the majority of cases, the research and conversations happening are without the sales team involvement – which is where that 17% comes in. The other 83% of the time, they’re searching online, sourcing their own articles, discovering content and thought leadership, seeking ratification and validation from their peers and other vendors.

The role for marketing to play within the B2B buying process is extensive and critical – and goes beyond simply creating top of funnel demand. Marketers need to look further down the funnel and start to influence buyers whilst they’re making decisions within their buying group – before they speak to a salesperson and most certainly in a digital context.

So as marketers how can we do that?

Firstly, sales and marketing must align to deliver improved buying journeys. Rather than thinking about ‘selling to the prospect’, it’s better to think about ‘helping them buy’ and creating the right environment for the sales team to engage with them.

Often the tools that are traditionally used by the sales team can be recreated digitally, but without the need for a salesperson to walk the buyer through it. If these tools can be self-serve, with all the value that a salesperson can deliver, then the buyer will engage.

There are different tools such as evaluation questionnaires that give you an output to help aide a decision or categorise the problem, experience level or capability. In their simplest form, they’re decision trees (remember Cosmopolitan’s famous quizzes?) stepping up to rich maturity models that extend value by comparison with peers. From a salesperson’s perspective these would be sales assessments that categorise and establish need and the service levels required based on the person’s responses.

There are also calculators such as return on investment (ROI), time-to-value and total cost of ownership tools that show payback over a period. All valuable to help the buyer understand what they’ll get and how the business will get value from a product or service.

Like in the traditional sales process, a salesperson wouldn’t whip out an ROI calculator if it wasn’t the right time – too early and you seem too eager. Likewise, providing an assessment or evaluation at the end of the sales process is too late… therefore the right type of tools should be used at the right stage in the B2B buying journey – and they should work in tandem with other assets and content.

Creating value at early stages of the B2B buying journey

If we truly understand our buyers and the issues that they face, then it’s possible to create excellent thought leadership guides about industry issues and considerations. However, these are typically based on broad industry issues and do not address the specific company. They also do not fundamentally help the buyer answer questions such as: “Do we have a problem? How big is it? How do we compare to our competitors?”.

At the early stage, assessment and benchmarking tools enable the buyer to understand their position, maturity and compare against their peers, allowing the buyer to share the information with the decision making unit. If the buyer is using your tool to determine this, then inherently, you’re perceived as offering value and insight, and you have the ability to influence the outcome of their assessment to put you in an advantageous position.

These tools educate the buyer and will broadcast your unique insights and intelligence based on their specific needs through a low-touch, digital mechanism. It also allows your sales team to make informed consultative decisions based upon the issues identified in the responses given by the user.

Try an assessment yourself:

These assessments can be used digitally, as part of a nurture process and by sales to add value. They can also be used by channel partners too, allowing them to have meaningful conversations with their prospects or existing customers.

Helping buyers refine their requirements

As part of the requirements building process, buyers need to have a clear understanding of the businesses requirements. At this stage of the buying process, buyer’s guide’s and consideration pieces are incredibly important.

Often, when these are produced by vendors, they appear be contrived and impartial and the buyer sees straight through them. To overcome this, we would strongly advise working with a third party such as an industry body, influencer or analyst group. By co-branding you add weight and credibility to your offering and positioning.

If a buyer is at the stage where they’re refining requirements, it’s critical that you’re engaged with them both digitally and in person. If you can shape and inform the RFP as much as possible, you’re leaps and bounds ahead of the competition for that bid.

Engaging with prospects mid-way through their B2B buying process

To get a project to RFP stage, buyers will commonly need to demonstrate to the business the need, and importantly, the return of taking action. Sales teams often build ROI and business cases for their prospects as part of the tender process to demonstrate the value of change.

Marketing can play a part here by simplifying and digitising these business cases. These should be simple enough for a buyer to use on their own, or can be used with by sales team at events, or in person with buyers. The most important thing is that the results are customised to the responses of the buyer and not generic – and where possible highlight the value of the product or service.

These types of tools create an evidenced-based approach of value for the buyer to take back and influence the buying team.

See the ROI calculator in action:Negate the linear journey through use of AI

During the buying process, buyers spend a lot of time on vendor’s websites – both yours and your competitors. Whilst much effort is placed on content and website user journeys to control and influence buyers into action, there is now the ability to engage directly with buyers whilst they’re on your website through intelligent chatbots.

Through artificial intelligence chatbots, you can create a custom journey for a buyer based on who they are, what they’re looking at or where they’ve come from. This creates unique and personalised experiences where they can find information quickly, qualify in (or out) fast and chat with a human where appropriate.

Chatbots give the buyer control over what and when to engage, and with intelligent chat, they’re 30-50% more likely to qualify and push through to sales.

This not only allows the buyer to leapfrog the usual pattern of form download, wait for the business development rep and qualify in that takes days and sometimes weeks, it also allows the buyer to control the process and speed it up to align with their timings. Buyers want information and response now – and this gives it to them at lightening speed. And, accelerates your sales velocity too. Everyone wins.

Optimising the journey of your prospects and taking into account their B2B buying process isn’t easy. It takes time to build out the programmes that offer up the rich content and experiences outlined above.

With a little more consideration about your buyer’s buying process and the information they need to move through the buying journey, you’ll impact your own sales performance and give value to your sales team.

Want to know more? I’d love to start a conversation, email me or get in touch via LinkedIn.

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