Today, given the ever-increasing choice of suppliers, and limited attention spans of B2B buyers, the only way to thrive in international markets is to design marketing and sales processes around the way customers buy.
This is called “the buyer’s journey” and it is essential element of inbound marketing.
Having a well-planned buyer’s journey will allow you to grow your b2b sales pipeline. Generate more leads with a smaller team and optimise your marketing spend at every stage of the buyer’s journey.
Let’s start with a brief overview of how the B2B buyers of today make their purchases.
B2B buying behaviour has undergone significant change in recent decades due to the increased availability of digital technologies. The most significant change to have taken place is that buyers now take much more ownership of the buying journey.
Before contacting a sales representative, they will already have consumed 3-4 units of marketing content. So the best thing a seller can do is to make buying journeys a path of least resistance. Make it truly easy for customers to find and consume information and then gently guide them thtough the purchasing process.
A good illustration of how buying behaviour has changed is provided in the McKinsey study of the way passenger cars are purchased. Fifteen years ago, buyers would make over six visits to dealerships before making a purchase. Today, the average is down to 1.6.
The same behaviour is reflected in B2B markets. Buyers want to be in control of the process and learn on their own, instead of being lectured to by sales reps.
In fact, most buyers only want to talk with sellers when they have already completed their research and developed suppliers shortlist. Recent research by Hubspot Research indicates that 60% of buyers only want to talk with salesperson when they already have made a shorlist.
Unless buyers were able to engage with your marketing content to research your solution, there is a slim chance you will get on the shortlist.
Because of this change, what happens before customer contacts sales representative has become critically important. This is exactly the reason why planning your customers’ journey is essential for business success and why it is at the foundation of modern B2B marketing.
“The buyer’s journey” is a marketing concept that looks at customers’ behaviour as they progress towards the purchase as a process made up of several steps.
One way to look at the buyer’s journey is to view it in terms of possible questions that buyers might have at various phases of the buyer’s journey.
Early on in the buying journey, customers might need to be made aware that they have a problem. Later on, the customer will be looking to learn more about the problem and looking for ways to solve it. At this point a guide on how to solve the problem would come in handy.
The seller’s objective in this regard should be to come up with answers to all these questions and answer them via various types of marketing content.
Below is a simple example of a buyer’s journey (credit: Boston Interactive)
Note that each phase has its own business goals and content types that are most likely to answer questions that customers might have at each stage.
Today, most product research activities take place online. Modern marketing analytics allow for a precise understanding of customer behaviour and conversion rates at each stage. As a result, it is possible (and indeed necessary) to optimise customer flow right from the first visit to the website. This presents unprecedented possibilities to increase the efficiency of the marketing and sales process, to do more with a smaller team and to outperform the competition.
Today, competition takes place between different buying journeys. If you create a path of least resistance for the buyer, you have the upper hand over the competition.
The purpose of each stage of the buying journey is to prepare and gently drive customers on to the next stage.
To move customers ahead in their buying journey, compelling marketing content is developed, including white papers, infographics, product videos webinars, etc. The most valuable content, such as white papers, webinars and economic justification tools, are exchanged for customer contact information.
After customers’ contacts have been obtained, marketing automoation comes into play. Customer will start receiving automated flows of marketing content designed to increase customer understanding of the product and develop buying intent.
Once marketing analytics indicate that customers have been sufficiently educated about the product and are demonstrating a high level of interest, it is considered that a marketing qualified lead has been gegnerated and customer details are handed over to sales team to initiate a sales conversation.
In this way it is possible, to a considerable extent, to automate b2b lead generation and focus the efforts of the sales team on customers who are already ready to buy.
This process and marketing automation technology thus enables even a small marketing and sales team to work at very high level of productivity.
Early in their customer journey, customers are mostly concerned about product features.
In fact, they might have found your solution specifically because of the innovative features of your product. Later in the buying journey, customers are more concerned with risk, and therefore it is essential to make sure you cover areas of potential customer concern in your communication.
In a recent LinkedIn study, trust in relationship came up as the most important factor when deciding about purchases (this was also found in a number of other studies of B2B customers). Reliability was followed by financial considerations (ROI) and price came only third.
When thinking about your buyer’s journey, it is very important to make sure that things such as warranties, quality procedures, customer support policy and returns (if relevant) are explicitly described and available to customers. It will also help if company management and sales representatives have a professional online presence, particularly on LinkedIn.
When planning your buyers’s journeys its a good practice to consider FUD as your key competitor.
What is FUD and why should you care?
FUD is fear, uncertainty and doubt that your customers are likely to feel about your solution.
Moreover – FUD is something your competitors will try to seed in your buyers’ mind about you.
FUD is why your competitors with inferiour and more expensive products win, FUD is also the reason why customers sometimes do not make a planned purchase at all.
Nobody wants to be blamed for spending money on unreliable product.
If you have a substantial number of customers excited about your product features but very few actual buyers, it may indicate that there are FUD issues, whether justified or not, with what you are offering.
In B2B solutions sales, sales cycles are frequently measured in months and it is not uncommon for them to last over a year.
It is likely that while preparing to make a purchase decision, customers will consider more than one supplier.
Under these conditions it is important to always remain upmost in the customer’s mind.
How can you do this?
A good way to keep existing and potential customers informed is to issue a company newsletter. But at some phases of the buying journey it is necessary to do more than this; a good example is sending a weekly e-mail with tips for product use during the exploration phase.
Sending information frequently serves an important psychological purpose. People tend to value as more important information they received recently and information they receive regularly. This develops a positive attitude towards the sending entity. Social psychologists call it recency bias and availability bias.
In most industries the customer doesn’t have the possibility to fully experience and evaluate the product before making a purchase. In the software market – and particularly the Software-as-a-service market – you want customers to have used your product well before they make the payment.
For this industry, the trial period is critically important in order to make sure customer is getting the experience they want; therefore, investing in different customer success activities makes total sense, starting from interactive starting guides, to onboarding e-mail sequences, to chatbots, to dedicated customer success manager.
If customer has gone as far as starting the trial, the significant amount spent on marketing to acquire the customer has already been worth it.
At the same time, they are quite likely to be worth tens or perhaps hundred times more in terms of expected customer lifetime value – if they actually become a paying customer, that is.
Because of the recurring business nature of SaaS, it is necessary to consider buyers journey as continuous process. You need to prove your product worth all the time and you should be ready to re-engage in marketing and sales process to the existing customers all the time.
No customer will start paying after the trial period unless they can get a good return for their money, so carefully calculate how much you want to invest in customer success. Chances are, it’s worth investing much more than you think.
There is inevitably customer churn during the buying journey.
In fact, on average as few as 2-4% of visitors to a website take any of the actions that the seller desires them to. In B2B business it is not unusual that even less than one per cent take any action, such as registration for content or contacting the seller.
Not all of this churn is necessarily bad. If customers discover early on that your solution cannot meet their needs – that’s great! You will not use up your precious energy only to discover after a number of sales calls that the solution doesn’t fit their needs.
While some customer churn is expected, it is well worth identifying customers that haven’t returned to your website in a while or haven’t been reading your e-mails.
Remarketing is a good, and highly cost-efficient way to do exactly that. Have you ever noticed that banners from recently visited website follow you even when you’re on a completely unrelated sites? These are examples of remarketing.
While remarketing returns only a small fraction of lost customers to the buyer’s journey, because you are only paying for actual clicks, it is in fact an extremely efficient way indeed to re-engage potential customers.
To make your buyer’s journey as efficient as possible, you need to design it around your buyers’ specific personalities.
It is quite common to designate marketing content as targeted to business decision-makers or technical decision-makers; however, this alone is not enough to maximise sales opportunities.
To maximise the efficiency of your buyer’s journeys, it needs to be designed with very specific buyers personas in mind. One should consider customers’ demographics, interests, values, objectives, role in their organisation and other factors for each type of buyer’s persona that participates in the buying decision.
A simple buyer persona example is shown below (credit: OnePageCRM).
While a well-planned buyer’s journey creates an easy way for customer to progress towards buying decisions, it also significantly improves customers’ understanding of the solution. Videos of the solution, how-to guides, webinars and other marketing content educates potential customers. This means that when customers are ready to contact a sales representative, most of their product questions have been answered already.
As are result, salespeople do not need to spend precious 1-to-1 time in educating customers or answering simple questions that could be easily answered with simple solutions videos or over a webinar.
Instead, sales people can work with qualified and educated leads and make progress to closing the sale much faster.
What’s more, customers whose needs cannot be met by your solutions will discover this early on and on their own, which means that salespeople’s time will never be taken up only to discover later that for some reason the specific needs of the customer cannot be met.
Traditionally, there has been a significant gap between marketing and sales functions in companies, and, for most established companies, closing this gap presents a considerable organisational challenge.
To succeed in the implementation of the inbound marketing principles, it is essential for marketing and sales teams to work together and have a shared understanding of the buyer’s journey from start to finish.
The sales team needs to understand the marketing part of the journey and actively contribute to designing it, while the marketing team needs to have a good understanding of the B2B sales process and the needs of the sales team. Companies’ management should oversee this process at the executive level and adjust incentives to stimulate collaboration.
A good starting point is for both teams to agree on definitions and criteria of qualified leads. Once sales start recieving qualified leads, they will be much more open to collaborate and help marketing to finetune its work.
Perhaps the fastest and most efficient way to improve lead generation is to use an external consultant who can help with planning your buyer’s journey, developing marketing content, implementing marketing automation and running underlying marketing analytics, while at the same time training the company’s personnel to understand and make the most of the buyer’s journey.
IBD Consulting is a management consultancy focussed on increasing international sales in B2B markets. Our Digital Sales Engine methodology allows clients to quickly implement marketing and sales processes to significantly increase their international sales.