The B2B buying process and customer journey aren’t what they used to be.
Traditional B2B buying processes conjure images of a funnel, which prospective buyers enter neatly at the top and slide methodically down from educational content, to problem identification, to solution research.
At this point, the marketing team wraps the prospect up with a bow and hands them off to the sales team to work out the contract.
Today, this clean, linear idea of the B2B buyers’ journey of making purchase decisions is outdated and inaccurate.
Baby boomers are on their way out and millennials are on their way in. E-commerce is no longer a subsection of B2B buying — it is B2B buying. Buyers are relying on digital channels during every phase of their journey.
And again, research tells us that those phases are not linear.
So what does today’s B2B buying process look like? And how can you support this modern journey as a seller? Let’s dive in.
A Better B2B Buying Process
- Facilitate the entire B2B buying process online
- Support omnichannel experiences
- Make personalization the norm
- Support buying groups with more decision-makers
- Make purchasing your product a no-brainer
- Offer purchasing terms that attract buyers and increase AOV
- Create a consistent experience for your customers
The Truth About the B2B Buying Journey
If you have a solid handle on the traditional B2B sales process described above, don’t panic. Not everything has changed.
But what has changed, according to Gartner’s latest research, is that B2B customers are no longer following the steps in order as they make purchasing decisions. Instead, they’re tackling all the tasks simultaneously — making progress in one area, switching focus to another, then revisiting the first.
The shift comes down to today’s abundance of information. Today’s B2B buyers are empowered by a wealth of high-quality information that they simply didn’t have access to before.
Information uncovered during one task can influence previous work done on another task. As Gartner puts it, the buying journey looks less like a linear process and a “lot more like a big bowl of spaghetti.” Every decision point throughout the sales process is a potential driver to loop back to a previous question or decision.
Is it complex? Yes. Can it make your job as a B2B business more challenging? Sure. But for buyers, this is all excellent news, because better information leads to better purchasing decisions. And when customers are empowered to make better decisions, they’re happier with their purchases and more likely to stick with you.
The Critical Differences Between the B2C and B2B Buying Processes
Buying is in our DNA. From carefully choosing a candy bar at the convenience store to spending our hard-earned allowance on just the right games at the arcade, we’re all seasoned shoppers by the time we hit school age.
These days, we often hear the adage that there is no B2C or B2B — there’s only H2H (human to human). And while B2B buyers are certainly people too, the fact is there are still some key differences between the buying processes in these two spaces:
- B2B customers do a lot more proactive research and decision-making than B2C buyers. They’ve typically identified their needs well before engaging with a potential vendor.
- B2B purchases are often higher stakes. Deals can involve high dollar amounts and multi-year contracts.
- The B2B buying process is usually much longer than B2C. While B2C purchases can be quick and impulsive, B2B decisions inherently take longer since they involve more stakeholders.
- Often, the B2B “buyer” is actually a group of people with different responsibilities and priorities.
All of these factors play a role. To nail the customer experience and grow your business as a B2B seller, you need a solid plan to influence that journey.
The B2B Purchase Process: What Are Today’s Top Tasks?
The modern B2B buyer’s journey doesn’t fit into a tidy set of stages. Instead, it consists of purchasing tasks that customers revisit multiple times throughout the buying process. So what are these tasks exactly?
According to Gartner’s research, there are four main buying tasks:
- Identify the Problem: What problem will the purchase solve and what’s wrong with the current approach?
- Explore Solutions: What products are available to solve the problem?
- Build Requirements: What product functionalities and specifications will solve the problem?
- Select a Supplier: Evaluate potential vendors based on your group’s consensus on requirements.
When each task is complete, it must then be validated by the group. That’s why revisiting tasks is so common. According to Gartner, 75-80% of business buyers reported that they revisit all four tasks at least once.
6 Ways to Support a Modern Buying Process for Your B2B Customers
Now that you understand the complexity of B2B buying decisions, how can you give your buyers the best experience? Here are six ideas.
1. Facilitate the Entire B2B Buying Process Online
The pandemic only accelerated B2B’s shift online. According to Gartner, “Highly complex interactions, which traditionally required live, in-person site visits… are moving into virtual reality.”
Purchasing, quoting, negotiation, sampling, and deposit-taking are all crucial interactions that have largely become digitized.
Some marketplaces have all the tools you need to serve B2B customers, but if you choose a platform that doesn’t have these tools, or if you have a custom-built store, it’s a good idea to integrate new technologies like:
- Sales software with a customizable quoting system
- Customer service management software with ticketing capabilities
- Finance and client management software (invoicing, CRM, accounting)
- Secure payment portals with security certificates and split payment capabilities
- Cart abandonment and referral software
The right e-commerce tech stack will shorten your sales cycle and remove common barriers that can stand in the way of conversions.
2. Support Omnichannel B2B Experiences
Like everything else, B2B buyer enablement has changed. As boomers hang up their buying hats and millennials take up the reins, catering to buyers’ desire for an omnichannel experience is more important than ever.
Millennials are 2.2 times more skeptical of sales reps — so if your buying process hinges on your reps, it’s time to start offering alternate routes in the form of rich digital-only experiences.
Building an exciting digital experience starts with your website, but it pays to diversify your channels to reach a wider audience and give your business buyers the options they crave.
But before you rush to your Chief Revenue Officer with ideas to invest more in social media, consider the differences between B2B and B2C we discussed.
Most B2B customer relationships don’t form via social platforms or influencer campaigns like B2C. Often, the B2B journey starts because a company needs a particular product. The buyer goes on the hunt by:
- Heading to a tradeshow
- Looking through dedicated B2B forums
- Browsing (online) industry magazines and journals
- Hitting the search engines
- Asking for a referral from their peers
For these reasons, you’re often better off prioritizing organic traffic via SEO than trying to build customer relationships through social media. Thoughtful keyword research can help you get more organic traffic to your products and boost your PPC campaigns on B2B marketplaces and supplier search engines.
3. Make Personalization the Norm
The term “big data” has been around for decades — but most companies still haven’t mastered the skill of integrating prospect and customer data to provide a better experience and increase sales.
The biggest challenge has often been synthesizing data into action. Luckily, that is finally changing. Today, a growing number of tech solutions are starting to crack the code. According to Gartner, “the next five years will see the application of high-end analytics quickly fall from differentiator to table stakes.”
Soon, a personalized B2B buying process won’t just mean adding “name” fields into automated emails. It means an intentional, customized marketing strategy built to meet the needs of B2B e-commerce buyers.
Modern personalization looks like this:
- Customized product catalogs and pricing
- Deep role segmentation for each decision stakeholder
- Content sequences tailored to each B2B purchase decision maker
The most successful sellers will have dynamic customer engagement models that use data from all possible sources (customer service, tech support, sales, marketing) to deliver a personalized experience to every buyer.
4. Support Buying Groups with More Decision-Makers
We’ve established that working in groups is one of the main differences between B2B and B2C buyers. But that’s not all — the size of those groups is also growing.
Ten years ago, the average number of stakeholders in a B2B buying decision-making process was around five. Today, it’s closer to 11, and some groups report that upwards of 20 people are involved in making the most crucial buying decisions.
Imagine trying to build consensus with 11 colleagues who have different experiences, roles within the organization, and goals.
Not an enviable position, right?
Anything you can do to make that lengthy B2B purchase process easier will win you more sales and happier customers.
Here are a few ideas to make the road to buy-in easier:
- Conduct research to understand the most common personas involved in your B2B purchase decision.
- Create content for a range of buyer roles and make it easy to find.
- Provide resources to help buyers through every (nonlinear) buying task.
- Prioritize truly helping your audience through their buyer’s journey, even if it doesn’t lead them to your offer — if it’s not a fit, it’s not a fit.
5. Make Purchasing Your Products a No-Brainer
To sell more, you need to position your products as the best possible solution.
Your sales page, ads, and offer should make potential customers run a mile from your competitors and land in the safety of your store. Here’s how.
- Dazzle with Eye-Catching Photos and Videos: A picture is worth a thousand words, and media is crucial to capture your buyer’s attention. Consider including product videos, ebooks, whitepapers, case studies, tutorials, and other content that will make their decision easier.
- Craft an Irresistible Offer: In the B2B space, competition is tough. Take the time to craft an offer your customers can’t say ‘no’ to. Competitor and customer research are your best friends. Read your competitors’ reviews to uncover your customers’ pain points — and then address them in your offer.
- Sell the End Result in Your Copy: B2B stores are notorious for their robotic, sales-y product descriptions. Some even copy and paste the specifications they get from their manufacturer and call it a day, leaving deals on the table. Instead of listing features, highlight the benefits and outcomes your buyer will gain by buying from you.
- Show Your Wins: Social proof works, whether it’s B2C or B2B. To ensure your business turns heads, consider showcasing awards, reviews, testimonials, and influencer collaborations in your store. If you stand out from your competition on anything else — like payment methods or delivery times — call that out as well.
- Make It Easy for Buyers to Reach You: There are few things more annoying for a buyer than finding a great product but not being able to contact the supplier. It’s one of the quickest ways to turn a hot lead ice cold. To reduce friction in your B2B buying process, provide multiple ways for your potential buyer to get in touch, like social media, email, phone, and a contact form.
6. Offer Purchasing Terms That Attract Buyers and Increase AOV
All things being equal – product quality, shipping speed, price, etc. – what would make a buyer choose you when making a $10,000 purchase? More and better payment options. With SellersFi’s Buy Now, Pay Later solution, you can bring buyers the opportunity for better payment terms on their terms.
Forget waiting on the old 30-, 60-, and 90-day invoices and chasing down payments. When your customers choose Buy Now, Pay Later at checkout, you get paid ASAP, they get their products right away, and SellersFi takes on the risk and admin work.
Offering Buy Now, Pay Later is precisely the kind of benefit and differentiator that will make buyers choose you over other suppliers and keep those buyers coming back. Your customers get flexibility that helps with cash flow and you get paid without delay or risk. It’s a B2B win for everyone.
7. Create a Consistent Experience for Your Customers
B2B buying might not be the sexiest topic in the world, but when it goes wrong, it can really throw a wrench in your customers’ operations.
Here are a few ways to minimize unexpected chinks in your system:
- Plan for seasonality in stock requirements: Consider peak periods unique to your niche, estimated restocking times, key e-commerce dates (e.g. Black Friday), and planned promotions.
- Create manufacturing guidelines: Whether you work with overseas or domestic suppliers, information can get lost in translation or fall through the cracks of someone’s inbox. To avoid this, set out standard operating procedures for your manufacturers to follow for product packaging, labeling, and shipping requirements.
- Create supplier outreach templates: Make it easier to find and test potential suppliers by creating templates for each product type you sell. It should include basic info about your store, and product details like lead time required, quantities, and desired shipping method.
Future-Proof Your B2B Buying Process with the Right Tools (and Funding)
With so many experts, use cases, and strategies, it’s easy to default to traditional B2B buying models.
But if we’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s that B2B buyers face a more complicated purchasing process than ever. To become the dominant player in your niche, it’s crucial to understand that journey and be there for your prospects every step of the way.
You can do this by supporting omnichannel, fully-online buying experiences and making smart marketing decisions. To ensure long-term success in your B2B operations, flexible Working Capital can help.
With access to a line of credit of up to $5 million, you’ll be able to power up your marketing, test new B2B strategies, and invest in building a buying process that wins more deals, without sacrificing your existing cash flow and operations.
Curious to find out how much funding you’re eligible for? Register in just 3 minutes (it’s free) and find out which of our business-building tools you qualify for and just how much growth you can expect to see.