Chief Editor, Follow Your Buyer
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You will win more business if you create and properly distribute relevant content that truly helps buyers throughout the entire buyer’s journey. Before you read about the three stages of this buyer’s journey, pause here. Go back and read the article, “The B2B Buyer’s Journey: Explained.”
Now that you’re caught up, here are a few reminders about how B2B purchasing works. The buyer’s journey is not a sales funnel. It is not a process used to predict revenue. It is not a way for your marketing activities to shortcut the sales cycle. The buyer’s journey is not about you, the supplier. It’s about your buyers. Specifically, it’s about how your buyers solve their biggest challenges and capitalize on their biggest opportunities.
When a challenge or opportunity arises, buyers embark on a buyer’s journey. The Follow Your Buyer methodology relies on a buyer’s journey model adapted from Selling To The C-Suite by Nicholas Read and Stephen Bistritz. These authors explain the buyer’s journey as an eight-step process that takes place in three stages (early, middle, and late). Below, we’ll walk suppliers through each stage and step, plus we’ll outline specific actions related to each.
The early stage of the buyer’s journey is an awareness phase where buyers seek education, advice, and insight. Suppliers seek to create awareness and establish expertise. To do this, content can include objective and educational thought leadership articles but should have no overt supplier branding. The goal of supplier content in this stage is to start building trust in your brand.
A buyer’s journey starts as stakeholders learn about and gain agreement on issues negatively impacting the business or opportunities that would help the business grow. Issues can present from market forces or internal sources. This stage often has executive and department head involvement. Stakeholders likely have differing opinions on which opportunities or problems should be the highest priority.
In the “understand current issues” step, suppliers should:
Buyers are now ready to define what they hope to achieve and set a timeframe. Stakeholders are willing to accept information that helps them set accurate objectives.
Executives involved in the purchasing process will heavily influence this stage. Stakeholders try to define what is possible but may not actually know what is possible. Because of this, the buying group will typically choose a conservative objective even as executives tend to be more aggressive.
In the “establish objectives” step, suppliers should:
This is where buyers develop an action plan to achieve the established objectives (who, what, where, when, why). Success criteria is defined during this step in the buyer’s journey.
Areas of disagreement among the buying group can start to increase, especially if individual stakeholders have a vested interest in a specific strategy. Subordinate stakeholders begin to have more involvement as top executives start looking for their input.
In the “set strategy” step, suppliers should:
The middle stage of the buyer’s journey is an evaluation phase where buyers try to solve a specific problem. Suppliers seek to further establish expertise and introduce solutions. To do this, content formats like case studies and comparative research can be lightly branded. The goal of content in this stage is to continue educating buyers in a way that aligns their journey with your products/services.
Stakeholders are tasked with researching products/services to present to the buying group. If the “set strategy” step is what buyers are going to do, this step focuses on how buyers are going to do it.
Buyers will develop ways to review progress and will start to develop a budget. Executives and department heads will start delegating action items, which means the numbers of stakeholders will increase, leading to more and more disparate opinions. Disagreement will often lead back to what is familiar to the buyer. If you are not the incumbent supplier, or if your product/service is not the status quo, you’ll need to prove there is a better option.
In the “explore options” step, suppliers should:
Buyers start to evaluate what capabilities are required from specific product/service options. Only now do buyers begin to make a list of suppliers they might want to work with.
Those stakeholders closest to the challenge or opportunity will determine the specifications of the products/services needed. Individual stakeholders who have suppliers they prefer may try to steer the criteria to match their preferred suppliers. If you have done an effective job in helping the buyer determine effective options to solve their problem, you have a better chance of the criteria being set to match your solution. If the status quo is the default choice, price becomes more of a factor.
In the “set vendor criteria” step, suppliers should:
The late stage of the buyer’s journey is the purchase phase where buyers are ready to decide on a solution. Suppliers seek to convert leads to customers. To do this, content formats like product/service descriptions and application notes can be heavily branded. The goal of content in this stage is to persuade the buyer that your products/services meet their needs.
This is often the stage where buyers first reach out to suppliers for proposals. Suppliers who have provided helpful content up to this point will increase their chances of being considered.
It is difficult to get buyers to slow down and consider other options since they have already done so much work leading up to this step. Suppliers who have not differentiated themselves at this point risk being judged solely on price.
In the “examine alternatives” step, suppliers should:
Buyers are now ready to make a purchase and roll out the product/service. Stakeholders whose option was chosen want the negotiation, purchase, payment, and implementation process to go smoothly and reflect positively on them. Conversely, stakeholders whose option was not chosen may look to undermine the process. Executives will get involved again to make a final decision based on the recommendations of the buying group.
In the “plan implementation” step, suppliers should:
Now the buyer wants to validate if the purchase is helping solve the issue that started their buyer’s journey. ROI is measured using the success criteria from the “set strategy” step.
Executives are very involved in measuring ROI, often through reporting from department heads and buying group stakeholders. If the supplier performs well, they get plugged into future buyer’s journeys, often as the standard that other suppliers must exceed. If the supplier performs poorly, a new buyer’s journey with new suppliers will be triggered. This stage is where suppliers either make stakeholders look really good or really bad.
In the “measure results” step, suppliers should:
If all of this sounds challenging for suppliers, just remember that it is even more confusing for buyers to navigate the buyer’s journey. Too many suppliers try to force buyers through their sales cycle. Buyers are frustrated by the flood of content that only seeks to sell them something instead of helping them accomplish an outcome.
The best way for suppliers to win more business is to follow buyers throughout their purchasing journey, providing helpful content throughout each stage and each step. The best B2B marketers not only attempt to inform buyers throughout their journey but also learn how to add value through content.
We will not be great by what we accomplish, but by what we help others accomplish.How does this apply to your work as a B2B marketer?
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Learning to follow your buyer is a change in mindset
A transition from selling buyers on what you do to helping them accomplish what they do.