The B2B buying process: master content consumption

Natalie Toniotti
AUTHOR
Natalie Toniotti
    7 minute read

Thanks to internet advancements, whether you are a consumer or buyer, there is a heavy reliance on self-directed research to influence key buying decisions. This part of the buyer’s journey is now almost fully digital and buyers are now conducting more detailed return-on-investment analysis before making a purchase decision than ever before. As a result of the digital surge in buyer behaviour, mastering an understanding of how buyers consume content has become a key focus for brands hoping to influence customers in this competitive media landscape. 

Global content marketing is expected to grow by $417.85 billion between 2021 and 2025 with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16%. As a brand or vendor, it’s important to understand that “content is king” within the world of B2B marketing. This content includes social media posts, blogs, reviews, emails, infographics and whitepapers - and the list goes on.

In this blog, we will go through the B2B buying process, what factors affect it, how to identify key decision makers and what your business can implement to understand content consumption in the B2B buying process.

What is the B2B buying process?

Consensus describes the B2B buying process as “the journey buyers and buying groups take to complete a purchase from a B2B vendor.” This process tends to be lengthy and not impulsive. In some cases, completing a purchase can take up to a year or even longer. 

The decision-making unit that makes and signs off on these B2B purchasing decisions can differ from business to business and does not always include a member of the C-suite. The decision-making unit is often made up of multiple functions as the decisions can often influence multiple departments. In a sense, each department’s influence varies according to the product or service being purchased and the impact it will have on them. 

According to Gartner, the B2B buying process can be standardised into five steps that buyers need to complete as part of a purchase and they can revisit each step as many times as they need during the purchase process. These five steps include:

  1. Need or problem recognition

    The entire B2B buying process begins when the business identifies a problem or need. It can stem from competitor analysis, such as another company producing a better product or even an internal pain point like decrease in sales for a certain service.

  2. Comparison and evaluation of possible solutions to the need or problem

    So, the problem or need has been identified, what next? How do you solve it? Sometimes, businesses can’t always implement solutions immediately due to obstacles such as the solution being cost prohibitive, the fact they aren’t resourced adequately or there isn’t enough time to get it done.

    Should a business have the capacity to invest in a solution for the problem, next comes deciding whether to purchase said solution externally or whether it would be better to solve internally. Throughout this process, the buyer has to continuously weigh up the pros and cons of each option.

  3. Product or service requirements definition

    Defining what exactly the business is looking for is a responsibility of the decision-making unit and can include points such as what the product/service should be able to do, how much it will cost and any business-specific requirements.

  4. Supplier selection

    Supplier selection is completely business dependent. Some businesses have contracts with suppliers that make them the sole provider of services to the said business. Some have lengthy processes involving procurement teams, committees or shortlists. Some have less formal processes in which potential suppliers can be compared and chosen freely.

    The approach to supplier selection itself isn’t the key here, it’s gathering the right information on potential vendors and their solutions so they can be compared against the criteria developed in step three. This is where understanding buyer content consumption and mastering this skill comes into play; this is addressed later in this blog.

  5. Decision to buy justification

    When the decision-making unit has addressed steps one to four, they then need to justify their decision and plan to senior decision-makers or those who approve the overall buying process. This can include having vendor references at the ready to deliver a presentation to gain senior management support, it varies widely depending on individual organisational protocol and value of purchase.

What factors affect the B2B buying process and how to identify key decision makers?

Buyers require a significant amount of information when deciding on a vendor or solution. In today’s age, whether they get this information online through digital content channels like social media as an example or offline through word-of-mouth, buyer’s are indifferent.  

During this information-gathering process or step four of the B2B buying process mentioned earlier, vendors often have little say or involvement. This is because around 57% of the buying journey actually happens before a buyer even engages a vendor. Gartner’s research found that 45% of buyer’s time during the supplier selection step is spent on self-directed research, with only 17% of their time spent liaising with potential suppliers. 

Gartner’s study goes on to highlight the key factors that impact the B2B buying process including use of search engines, online review sites, peer reviews or recommendations, social media and industry-specific content. 

So how can vendors use these factors to influence the B2B buying process if the main part of the buying journey is done pre-engagement? By identifying who the key decision-makers are and what content they consume to make these decisions, vendors can better influence this decision. 

Here is how a vendor looking to become a preferred supplier for a certain problem or need can identify key decision-makers in the B2B buying process.

Start by understanding the buying process

Clearly identify your target market and the typical process those businesses will follow to purchase the product or solution you are offering. Visually mapping this and the stages can be very useful in identifying areas that can be improved. Speaking to existing customers on their personal experience is also helpful in this mapping exercise. 

If your solution falls into a low cost/low strategic value category, then the decision-maker is likely to be in the procurement or purchasing department or perhaps a department manager. If your solution falls into the high cost/high strategic value category, then the decision-maker is likely going to be a senior or C-Suite executive.

To pinpoint who the decision-makers are, you need to know where you stand in the market you’re advocating your solution in. How important is your solution and relevant to solving a prospective buyer's business problem or need? How well known is your brand? Engaging your customers and mapping buyer journeys and personas can be a really useful way of understanding this better.

Figure out who is specifically involved in the buying process

Your ultimate objective is to understand who your decision-makers or key stakeholders are and how you will get your products or services in front of them. To figure this out, start by mapping the buying process as if you were the decision-maker. Create a buyer persona from this to better understand these stakeholders. Make sure to consider that there may be more than one key buyer and create personas for each. That way, you can ensure your products or services are marketed to decision-makers efficiently. You’ll also need to consider marketing to your target marketing before the problem has been identified - as a form of brand awareness. So when a potential client identifies a pain point and is looking for a solution, yours is top of mind.

How to master a understanding of content consumption in the B2B buying process

Throughout the B2B buying process, buyers consume around 13 pieces of content from a variety of sources that all influence their decision on who to choose as the supplier to their problem or need. 

Where do buyers find this content? Here are the results from a study conducted by FocusVision:

How Content is Sourced
FocusVision even broke it down further to identify the broad range of content types highly influential to B2B buyers:

Purchase Journey

When creating vendor content, understanding product capabilities and how it’s used provide valuable information for buyers. Product specifications, comparisons and success stories were among the most valued pieces of content according to FocusVision’s study. 

Buyers today expect vendors to know what they want and when they want it. This means B2B marketers need to get into the minds of their customers to understand the purchasing journey. Understanding the buyer's needs and the pain point they are trying to solve is important is crucial.. This can be done by creating the aforementioned personas, mapping the buyer journey in detail, identifying customer pain points and tailoring your content across the various buyer touchpoints: awareness, research, consideration, purchase decision, purchase, post-purchase and retention stages. For all levels of decision makers.

What’s next?

Content influences the B2B buying process significantly and, these days, 80% of B2B buyers expect the same buying experience as that offered in the business to consumer (B2C) space. While businesses continue to invest heavily in the B2C customer experience (CX), with 83% of companies planning to invest in technology to improve CX in the coming years, the same cannot be said for B2B markets.

So, how can your B2B organisation stay competitive in the ‘online digital retail playground’? What are the processes and technology required to deliver a more personalised customer experience? And how can you successfully strengthen your B2B digital customer footprint through an omnichannel strategy?

Find out more in this blog that takes you through enhancing your B2B CX strategy using an omnichannel approach.

 

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