Times have changed for B2B salespeople.
Not too long ago, buyers used to do light research on a solution before reaching out to a sales rep for more detailed information. These interactions helped educate buyers about the product. But they also gave salespeople all the power when it came to controlling the buyer’s journey.
These days, however, the buyer’s journey is in the hands of the buyer. Pricing, product features, case studies—these sales assets (and many more) are typically all available online. And buyers now move through 70% of the buyer’s journey on their own, not at the urging of a sales rep.
So, how do you navigate this new B2B selling landscape? And how do you determine what your own buyer’s journey is for your ideal customers?
That’s exactly what this guide examines. Inside, we’ll be defining the buyer’s journey, explaining how it’s changed over the years (and what that means for you), and detailing what you need to consider when redefining your buyer’s journey.
What Is the Buyer’s Journey?
As a quick refresher, let’s outline exactly what a buyer journey is. Also known as a customer journey or purchase cycle, a buyer’s journey is essentially how your buyers go from being unaware of their problem to deciding to purchase your solution.
As you know, buyers don’t wake up one day and make purchase decisions on a whim (especially true in the B2B world). Instead, buyers need to first recognize they have a problem, learn more about it, and research the best solutions before deciding on a solution.
The length of a buyer’s journey tends to depend on the level of risk involved.
For pricier solutions, the buyer’s journey is longer. Buyers need to do more research to justify their purchase. And they’ll need more convincing to jump onboard.
For less expensive solutions, the opposite is true. With less at stake, buyers feel more comfortable making quick decisions.
As a buyer progresses through different stages of the customer journey, they’ll have different concerns that need addressing before moving to the next stage. And it’s your job as a successful sales rep to meet those needs every step of the way.
For example if your buyer is already at the consideration stage because they’ve consumed someone elses inbound marketing efforts then their buying process is nearly complete and it’s going to be difficult to win business from them.
Alternatively, if you’re prospecting a slightly different buyer persona and they’re still in the research and decision process then you’ve still got a chance to solve a pain point or two and influence their purchase process.
Breaking Down the Buyer’s Journey Stages
So, what are the buyer’s journey stages? First, let’s take a closer look.
- No Awareness – This stage is when the buyer doesn’t even know they have a problem. That can mean they’re entirely unaware of it in the first place, or (more likely) they don’t understand that a current inefficiency can actually be fixed.
- Awareness stage – This is when the buyer acknowledges the problem exists and seeks out more information about it. A buyer in this stage will respond to content types that examine their problem and shed light on why this problem exists in the first place.
- Exploring Solutions – Now that your buyer fully understands the problem they’re dealing with, they’re going to start researching solutions. What types of solutions are out there on the market? And which type will fix their problem?
- Comparing Vendors – This is when buyers get into the nitty-gritty. After determining the solution type, it’s time to drill down into how the vendors stack up against one another. Which has the most valuable features? How do they compare on price? And what services will align best with their business?
- Purchase Decision – The final stage of the B2B buyer’s journey is making a purchase decision. This stage is when buyers have settled on a solution but still need a bit of a push over the edge. They need reinforcement that they’re doing the right thing. And they need reassurance that this solution is right for them.
Then Vs. Now – What’s Changed in the B2B Buyer’s Journey?
While the stages of the B2B buyer’s journey haven’t changed, the sales rep’s role in that journey certainly has. And that’s all thanks to an increasingly digitalized sales cycle.
According to HubSpot, a whopping 77% of purchasers won’t talk to a salesperson until they’ve done their own research. And that was in 2015. These days, the numbers are even higher.
Decision-makers are relying on their research to learn more about their problems and possible solutions than ever before. They’re leaning into marketing automation and search engine results pages to educate them rather than calls with sales reps.
As a result, sales reps like you need to understand the difference between the old buyer journey and the new buyer journey and then tailor your sales process accordingly.
The Old Buyer Journey
In the old days, the sales rep would shoulder most of the burden to ushering potential buyers through the active research process and customer journey.
As you can see from the traditional buyer’s journey above, educational materials would only play a role in informing buyers about the problem and touching on the solutions.
But after that, sales reps would hop in to:
- Build rapport
- Outline potential solutions
- Differentiate their product from competitors
- Close the sale
From the third stage on, buyers would get most of their information and educational materials from the reps, not from their own research. This, of course, put a lot of control in the hands of the reps and this is why a hard sales pitch became common place.
Reps could assess where the buyers were in their journey and feed them materials that they needed to move on to the next phase.
These materials might include:
- How-To Guides
- Relevant content
- White Papers
- Product Spec Sheets
- Case Studies
- Demo Videos
- Product Comparison Guides
- Free Samples
The New Buyer Journey
Where the traditional buyer’s journey allowed for maximum control, the modern buyer’s journey is much more hands-off for sales reps like you.
Rather than coming to you for educational materials, buyers now expect to access much of that information independently. And that’s even more true today in a post-COVID era.
A 2020 McKinsey study, for example, found that 70-80% of B2B decision-makers prefer remote human interactions or digital self-service models vs. “traditional” in-person models. Just 20% of buyers said they hope to return to in-person sales. And that’s even in industries where field sales have dominated, like pharmaceuticals and medical products.
Buyers now expect to access the content they need to move through the first four stages of a customer journey by themselves. They want to learn about their problems, possible solutions, and various vendors on their own first. Then and only then are they willing to get on the phone with a salesperson.
You’ll also notice the modern buyer’s journey is longer than the traditional journey. Whereas educating buyers and closing a complex sale could happen in the span of just a few days before, most buyers are now taking longer to get to that “yes” decision.
What This Shift Means for You
So, what does all this mean for you as a B2B salesperson? Well, there are a few key takeaways here.
A) Prepare for a Longer Sales Cycle
Turning a prospect into a confirmed buyer takes longer than ever. Demand Gen Report found about 58% of buyers report their decision-making process is becoming longer year over year.
Part of that is due to more readily available competition. With so many products ripe for the picking in the digital world, B2B buyers have many options to choose from. Of course, some of those options won’t be right for the job. But even still, simply weeding through all the not-right products out there takes time.
On top of that, B2B deals are becoming increasingly complex. On average, it takes input from 6 to 10 decision-makers to settle on a solution, according to Gartner. That means there are bound to be more emails, product demos, sales calls, and nurturing cycles than most B2B salespeople were used to even a decade ago.
Here’s how you can adapt to a longer sales cycle:
- Avoid pushy sales tactics and adopt an educational attitude.
- Develop a solid sales cadence to keep prospects engaged over time.
- Work on building out educational and valuable content for every stage of the buyer journey.
- Keep detailed accounts of what content your buyers have engaged with so you understand when to step in.
- Focus on customer lifetime value where possible with your buyer personas. It’s far easier to close one target audience more than once than it is to close fresh prospects over and over.
B) Focus on Strategic Content
In the world of B2B sales, the salesperson with the best content is king.
These days, buyers are interacting with content more than ever before. And they’re doing it on their own too. Research from FocusVision found that B2B buyers now consume at least 13 pieces of content before making a buying decision.
That’s why it’s so important for you as a sales rep to make the shift to creating valuable, customer-focused content for every stage of the buyer’s cycle. On the one hand, it reinforces you as a thought leader.
Selling expert Victor Antonio said the same thing when Salesman.org interviewed him:
“The majority of executives don’t want to talk to a salesperson, they simply don’t. They want to do the whole customer journey by themselves. And then, when I’m ready, I’ll reach out to you. Well, how do I reach out? Well, this is the guy that’s got content, he seems to know what he’s talking about. I’m going to go call Will, see what’s happening over there.”
Great content, then, builds trust. And it funnels more buyers into your pipeline.
Beyond that, great content also caters to your buyers’ desire to move through the cycle at their own pace. You’re meeting them where they want to be rather than forcing them into a journey they don’t want to participate in. And that is how you appeal to buyers today.
C) Adopt an “Education First, Salesmanship Second” Mindset
The modern B2B buyer’s journey is no longer linear. Instead, decision-makers will flow from Awareness to Exploring Solutions to Comparing Vendors and back to Awareness again, all in a single cycle. What’s more, they may dip their toes in each stage at the same time.
Rather than a straightforward path, then, Gartner suggests a B2B buyer journey may look closer to this:
Throughout such a complicated journey, individual salesmanship is likely to be lost in the shuffle of information.
What takes its place in importance is your ability to provide educational materials every step of the way. And the more focused you are on delivering value rather than simply talking your way into a sale, the better your numbers will be.
D) Equip Yourself With Alignment Tools
You’ve already seen how the modern buyer’s cycle is heavily dependent on delivering quality, educational content.
In the old world, you would know exactly what content your buyer is consuming because, well, you showed it to them in the first place. But with so much research and engagement happening before you even speak to a lead, you need to know exactly what your buyers have interacted with beforehand. That’s where your CRM tool comes in.
With the right CRM (customer relationship management) tool, you’ll have a complete record of which content leads have already consumed and where they may be at on the buyer’s journey.
Mapping Your Buyer’s Journey
The purpose of changing up your buyer’s journey is to create a sales cycle that more buyers respond to positively. And for most B2B businesses, that means shifting away from a product-focused approach and towards a buyer-focused model.
Jeff Koser of Zebrafi put it best in a recent interview with Salesman.org:
“[Buyers] don’t care about your product, they care about themselves. And they have to. It’s their job. That’s why there’s such a fundamental difference between the buying journey that a prospect wants to go down versus a sales cycle that most salespeople try to conduct. And by shifting to pain, business issues, and value, you’re actually making more of the shift to the buyer’s journey that they want to participate in.”
To figure out how your own customers are moving through the buyer’s journey, you need to take into account the following factors:
- Which step you’re meeting them at
- Where they’ve been
- What pain points they’re experiencing
- What their next step will be
- How you get them to that next step
1) Which Step Do You Meet Them?
Where are you currently reaching out to buyers? Again, if it’s in the earlier stages, you should consider shifting that to later in the sales cycle.
Generally speaking, you will likely want to steer clear of direct interactions until late in the Comparing Vendors Stage/Purchase Stage.
True, there was a time when you could swoop in during the solution exploration stage. But today, ushering buyers through this part of the customer journey is better left to educational content.
It is worth noting, of course, that every industry is going to be different. And your unique buyers may respond better to earlier outreach.
But the key here is to test alternative contact points and measure the varying effectiveness. Don’t rely on old models to tell you when you should push for a call and when you should step back and let the buyer take the lead.
2) Where Have They Been?
You’ll also need to consider the context for how they’re moving through your buyer’s journey.
Which stages have they been through already? Have they shown strong engagement with materials from those previous stages?
A robust CRM will be helpful here as it’ll let you see what content from which stages buyers have consumed so far.
3) What Pain Are They In?
Next up is determining the pain points buyers are likely experiencing.
In general, there will be specific pain points associated with particular stages in the buyer’s journey.
To give you an idea of where to start, buyers may experience the following pain points in these stages:
- I know my business can be run more efficiently, but I don’t know-how.
- Can we generate more revenue?
- Is it possible to attract more qualified talent?
- There is a gap in our processes that I need to understand better.
- We are missing out on earning potential; let’s figure out why.
- There is a problem in our business, we need to give it a name and define it.
- We don’t know which solution types will solve our problem.
- We don’t know which solution types apply to our business model.
- We don’t know which solution types are available in our industry.
- Which product offers the features we need to make this a successful solution?
- Which product offers additional features that increase their business value?
- I’m concerned this isn’t the right decision and needs reinforcement.
4) What Is Their Next Step?
Next, you’ll need to define where you want the buyer to go next.
This can be as simple as naming the next stage of the buyer’s journey. For instance, if you determine the optimal place to interact with buyers is in the Comparing Vendors Stage, the next step would be ushering them into the Purchase Decision Stage.
5) How Do You Get Them To The Next Stage?
For most stages of the buyer’s journey, the answer here will be valuable content.
Content should be the backbone of your buyer journey. And content (not pushy salesmanship) should be the driving force of what moves a buyer from one stage to the next.
But what content type works best for each stage?
Below are just a few examples of the best content types for each stage of the buyer’s journey.
No Awareness & Awareness Stages:
- Blog posts
- Social media posts
- Educational webinars
Exploring Solutions Stage:
- How-to video
- Ebooks and in-depth guides
Comparing Vendors Stage:
- Product comparison guide
- Product spec guides
- Case studies
- Reviews and testimonials
- Sales calls
- Consultation offer
- Live demo
- Free trial
Creating Your Journey Statement
A journey statement is essentially the combination of all the information you learned when defining your buyer’s journey. It should help you define:
- When you’re meeting buyers
- What stages of the buyer journey they’ve been through
- What pains they’re currently experiencing
- What are their next steps
- How you help move them to that next step
It should look something like this:
I help (buyers at the optimal engagement stage), who have (which stages they’ve been through), solve (main pain points at that stage) and move towards (next stage) by (how you move them).
I help buyers at the Purchase Decision stage, who have made their way up through the Comparing Vendors stage, justify their decision to buy our product and move towards a purchase by showing them what it’s like to work with us using live demos and more.
Your journey statement (when well-defined) will help you better understand your role as a sales rep and let you engage buyers at the optimal point in the buyer’s journey.
The buyer’s journey isn’t the same as it used to be. Buyers have more control over their progression. B2B salespeople need a more sophisticated content strategy. And a more modern cycle requires reps to shift from a product-focused approach to one focusing on providing value instead.
And while acclimating to this new B2B sales landscape may take some adjustment, you can do so successfully if you put in the work and focus on customer success more than anything.
As Wistia VP of Sales and Customer Success, Peter von Burchard, put it in our interview:
“Customer success is really understanding the journey that the customer is on, and the problem that you’re solving as a solution and finding a way to align yourself as a company with getting those customers to achieve that end. And I think it’s really about aligning the business and the solution with the goals of the customer and helping execute on that.”