Understanding Path to Purchase for Today’s B2B Buyer

For B2B companies, today’s path to purchase is more complex than ever before. So where does that leave you, when it’s Q1 and marketing needs to choose which programs to invest in and sales needs to hit formidable revenue goals? It is up to the organization to gain control of the buyer’s journey, simplify it, and drive revenue through it. In the age of the consumer, customer-centricity is increasingly important, a situation in which companies must adopt a customers-first attitude and adapt to ever-evolving customer behavior.

Challenges for the Seller

The complex path to purchase that we have come to recognize today presents two main challenges to the vendor.

1) Non-linear path to purchase

Conventionally, consumers entered the top of the sales funnel, advanced linearly as a sales rep guided them from one stage to the next, and then dropped out at the bottom. But today, the B2B selling space is in a constant state of flux with funnel dynamics constantly shifting and buyers becoming increasingly better informed. Another key difference in today’s path to purchase is that prospects can drop in and fall out at any stage in the buying journey. Thus, a one-size-fits-all solution is no longer applicable and simply will not work in the modern marketplace.

2) Competing priorities between marketing and sales

Marketing has traditionally been measured on top-of-funnel metrics, and sales was typically measured on bottom-of-funnel metrics. But with this strategy, marketing may try to get as many people into the funnel as possible, without necessarily applying stringent qualification processes. And sales may feel so pressured to make a sale that they sell a dream now at the expense of renewals and upsells later. The result is misspent marketing dollars and lost sales, a situation many organizations can’t afford to be in.

In the process outlined below, you will notice that an integral aspect to understanding prospect path to purchase is alignment and partnership between sales and marketing. Both departments need to understand the buying process and share vital pieces of information so that the organization can always be improving.

Understanding the Path to Purchase

The best way to handle the constantly evolving buying process is to understand it so that you can make informed decisions. When companies invest the time and resources up front to understand how and when people buy, they will see return in the long run in the form of a shorter buying cycle, higher revenue, and an enhanced customer experience.

Step 1: Collect the data

With the pace of change in the B2B selling space, the power of data and analytics cannot be ignored. Data is how you know what is working, areas you can improve, and opportunities for new sales strategies or processes. Everything within the sales organization, including the customer journey, can be improved with data.

Consider key metrics such as conversion rates from one stage to the next, types of content prospects engage with, search keywords used by inbound leads, time spent on specific pages on the website, and time spent in different stages of the journey. With these insights, amongst many others, organizations can make informed decisions about next steps for the company.

Step 2: Look for patterns

Use the data collected in step 1 to look for patterns in the path to purchase. This information will help sales and marketing to better comprehend the market, identify drivers behind purchase intent, and provide more relevant and engaging content that will advance prospects.

A key to understanding the path to purchase lies in understanding who are your buyers. Profiling is effective here because it helps to break down your audience into more manageable chunks and identify commonalities. Consider demographic factors such as age, generational cohort, gender, job title / occupation, seniority, company size, industry, and number of employees. And consider psychographic factors such as attitude, interests, opinions, and pain points. When demographic, geographic, and psychographic information is considered simultaneously, marketers are able to create a more holistic, highly-detailed customer profile, which gives them the ability to predict with greater accuracy how prospects will react to content and messaging and how they will travel through the buying journey.

Additionally, consider prospect activities. Do buyers look at the same pieces or types of content before advancing to a particular stage? Do prospects that inbound from social media flow differently through the buying process versus leads from events? Are buyers quicker to take action following certain messages? Are there evident friction points in your process that are causing prospects to drop out?

Step 3: Pinpoint roadblocks and challenges

There are a couple main challenges that your reps will likely encounter on their prospects’ paths to purchase. How you handle them can influence the outcome of the deal.

Buying committees – B2B buyers have increased the number of team members involved in the purchase process, giving way to the “consensus sale”. Not there are at least 7 executives involved in a B2B buying decision on average, with some buying committees having upwards of 20 people. But while most of these people will represent different demographic profiles, many will likely share the same psychographic traits, i.e. multiple people experiencing the same or similar pain points. With this information, your sales reps will be better equipped to effectively guide the conversation and share pieces of content proven to progress similar-scenario prospects through the pipeline.

Competition – As a vendor, you are likely competing against other projects / priorities for the prospect, other vendors, and the status quo>. You must help the buyer validate their decision to consider you in their purchase process and not eliminate you immediately. With regards to the status quo, prospects will consider doing nothing in order to reduce their risk. To overcome this challenge, reps need to be prepared to develop a compelling case for change,

Step 4: Determine influences in the purchase process

Other than peer influence, content is one of the biggest factors that can have an impact on the buyer’s path to purchase. Buyers no longer depend on vendors for key pieces of information about products, solutions, and the industry in general. Your prospects now have access to a staggering volume of information, including that which is out of your control, such as reviews and recommendations from peers. In fact, studies show that for every individual piece of content that prospects engage with from you, they consume 10 pieces from 3rd-party sources. For this reason, it’s important to leverage the influence that you do have. Make sure that your decision makers are able to find the content that they are looking for and that your reps share the right content at the right time to engage prospects and advance them.

Customer experience is also increasingly important in the modern path to purchase. In this era of customization, B2B buyers expect an individualized purchase process and solution that takes into consideration their unique challenges and priorities. It is key that organizations create a buying experience that is engaging, educational, and personalized to the individual and their needs and stage in the buying journey. This strategy becomes even more valuable when considering the lifetime value of a customer, as sales experience is worth 53% of the buyer’s likelihood to be a loyal customer and brand advocate. In understanding the path to purchase, companies will be better equipped to guide and tailor the customer experience.

Step 5: Identify opportunities for simplification and improvement.

The path to purchase is constantly evolving, so your evaluation of the buyer journey should be an ongoing activity. Regularly perform steps 1 – 4 and update your knowledge of the purchase process. As you go, consider the following questions:

  • Are you missing key pieces of content or messaging?
  • How can you simplify the buying process?
  • What can you do to reduce those friction points?
  • How can you further personalize the customer experience?
  • Are there additional stages where you can add value?

One key element that will help organizations to take control of the path to purchase and play an active role in guiding prospects to a buying decision is sales enablement technology. A sales enablement tool ensures that every sales rep has the required knowledge, insights, and content to optimize each engagement with prospects and advance the deal. And it provides feedback to marketing about what content and messaging gets used, where there are gaps in the content library, and which pieces of collateral generate the highest ROI.

Now take this evaluation process a step further. Undergo similar measures to better understand and improve the post-purchase process, where customers will undergo similar processes in their decision to renew, upgrade, or add-on.

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