Understanding The Buyer’s Journey to Achieve Greater B2B Sales Success – Part 1

Mark Donnigan

Everyone wants to move upmarket. As startup founders, we grow where we are planted, which means the SaaS market for many because of the ease of getting started and the perceived simplicity of attracting customers with a PLG sales motion. However, the road of failed startups that predicated their business model on moving to the upmarket via enterprise sales tells us that we may be sidelined without a command of the buyer’s journey. 

Unlike a traditional journey from Point A to Point B, in B2B sales, the buyer’s journey is hardly composed of linear steps. Today, buyers go through many things during the buying process, and understanding the buyer’s mindset during these stages is essential to successfully reaching a closed/won sale.

Understanding the buying committee’s way of thinking, needs and concerns during the process will help to align your messages and provide what they are looking for, boosting your chance of closing a deal. But what exactly is the buyer’s journey, and what are the steps each buyer goes through?

This guide is critical reading for any CEO or startup founder with plans to build a revenue moat based on selling into the enterprise. It provides helpful insights into how to think about marketing and sales, in order to be successful in the minefield that is the enterprise.

 

Steps in the Buying Journey

Every buyer, both as a committee and as an individual constituent to the process, will likely go through different steps. However, these steps do not necessarily occur in sequence. Rather, they happen simultaneously and this is because there are multiple members of the buying committee often working in a coordinated fashion, but who may be working individually on their own. 

Every buyer, both as a committee and as an individual constituent to the process, will likely go through different steps. However, these steps do not necessarily occur in sequence. Rather, they happen simultaneously and this is because there are multiple members of the buying committee often working in a coordinated fashion, but who may be working individually on their own. 

 

Problem Identification. 

Once the buyer is aware of the problem, they will begin researching and looking for possible solutions. However, this process is not linear. The more a buyer uncovers their different issues and the options, and solutions that exist, additional requirements or even variations of the problem will crop up, such that the buyer will be doing requirements building one moment and solution exploration the next. 

As a result, 77% of buyers agree that the buying process has become more difficult and is almost impossible without significant guidance. In a recent survey, at least 90% of buyers reported revisiting at least one job to be done (problem) during the purchase process. 

Check out this podcast interview on why buyers hold more power than sellers today.

With today’s buying process involving an average of over 11 stakeholders versus five individuals from 10 years ago, this diversity contributes greatly to the complexity of the buying task. Stakeholders have different expectations, which you, as a supplier, must meet in order to “win the deal.” And you are not the only provider out there. You are just one of many clamoring for the buyer’s attention and their budget.

“Today’s buying journey has effectively reached a tipping point where it’s become nearly unnavigable without a significant amount of help.”
-Brent Adamson, Principal Executive Advisor at Gartner

Solution Exploration.

After the buyer has identified their problem, they will now start to look for solutions that will address their need. In a survey by McKinsey involving close to 3,500 decision-makers in 12 markets, they found that all buyers prefer omnichannel, so much so that they are willing to switch suppliers to the one that provides the best omnichannel experience. And this holds true for all the markets they surveyed, not just for tech markets but for other industries as well.

Investing in omnichannel sales is essential to compete in the enterprise as buyers do not just rely on trade shows or trade magazines to look for solutions. They increasingly rely on the internet to conduct research themselves. It is essential to make information about your product or solution available everywhere, whether offline or online. This includes online forums and groups that traditionally have been hidden or underground. In fact, in markets that are centered around deep technology, going off the beaten path is one of the best things your marketing team can do. You may need to be more visible on Reddit or Doom9 if you are working in video streaming for example.

Requirements Building.

In this stage, the buyer starts to lay down specifications of what they require a product or solution to do. This process can happen right after problem identification or it can happen multiple times during the whole buyer’s journey, as they start to learn more about the solutions that are available to them. 

This is usually done in a committee setting, as different stakeholders in the organization need to specify certain requirements relevant to their job functions. The CEO, CMO, CFO, CTO, and Head of Sales must be involved in this process to ensure that the product or solution will fit their business processes, or at the least will not impede or cause disruption in their functions.

Supplier Selection.

Now that the buyer has established their requirements and narrowed down their options, they will now proceed to choosing a supplier that they believe can meet their requirements and provide the most value for them. In this purchase phase, there are many points a buyer has to consider. A report by Gartner has identified pricing as the most common consideration factored in by buyers, and if not in line with expectations it can negatively influence supplier selection.

What are the other factors at play in this stage of the buyer’s journey? Here are some things you should avoid to increase your chances of being selected.

Negative user reviews, negative opinions from influencers, and lack of references all point to the importance of establishing credibility in the community or industry you belong to. Take note that whenever you disappoint or delight a customer, chances are high that their experiences will be shared with their colleagues online or offline. Be mindful of your reputation, especially with so many of our customers exchanging ideas on Twitter and forums specific to the market or industry.

Low-quality sales pitches, lack of clear differentiation, and confusing/contradictory material can be avoided by having a clear product message right from the start. Setting clear goals and objectives from the very beginning will dictate and guide downstream activities such as sales training, production of marketing copy, and customer interactions. It provides cohesiveness and helps you avoid mistakes that could get you disqualified from the purchase process.

Validation.

The decision to purchase a product or solution is a major investment, and it is logical for buyers to make sure that they are making the right decision. A proof of concept (PoC) is useful as it can demonstrate that it meets the requirements specified by the buyer and provides a compelling business case for acquisition. It provides a hands-on experience that increases the confidence of the buyer and irons out any functionality concerns. 

In cases where a PoC is not needed, buyers will still try to validate in their ways. Be it external expert consultations, social media conversations, or additional questions posed to sales reps. This additional information helps to build consensus in the buying group or committee discussions. 

Consensus Creation.

Today’s organizations are becoming bigger in terms of role specializations and job functions, which affects the buying process. Getting the sign-off from one or two top executives today will not guarantee you will get the sale. Harvard Business Review reported that the average B2B buying group size in 2015 was 5.4 individuals representing different perspectives and different concerns all needing to be satisfied and this greatly contributes to the complexity of the buying process. 

Meanwhile, less than 5 years later, Gartner research suggests that the average buying group comprises a dozen or more people. Can you see why creating consensus is one of the most critical functions for a sales organization?

One way to make this process easier is to identify individuals, called ‘mobilizers,’ in the buying group. Mobilizers see the value of your offer and understand exactly how your product or solution fits their requirement. However, they may be hesitant in advocating for you because they are afraid of promoting change and rocking the boat. In a survey, up to half of mobilizers report that they fear losing respect or credibility in the organization should they lobby for an unpopular purchase. 

To motivate these mobilizers, suppliers must find a way to show them that other people in the company share their views and that a level of organizational support exists for the solution they are trying to advocate for. Raise their awareness that they have allies, and they will be more confident to advocate for you with the buying group.

Another way to achieve consensus among various individuals is to use ‘language mapping.’ Find out what terms they are using and adjust your language accordingly during presentations to get everybody on the same page. This article on languaging is a good place to learn more.

For example, an engineer will use the term ‘network efficiency’ whereas a marketer would use ‘productivity’ while each is referring to the same thing. By customizing your language to the group, and their lexicon, you have a greater chance of presenting your solution in a way that all can understand and feel that you know what their needs are. After all, in a gaggle of competing messages, who will win? The answer is simple – the one who makes the job easier for the buyer will win. 

Remember, the buyer is exerting a lot of effort completing all these tasks prior to making a decision. The one who provides the most useful information that helps answer critical questions or makes the buying process as painless as possible will be the one trusted most by the buyer. It sends a message that if you can answer their questions now, your service or product can most likely provide the specifications set during the requirements-building process. How you present the information matters just as much as the content.

The buyers journey is no longer linear. Watch this video to learn more on Startup Marketing, Changes in B2B Marketing and what to do about it.

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