The new B2B purchase process
For better or worse, unlimited access to information has fundamentally changed the buying process. Rather than seeking guidance from a salesperson, consumers and B2B buyers spend considerable time researching online before ever talking with anyone from the vendor’s company.
A customer journey map gives B2B suppliers an effective model for how and where to connect with customers during this pre-sales research period. Marketing automation systems allow marketers to deliver increasingly detailed information to buyers to help move them from awareness to purchase. As buyers near the bottom of the funnel, sales reps ramp up their efforts, in hopes of securing a conversation, being able to show a demo, and move the process toward a deal.
Yet, that final inch can feel like a mile, or an eternity. Anyone who has engaged in this process knows that the plethora of options, opinions and information customers encounter—whether online or in person—is overwhelming.
According to Gartner, “77% of buyers agree that purchasing has become very complex and difficult.” Further, “Today’s B2B buying involves more stakeholders than ever before. The median B2B buying group involves six to 10 decision makers‚ each armed with four or five pieces of information they have gathered for themselves.”*
How can companies help buyers get to the finish line? It’s time to think about the purchasing process differently.
A job-based model of B2B purchasing
The customer journey is predicated on the idea that once buyers become aware of a problem or potential solution, they move in a generally forward manner toward decision and purchase. Along the way, they will seek and encounter various pieces of content that will help propel them toward purchase. But what if this process is not linear, and actually involves a fair amount of circling and backtracking? And what if the very content suppliers are providing contributes to this backtracking?
In the recent Marketing-Fueled Buyer Enablement report based on primary research, Gartner identifies six distinct jobs in the buying process: problem identification, solution exploration, requirements building, supplier selection, validation, and consensus creation.
Let’s take a quick look at each of these tasks.
The jumping off point for every B2B purchase, this job entails pinpointing the problem that needs to be addressed. To do this, buyers may conduct research online and download content such as white papers and reports. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by information at this stage, and while problem identification seems straightforward, buyers may return to it as they improve their understanding of the source or scope of the problem.
This job is all about identifying the available solutions to the problem. This may include web searches, online and in-person discussions with peers, speaking to supplier reps at a tradeshow or event, reading customer reviews, and more.
In this step, buyers look more specifically at how the solution will function in their own company. They may create and evaluate responses to an RFP, view demos, and download resources to answer questions such as, Which systems will this solution need to integrate with? How will the solution fit in with our company’s existing processes and procedures? Because different solutions may have different requirements, buyers may need to return to this step multiple times during the purchase process.
Once buyers understand their internal requirements for the solution, they can narrow down the list of suppliers to those that meet their needs. Buying group changes, budget cuts, and legal flags are just some of the circumstances that might send buyers back to explore additional solutions before they can complete this step.
During this stage, buyers will evaluate their chosen solution by corroborating suppliers’ claims, soliciting end user feedback and references, and looking at third-party expert analyses. This is one of two jobs that Gartner considers to be “always-on” during the purchase process.
At the end of the day, buyers must be able to convince the rest of the buying group of the merits of their chosen solution. But consensus building tasks begin much earlier, as buyers work to develop a shared understanding of the problem and requirements, and continue throughout the process as buyers educate other stakeholders about what they have learned, work to deconflict information found through separate research processes, and ultimately agree on a solution.
As in any complex process, these jobs are not strictly linear. According to Gartner, “90% of buyers reported revisiting, or looping back to at least one job as part of their overall purchasing process.” From this vantage point, we believe it’s clear that buyers need help navigating this process. Suppliers that can provide this help will be at a significant advantage.
Shifting the focus to buyer enablement
Gartner’s term “buyer enablement” describes a very specific type of content marketing: information that enables customers to complete critical buying jobs.
“Instead of focusing content marketers’ efforts on constant generation of thought leadership, white papers, infographics and videos, marketing leaders should rebalance their content efforts, capitalizing on their deep industry knowledge and customer empathy to develop and deploy information to help buyers buy‚” says Martha Mathers, Managing VP, Gartner.
We believe that suppliers who can ease the buying process for customers will enjoy faster sales. But that’s not all. A less complex process has a value in and of itself, and suppliers who can facilitate it are likely to foster greater customer satisfaction as well.
Where does this leave sales?
Is this the end of marketing and sales as we know it? No. Based on this new model, marketing and sales alignment becomes more important than ever. Sales and marketing need to draw on their collective expertise and work together to create and deploy the high-quality tools that make it easier for customers to navigate and complete the purchase process.
Modern B2B buyers get their information from multiple sources, including online searches and conversations with sales reps, so it’s most important that they get relevant and consistent information, no matter how they’re engaging with the supplier.
At Insightly, we offer a free needs assessment and customized product demos to help our potential customers decide whether our solutions are right for them. To learn more about Insightly’s unified platform for sales, marketing, and project management, request a demo and let’s talk.
*Gartner for Marketers “Marketing-Fueled Buyer Enablement,” 2019