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Understanding and mapping the B2B buyer journey

12 min read
Mapping out and understanding your B2B buyer journey is key for understanding the moments that matter for your customers. Learn how to map out your B2B buyer journey and set the stage for the customer journeys that follows.

Your B2B buyer journey is the make-or-break-it sales approach to potential customers. Understanding how to map it and take action on gaps can be the difference between a customer signing on and a potential buyer looking for an alternative partner.

What is the B2B buyer journey?

Your B2B buyer journey is the complete process a buyer will go through, starting from initial awareness of your brand, to the evaluation of your products and services, to finally taking the decision to make a purchase.

It’s most often thought of as initial stepping stone for potential new customers to start their ongoing sales journey with you, but there is also enormous potential for driving organic growth from existing customers through cross-sell and up-sell.

There are many components to an overall customer journey, including things like delivery and customer service, but to ensure there is adequate focus on growth the B2B buyer journey really seeks out those hooks for potentially interested parties and gets them on board to complete their purchasing journey.

How is the B2B journey different to the B2C buyer journey?

In the B2C market, potential buyers are usually individuals or families, with specific needs particular to themselves. They might be most concerned with convenience or their personal financial ability to buy your products or services. Relationships might be formed over a shorter period of time, with sales and marketing targeted at a very broad customer base via market segments or personas.

In the B2B market, the concept of a customer needs to be thought of differently, and often includes multiple stakeholders. They may have varying interests, concerns and goals. Stakeholders can span from the Executive buyer to the end user and related functions, such as procurement and legal. Relationships might be formed over a longer period of time, with sales and account management resources targeted specifically at that individual customer. Your relationship will be built with more than just the final decision maker – the aggregated connection you create with all stakeholders will make the account a success.

Why is the journey so important?

As mentioned, the buyer journey generally shapes a customer’s route through to the purchase process. Understanding buyer behaviour during this process can greatly improve your chances of upselling and retaining your customers later down the line.

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B2B buyer journey stages

The B2B buyer’s journey is often divided into three parts: Awareness, Consideration, and Decision. All three stages require an understanding of buying behaviour particular to your customer segmentation and target personas.

1. Awareness

In this stage, the buyer is just beginning to get awareness of your company, your products and your services. This awareness is driven by your marketing team members with support from your sales and customer success teams.

In this stage, it is critical to demonstrate you understand the prospect or client’s real business needs and customer pain points, and can highlight the corresponding ways in which your business can help meet these needs. Here, marketing teams will be in content creation mode, creating content and leveraging digital channels such as websites and social media platforms that your sales and account teams can use as leverage to speak to potential customers.

2. Consideration

This stage is about showing how you can help resolve their pain points in a way that builds confidence in the quality and competitiveness of your offering.

Case studies, expert guides, effective in-person engagement and comparative content can help your sales team in lead nurturing once potential customers are aware of your solutions.

3. Decision

At this stage, your potential customers will be making decisions on which products or services they are most interested in. They might reach out to sales, but to help them along to the purchase process, sales reps might need marketing support with product demos, testimonials and product reviews to push marketing leads into sales lead generation.

B2B customer segmentation

To begin your buyer journey, you’ll first need to gather data and segment your potential customers so you can narrow down who is most likely to make a purchase.

1. Gather your data

In this step, you’re collating all the market research data you might need on potential customers. You might focus on industry, company size, location, technologies used or more. Discard companies that aren’t right for your business, but keep ones who might have a potential interest for further segmentation.

2. Create your tiers

Once you’ve got your list of potential accounts, narrow them down into tiers. These could be divided into your largest Tier 1 customers  – your key accounts that you want to prioritise – and further tiers. This way, you can develop a strategy for the maximum ROI for your marketing output.

3. Separate according to need

Though you can divide the businesses in your tiers by industry, often customer needs will transcend the sector they’re based in. You can often determine needs by what might drive your customer to your business – do they need more efficient software, or are the current products they use at risk of being deemed obsolete?

4. Divide according to customer development and sophistication

Segmenting the businesses you consider potential leads by their sophistication can help you to establish exactly at what level you need to offer your services or products. For example, a highly sophisticated software provider might not need basic cloud hosting services – but they might need your highly secure package. Similarly, offering too complex a service for a basic need is also likely to lose you potential business.

5. Segment according to behaviour

Sometimes, needs and sophistication aren’t as helpful as dividing your potential customers according to their behaviour. Some businesses prefer working with suppliers for many years, whereas others are more price-focused and will seek the best deal. By segmenting buyers in this way, you can tailor your marketing and sales efforts to really shape your offering to what your leads will want.

B2B target personas

Rather than starting your buyer journey aiming at all potential customers in a particular segment, it’s better to narrow down your focus to those who will find your business relevant and useful.

Before starting to create your B2B buyer journey, creating target personas can help you figure out some key factors:

  •         Who is most likely to follow through to the purchase process?
  •         What pain points can you solve?
  •         Which marketing strategy is best to take your potential customers from knowing nothing about your brand to becoming buyers?

Your B2B target personas should include:

  •         Demographics (age, occupation, decision-making capacity)
  •         Goals (such as profitability or growth)
  •         Their key factors for choosing a supplier
  •         Their basic requirements
  •         Their pain points
  •         Brands they may already be using
  •         How they prefer to interact (email, face-to-face, web chat etc.)

Remember, though you might have created one persona per segment, B2B customers often have multiple people involved in the decision making process. You might need to create a group of personas per segment to better reflect the needs you’ll have to fulfil.

Once you’ve built a set of personas, you can begin planning your buyer journey stages.

Mapping and optimising the B2B buyer journey

The B2B buyer journey is often non-linear, making a map vital for understanding how your potential customers arrive at the decision to make a purchase.

By tracking your potential customers’ journey using data, you can follow their path from your content and your marketing outreach through your platforms, all the way to initial contact with the sales team.

Following the suggested buyer journey stages is a good way to start the process. However, truly understanding what has led customers to the decision to buy involves an understanding of their motives, tracking their arrival to your solutions, and continually optimizing their journey for conversions.

1. Narrow down the reason for their interest

There are many reasons why a customer might be driven to undergo the journey to purchasing your products, but segmenting your potential leads further can help identify them.

Are they:

  •         Looking for a solution to a problem?
  •         Scoping out their potential requirements?
  •         Searching for a new supplier?

By grouping customers you encounter according to their intent, you can create multiple buyer journeys that are tailored to resolving specific needs.

2. Understand how customers arrive at your content

Your journey might even start earlier than your content, with potential buyers using search engines to look for potential solutions. Tailoring your content to those searches can help to draw the right audience to your top-of-funnel content that starts the B2B buyer journey. By understanding their start point, you can figure out how to guide them to your end point.

3. Track conversions

Data will be the greatest help for understanding how customers arrive at the end point of their buyer journey. By looking at how customers find your content, engage with your content, and move on to the next stage of the journey, you can keep doing what works and discard what doesn’t. You can also quickly identify gaps where you lose customers and provide more content and sales effort to compensate.

4. Continually adapt

Remember, your B2B buyer journey is not fixed, but flexible.

What works for one customer one time might not work a year or two down the line for another. Constantly updating your B2B buyer journey according to your data and insights will help to make sure you’re still meeting needs for each individual customer.

Adding B2B buyer journey optimisation into your CX strategy

Your B2B buyer journey is important, but it only forms part of your overall customer experience. Your CX program should ideally include data analysis, win/loss optimisation, and customer retention strategies alongside your buyer journey efforts.

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