A Bite-Sized Guide to the B2B Buyer's Journey

April 26, 2023

One of the most important concepts in modern marketing is that of the buyer’s journey.

Rather than viewing prospects and customers from the vendor’s point of view, it seeks to understand how the buying process unfolds from the consumer’s side.

The better a vendor can anticipate and cater to the buyer’s needs as they progress through their buying journey, the more likely that vendor is to win their business.

Or so the thinking goes.

In practice, many leaders remain skeptical about this approach and confused about how to apply it at their company.

And while dozens of articles have been written about the buyer’s journey, many of them are difficult to translate into applicable steps.

In this post, I’m going to remedy that by breaking the buyer’s journey into bite-sized chunks, handy tips, and readily deployed concepts.

This means I’m not writing an academic treatise on the subject—although it is longer than my average post.

Nor am I claiming that it’s rigorous or all-encompassing—but I do hope it’s useful.

Importantly, I hope you’ll find something here that can be implemented right away, as well as a reason to bookmark the article for future reference.


Appetizer Bites: B2B vs B2C and Other Considerations

Before I walk through the stages of the buyer’s journey, let’s discuss some distinguishing characteristics of B2B buyer’s journeys.

Business-to-business vendors sell to other companies, in contrast with business-to-consumer (B2C) vendors who sell to individual buyers.

(We will ignore B2B2C constructs, which involve intermediate companies—for example, distributors and resellers—since they act much like B2B businesses for the purposes of this discussion.)

B2B purchases are seldom made by one person in isolation. They usually involve a buying committee representing the company’s technical, financial, commercial, and strategic interests.

Like a group of friends who have agreed to meet at a specific place and time, each member of the buying committee will start from a different place and follow a unique journey to reach the common destination.

In other words, a vendor must anticipate and cater to multiple people’s buying journeys and needs if they are to win the business.

Each of those buying committee members has different needs and beliefs that a vendor must consider. For example, a technical expert will ask very different questions than a financial analyst or a strategic decision maker.

To complicate matters further, the buying committee will usually interact with one another during the buying process.

Whereas a consumer (B2C customer) might act entirely independently while considering and making a purchase, a company’s buying committee (B2B customer) will interact and exchange information.

This can cause members of the buying committee to change direction and revisit decisions made earlier in the process.

Consequently, the B2B buyer’s journey is more non-linear than a typical B2C buyer’s journey.


Breaking the B2B Buyer’s Journey into Bite-sized Chunks

The buyer’s journey is usually broken into five or six chunks—referred to as stages—with recognizable names.

I choose to follow this five-stage nomenclature:

1.    Awareness

2.    Evaluation (also known as Consideration)

3.    Selection (also known as Purchase)

4.    Implementation (also known as Commissioning)

5.    Loyalty (also known as Advocacy)

In the sections that follow, I’m going to explain five things about each stage:

i.      What a buyer is doing at this stage.

ii.     The types of questions a buyer is trying to answer.

iii.     Things that are not happening at this stage.

iv.     How a vendor might best interact with buyers at this stage.

v.     The role content marketing plays in supporting buyers at this stage.


At the awareness stage, buyers have recognized a challenge and are wondering whether and how to solve it

A Bite-Sized Guide to the Awareness Stage

(i)       What is the buyer doing?

At the awareness stage, prospective buyers have recognized a challenge and are wondering whether to try to resolve it and, if so, how.

Consequently, buyers are gathering information about the challenge they’ve identified, how it is affecting them, their ability to do their job, and their company’s performance.

They are seeking to grow and validate their understanding of the problem and its impact.

This includes quantifying the impact of not resolving the challenge, as well as the potential upside of finding and implementing a solution.


(ii)      What types of questions is the buyer asking?

Typical questions at the awareness stage include:

·      What challenge am I trying to solve? (Note: during the buyer’s journey, it is possible that the buyer will realize they’ve been tackling the wrong challenge, causing them to return to the awareness stage and begin again, with a different—sometimes more fundamental—challenge in their sights).

·      What impact is this challenge having on my ability to do my job?

·      What impact is this challenge having on my company’s ability to complete its mission and deliver on its vision?

·      Qualitatively, what would a solution look like?

·      What would the upside benefit(s) be of implementing such a solution?

·      Who else has faced, or is tackling, a similar challenge?

·      Is solving this challenge sufficiently worthwhile for me to invest time and effort in finding and evaluating solutions?

That last question is key. Unless the buyer becomes convinced that the challenge is worth solving, they won’t move ahead to the evaluation stage.


(iii)    What is NOT happening?

There are many misconceptions about buyers at the awareness stage. Here are some of the most popular:

·      The buyer is looking for solutions. Not yet—they won’t be ready to begin that process until they’ve sized up the challenge.

·      The buyer is identifying potential vendors. Not vendors, but sources of helpful information.

·      The buying committee has formed. This depends on the nature of the challenge and the company where it is being encountered. Larger organizations will have permanent buying teams assigned to different categories of purchases. Smaller and newer organizations will form buying committees on an ad hoc basis, usually once a champion has validated the challenge and brought it to the wider group’s attention.


(iv)     How should a vendor act?

Since buyers at this stage are hunting for challenge-related information, the vendor’s primary role is to make relevant, helpful information available wherever the buyer is searching for it.

It is also common for buyers at the awareness stage to be researching their challenge on their own, using the internet, without revealing themselves to vendors. So, information must be shared widely and openly, for anonymous buyers to access.

Sales material, including the features and benefits of your products, is practically meaningless at this stage. Instead, share examples of how the challenge has manifested itself at other businesses and the benefits they have reaped by addressing it.


(v)      What role does content marketing play?

Vendors are unable to contact buyers directly at this stage while they are operating in “stealth” mode, so content marketing plays a crucial role.

Publishing relevant, helpful content on the channels that prospective buyers frequent is the primary mechanism B2B vendors have for reaching prospects early in their buyer’s journey.

Companies that do this successfully can begin to win mind share, establishing their brand in the buyer’s mind as one that is helpful and knowledgeable.


At the evaluation stage, buyers are beginning their search for solutions and learning how to compare them

A Bite-Sized Guide to the Evaluation Stage

(i)       What is the buyer doing?

At the evaluation stage, prospective buyers have decided that their challenge could be worth solving and are beginning their search for solutions.

They are building an understanding of what’s available in the market that might be of use, and how to evaluate competing solutions.

Buyers are also interested in a preliminary quantification of the benefits that would accrue from implementing a solution and how much that solution might cost—allowing them to complete a first-pass cost-benefit analysis.


(ii)      What types of questions is the buyer asking?

Typical questions at the evaluation stage include:

·      What solutions are available for tackling my challenge?

·      Who provides those solutions?

·      How should I properly compare my alternatives?

·      What quantifiable benefit I receive by implementing a solution?

·      How much might it cost to implement such a solution?

·      Does there appear to be a value-adding solution I might purchase?

Once again, the last question is key. Unless the buyer sees sufficient potential value in purchasing and implementing a solution, they won’t move ahead to the purchase stage. Instead, they’ll stick with the status quo (often your biggest competitor!)


(iii)    What is NOT happening?

Popular misconceptions at the evaluation stage include:

·      The buyer is seeking bids. Not yet, they’re still performing technical and qualitative due diligence.

·      The buyer is cross-checking prices. Perhaps, but not in detail. A high-level comparison is enough for them to make a go/no-go decision at this stage.

·      The buyer is certain to purchase something. Not always—in fact, they will often decide to stick with the status quo unless there’s a clear upside to buying and implementing a solution.

·      If the buyer sees something “ten percent better” they will buy it. The “ten percent” rule is pervasive but, as far as I can tell, baseless. How much incremental value a buyer must see to make a go-forward decision will depend on the criticality of the challenge, the company culture, the novelty of solutions being offered, and many other situation-specific factors.


(iv)     How should a vendor act?

As with the awareness stage, vendors will often not yet have established direct contact with prospective buyers at the evaluation stage. Therefore, content marketing remains key.

Do not push for a sale! Buyers who haven’t yet made up their mind whether it’s worthwhile to proceed will be put off by pushy, salesy behavior and this could disqualify you when they are ready to make a purchase.


(v)      What role does content marketing play?

Publishing relevant, helpful information allows buyers to address the questions being asked at this stage.

Case histories, how-to guides on product selection, product comparisons (remaining as product agnostic as possible), and cost-benefit calculators are all worthwhile.

The more helpful you can be, the greater the mind share you can win, which can be converted into business at the next stage.


At the selection stage, buyers are finally ready to negotiate a deal and purchase a solution

A Bite-Sized Guide to the Selection Stage

(i)       What is the buyer doing?

At the purchase stage, prospective buyers are finally ready to cut a deal.

This is the stage that most vendors rush to reach, and where many companies’ sales funnels begin (since we might consider buyers as “sales qualified leads” at this point).

Buyers are comparing solutions, asking detailed technical and commercial questions, and narrowing down their choices.

Whether they continue this process until they identify a winner or issue a formal request for proposals from qualifying vendors will depend on the size of the purchase and the size and type of organization doing the buying.


(ii)      What types of questions is the buyer asking?

Typical questions at the selection stage include:

·      What is the cost and benefit of each solution on my shortlist?

·      What are the differences in features and benefits between them?

·      How do the vendors compare?

·      What sort of support can I expect from each of them?

·      What is the best deal I think I can negotiate?

·      What additional information will my company need for the purchase to get completed?

·      Which solution should we buy? (if any…)

Does that “if any…” sound overly pessimistic?

Sadly, it is quite common for B2B buyers to kill the purchasing process at the last minute—often because a dissenting member of the buying committee remains unconvinced and has enough influence to veto the deal.

This doesn’t necessarily mean all is lost, but it will require spending more time at the purchase stage—or even regressing to the evaluation stage to answer questions anew.


(iii)    What is NOT happening?

Popular misconceptions at the purchase stage include:

·      The buyer is working “behind the scenes” to cut a deal. This is far less common than it used to be, thanks to higher standards of corporate integrity and anti-corruption legislation. More often, members of the buying committee are privately debating the answers to key—sometimes conflicting—questions that satisfy their individual interests.

·      The buyer is ready to be up-sold. Oh dear, no. The buyer has barely made the decision to purchase a solution, so please don’t start angling for more business. The time to do that is when the initial purchase has exceeded their expectations, which we’ll get to in a moment.


(iv)     How should a vendor act?

By this stage in the journey, most buyers will have revealed themselves to potential vendors, so direct contact is enabled.

This does not mean that a vendor should begin spamming the buyer with product information, however!

Instead, this is a time for listening to the buyer, understanding their remaining questions and concerns, and providing tailored answers.

If you’ve spent the awareness and evaluation phases earning mind share and cultivating a reputation for being helpful and knowledgeable—and you have a differentiated solution in the market—the business could be yours to lose. So, don’t blow it.

Remain focused on what the buyer needs to make the right decision for them—even if that means purchasing someone else’s solution. You’ll earn tremendous respect in a case like that, which positions you nicely for future opportunities and referrals.


(v)      What role does content marketing play?

Publishing relevant, helpful information never goes out of fashion. Except, at this stage, it’s the kind of information every vendor loves to share—about their product.

Make product-related information (including pricing) easily accessible via whatever channels your typical buyers frequent.

This should include videos and FAQ on how your solution performs and what they can expect once the purchase goes through.


At the implementation stage, buyers are trying to extract the value they expected (or more) from the solution they have purchased

A Bite-Sized Guide to the Implementation Stage

(i)       What is the buyer doing?

Congratulations, your buyer has become a customer!

At this stage, however, they’ve invested effort and money but are yet to see any value in return. It’s only expected value.

At the implementation stage, the buyer is trying to extract the desired value from the solution they have purchased.

For many solutions, this can be as simple as receiving the product or service and watching the benefits accrue.

For complex solutions, however, a lengthy process of installation, implementation, configuration, and commissioning can ensue.

Trouble lurks around every corner—propagating help requests and service tickets.

The buyer is looking to you, the vendor, for support.


(ii)      What types of questions is the buyer asking?

Typical questions at the implementation stage include:

·      When will I receive my product or service?

·      What do I need to do to be ready?

·      How do I make it work as advertised?

·      How do I extract the value that was promised during the sales process?

·      How can I get even more for my money than I anticipated?

·      How do I work around this issue that I’m facing?

·      Where can I get help learning about and operating my solution?

·      When the time comes, should I buy from this vendor again?

From the moment a purchase is made, part of the buyer’s brain is questioning whether they’ve made the right decision and whether they should follow the same path when future needs arise.

The implementation phase gives vendors a chance to show gratitude and support to customers, the first step toward turning them into loyal repeat buyers.


(iii)    What is NOT happening?

Popular misconceptions at the implementation stage include:

·      The buyer wants to be left alone. With few exceptions, this is the last thing the buyer wants. Instead, they want white glove treatment and immediate help whenever they need it.

·      Buyers understand how to implement solutions because they’ve just spent ages gathering information. Perhaps but not necessarily. It’s dangerous to assume a buyer knows what to do next. It’s much better to offer guidance and have the buyer refuse it than to remain silent and expect the buyer to seek it out.

·      Marketing has nothing to do now because the sale has been made. Gah. Just because a buyer issued a purchase order, it doesn’t mean the relationship is over or cast in stone. In fact, the relationship has only just begun!

(iv)     How should a vendor act?

Don’t be a stranger—but don’t be a pest, either.

Think about the best buying experiences you’ve had, especially ones where you made a major purchase, such as a car.

What sort of guidance and support did you want—and appreciate—as you took delivery of your purchase and put it to work?

How soon after the purchase did that process begin, and for how long did it continue?

In most cases, the answer is that it began the moment the purchase was consummated and continued for as long as you were a customer of that business.

At a minimum, provide your customer with the basic information they need to get started and make clear where and how they can find additional information and how they should contact you under different circumstances of need.


(v)      What role does content marketing play?

As we’ve just established, the implementation stage is about helping your customers realize the value that they expected when they made their purchase. Whenever you can help them exceed that value, it’s a bonus for them and for you.

Content for the implementation stage usually includes how-to guides, help videos, feature demonstrations, and FAQ.

Importantly, consider which elements of this content should be made accessible via which channels.

For example, customers expect to find how-to guides and help videos via self-service channels such as your website and YouTube channel.

FAQ can be listed on a webpage or delivered via a chatbot.

Other types of assistance require human intervention and diagnosis, so make sure the pathway for getting to that assistance is clear, response times are short, and the staff involved have the necessary content at their fingertips, ready to convey.


At the loyalty stage, buyers want their peers to know how great their purchase was (and how smart they are for having made it)

A Bite-Sized Guide to the Loyalty Stage

(i)       What is the buyer doing?

To some leaders’ surprise, there’s yet another stage in the buyer’s journey beyond implementation. We call it loyalty.

The buyer is busy enjoying the benefits of having purchased and implemented your solution, which hopefully means they are a satisfied customer.

Some of those customers will become repeat buyers whose loyalty to your brand is based on their experience throughout the journey so far.

At the loyalty stage, buyers are:

·      Evaluating how well your solution performed against what was promised and what they expected (not necessarily the same thing).

·      Deciding whether the same solution could be deployed elsewhere in their business.

·      Deciding whether to tackle other problems to which you might have solutions.

·      Choosing whether to tell other people about your company, brand, and solutions.

·      Congratulating themselves on making the brilliant decision to solve the challenge by purchasing your solution.


(ii)      What types of questions is the buyer asking?

Typical questions at the loyalty stage include:

·      Am I getting the value from this solution that I expected?

·      How should I measure and benchmark that value?

·      Do I see any opportunities for extracting more value in the current situation or by deploying similar solutions elsewhere in my business?

·      Are there other challenges I might tackle for which this vendor has solutions?

·      Who else needs to hear about this?

·      How can I grow my personal brand and reputation based on the success this purchase has generated?


(iii)    What is NOT happening?

Popular misconceptions at the loyalty stage include:

·      Buyers will always be loyal to brands that deliver solutions that work. This might be true in a market with little or no competition but in most of the real world, competitors are constantly working to undermine that loyalty and lure your customers away with new solutions and bigger promises.

·      Buyers want to be left alone to enjoy their solution. While true for some, most buyers want to feel valued and appreciated. They enjoy talking about the decision they made and the value they’ve created (with your help).

·      Advocacy is something a few loyal customers just decide to do. Buyers are busy people, so it never hurts to give them a nudge. Make them feel valued and special and then ask them to spread the word. Provide them with information about your brand that’s easy to share without sounding salesy.


(iv)     How should a vendor act?

Loyal customers are incredibly valuable to your business, so treat them accordingly.

Show them some love, make them feel valued, and invite them to contribute to future success by providing input on product development.

It’s much easier and cheaper to sell more to an existing customer than to win business from someone new.

It’s also much easier to sell to someone who has received a warm introduction and recommendation from an existing customer.

Cultivate long-term relationships, offer additional products and services that make sense (based on your detailed understanding of the customer’s situation), and reward advocacy with VIP treatment.


(v)      What role does content marketing play?

At the loyalty stage, it’s less about the content you share and more about how you share it.

Nevertheless, produce case histories and other shareable material that loyal customers can pass along to their peers.

Be sure to include customers’ names in your materials wherever it’s appropriate to do so and you have their permission. This makes the content feel more genuine and credible to prospective buyers and makes your existing customers look and feel good.


Dessert Bites: Wrapping up the B2B Buyer’s Journey

Hopefully you’ve realized that there’s a lot going on during the buyer’s journey.

It takes diligence and hard work to understand, map, and respond to each stage in the journey of each buying committee member—but that effort will be richly rewarded.

Now that you’ve digested the bite-sized descriptions of each stage, can you imagine approaching marketing from any other direction?

Start by clearly defining your ideal customer profile—the type of account that’s perfect for your company and makes it most successful—and the typical make-up of its buying committee.

Then, create buyer’s journey maps for each of the key people on that committee. Start with the 2-3 that are most influential or with whom you typically interact the most, then add others as time and resources permits.

The more detailed your buyer’s journey maps become, the easier it will be to anticipate and cater for your buyer’s needs, and the more likely you’ll become to win their business.


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