B2B Strategies | The B2B buying process — from your customer’s point of view

Most Web teams spend a gazillion hours trying to craft Websites that will ring with their B2B buyers.

They pour over visitor satisfaction surveys. Track visitor click streams with the intensity of a big game safari.

Throw out mountains of content and interactive gizmos to entice and educate potential buyers.

And most of them fail.

Why? Because the real secret to building a B2B powerhouse starts with clearly understanding — and aligning your Website — around the steps your buyers go through when they are making a B2B buying decision.

How they use the Web to put you on the long list.

Use your corporate Website to move you to the short list.

And gather the information they need to choose your product — and collaborate with colleagues who are also part of the final purchase decision.

It’s a complex ballet that is defined by 17 activities organized into six steps. Turns out, your Website plays a critical role in all of but one (define the problem).

Here’s what your B2B buyers are really doing when they are on your Website. (If you are a Library subscriber you can download the entire report using the link at the bottom of the page).

The B2B Buying Process at a glance

Step One: Creating a Long List

The first step in any B2B buying process is to assemble a “long list” of suppliers that might offer the products, services, and/or or solutions that will address the company’s needs.

Once upon a time, second-tier suppliers were found by scouring industry journals and magazines and by word of mouth. Today, the Web plays this role.

To make the “long list”, your company must have a presence across a variety of online venues beyond your dotcom Website. Examples include (but are certainly not limited to):

High rankings on popular search engines, including ad-word feature positions, inclusion in “breaking news” results, and links to micro-sites optimized around specific campaigns and promotions. If you can crowd out the competition on the first five pages of search results, you’re in the driver’s seat.

Consistent presence on popular social networks, such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, plus a growing range of business networks, such as “Meet the Boss”, a business network sponsored by various business and technology companies.

 

 

Visibility on relevant social bookmarking sites, preferably those that have over a million monthly visitors, and a traffic ranking of 600 or above. Venues currently in this class include Digg, Delicious, and Technorati. Think of this as your ‘ode to the technical buyer’.

Visibility on popular news aggregation sites (i.e. ZDNet, TechRepublic, TechWeb); technical venues (i.e. TechTarget and product/company-specific satellite sites), and sites that cater to CXOs, such as Search CIO and CIO.com.

Mentions and reviews on heavily trafficked industry consultant and topic “expert” blogs.

Inclusion in reports published by leading market research firms that validate your company’s strategy or products, and identify it as an industry leader (i.e. Gartner Group, Forrester Research).

Presence in powerful print media, including business magazines (i.e. Fortune, Business Week) and industry publications (varies based on product and target market). Typically, this presence is created by purchasing advertising space or, if pockets are deep, sponsoring a multi-page advertising insert. In a perfect world, a supplier will be the subject of a business article or editorial.

Step Two: Narrowing the Short List (Discovery Phase)

Once the “long list” is assembled, a B2B buyer will turn to conducting first-level due diligence on the suppliers that made it onto the list.

But here’s the rub. In this phase, buyers will be focused on quickly eliminating companies that don’t fit the project’s profile or the company’s appetite for risk.

Important factors in this part of the process include:

Whether the supplier offers the target products or services;

How the products are deployed, including customer site, data center, and software as a service;

Related after-purchase services including support, training, and consulting (plan, implement, manage, host);

Company size and reputation, and a quick assessment of the size and class of customers currently using the company’s products.

First-level financial information that reduces risk (a billion dollar company, fast growth company, profitable).

 

 

The number of companies that make it onto a buyer’s “short list” will vary based on some interesting factors:

The number of influencers & decision makers. No B2B buyer is an island. He or she is always part of a larger group of people involved in the decision process. Smaller groups prefer to handle a smaller number of “short list” contenders. Larger groups have more resources to vet a larger number of contenders.

Urgency. The faster the timeline, the faster the group needs to “cut to the chase”. Fewer candidates makes that happen.

Risk. High-risk and mission-critical decisions are vetted more carefully, and favor companies that can provide more pieces of the solution. Think of it as the “one neck, one noose” factor.

Once a “short list” has been assembled and agreed upon, the focus turns to assembling detailed information about each company on the list.

And this is when your Website really kicks in.

Step Three: Researching Short List Companies (Research Phase)

During the research phase, B2B buyers gather detailed information about your company’s products and services, and prepare competitive matrices and “pro and con” analyses. This phase brings out the importance of appealing to a broad range of people involved in the B2B buying process, including

Technical members, who will view the product based on its technical merits, and alignment with the company’s existing standards and installed systems.

Technical members range from “evangelists” who are advocates for the latest technologies and features, to conservatives who will place a premium on technologies that will have a more moderate effect on operations.

 

Project managers, who will be largely tasked with implementing the decision. They tend to balance the technical aspects of a decision against the ability to successfully implement the solution — and its affect on other operations, such as the impact or ripple effect on existing systems and business processes, employee training, and acclimation to the new solution.

Some project managers will also be sensitive to the financial impact on their specific line of business or department; others will leave these details to other individuals involved in the decision process.

Business managers are the cornerstone of the financial business case, and tend to look at the “big picture” impact of a project and its costs. In some cases, business managers will be technically savvy, which allows them to sift through the sometimes polarized opinions of technical evangelists and conservatives. It’s not that they understand every wire and widget. They just know enough to be dangerous.

 

 

Business managers often manage the project managers involved in the B2B buying process, and tend to pay special attention to these members since their focus on implementation and potential disruption can have a profound effect on cost over-runs and the hidden costs related to any technology purchase. These members are the keepers of the company’s pocket book and, arguably, have the most skin the game.

Step Four: Selecting, Evaluating & Selecting Again (the Final Selection Process)

It’s interesting to note how many companies believe that the Research phase is the final step in B2B buying decision. It isn’t.

Turns out, this is actually the point when the strengths and weaknesses of a company’s site will play a pivotal role.

Why? Because once the “short list” of candidates is assembled and vetted, B2B buyers turn their focus to reducing the list to a handful of finalists that merit more detailed investigation.

In this phase, B2B buyers are ruthless for a simple reason: finalists will be subject to detailed, time-consuming evaluations, “try and buy” test drives, and deep dives into customer references.

The shorter the list, the faster this process goes.

 

 

This is also the point where B2B buyers begin to engage with the company’s sales force in earnest.

They attend sales demonstrations and Webinars; ask detailed questions that determine exactly how a product will fit the company’s technical, feature, and business needs; determine final configurations and pricing — and ask the supplier to document its recommendations by responding to formal requests for quotes and detailed bids.

This is the “all in” part of the process where the quality of a supplier’s sales force — and fast response to requests entered through the Website — can make or break a deal.

Contact requests and requests for RFQs and RFPs must be answered promptly. Otherwise, it’s a perfect reason for a B2B buyer to gladly strike a company from the list (less to do).

Demonstrations must be crafted to address the needs of many constituents — from technical capabilities, to competitive differentiators, to business impact and benefits. “One-size-fits-all” demonstrations essentially ensure that none of the interested parties will get the answers they need.

“Try and buy” downloads and test drives must trigger quick and efficient follow-up activities, and must be carefully monitored to ensure that problems are addressed before they crop up.

B2B buyers and influencers must be guided to the customer references that best fit their industry, business problem, or objective.

Once the B2B buyer has completed his or her detailed due diligence, it’s time to take the final step in the process: to compile the results and move toward a final recommendation

Step Five: Recommending, Reviewing, and Buying

In the final phase of the B2B buying process, buyers are all about putting their information together and sharing their recommendations with their boss and in most cases, with other colleagues involved in the decision.  This is when your Website will play its final — and pivotal — role in the process.

This is when your buyer will use those comparative matrices to put together a summary that demonstrates your value propositions to best effect.

Will download and consolidate customer case studies, after-purchase services overviews (support, consulting, training) and product data sheets as part of a recommendation package to be shared with colleagues and the final decision maker. 

And finally, depending on the type of product and purchase mode, the buyer might even place the final order through your e-commerce system — or re-engage with a salesperson directly from your site.

Library subscribers can download the complete report below, which includes a detailed analysis of the 87 types of content & features that must be provided on a best-in-class B2B Website.

Sorry, you have to be a Library Member to access this content.

 

Category: Report

Class: Website Strategy, B2B Marketing, Sales, Lead Generation

Related Research:

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2018-07-24T09:54:15+00:00

About the Author:

I focus on strategy and trends – and how the Web turns business rules on their heads. My job is to identify the Web-related trends and best practices that will change your world over the next 18 months. Where you need to cut through the clutter of conventional wisdom. How to change the competitive rules of the game. More gory details in my profile -- and unvarnished opinions about the sites we evaluate on Google+