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The 8 stages of the B2B buying process

The 8 Stages of the B2B Buying Process

To succeed in B2B marketing, it’s essential to understand the different stages of the buying process that your prospects go through. B2B buyers tend to take a much more structured and formal approach to purchasing goods and services. As a result, the sales process is often longer and more complex than in B2C sales. Understanding this is key for B2B marketers and business owners.

We’re in a B2B industry ourselves. And the majority of the clients we work with are B2B organisations, so we understand the unique challenges that come with marketing and selling to other businesses.

There are typically 8 stages in the B2B buying process that buyers go through

These steps can be thought of as individual tasks, a to-do list that buyers need to complete before making a purchase. They might repeat a task multiple times if necessary.

1. The Problem Becomes Clear: “We have a problem!”
The buyer realises they have a problem or need that must be addressed.

2. The Hunt for Solutions: “What solutions exist?”
The buyer begins researching possible solutions to their problem or need.

3. The Action Plan: “Are we going to act? If yes, what do we need from this solution?”
The buyer creates a list of specific requirements for the ideal solution.

4. The Supplier Shortlist: “Who might supply a suitable product or service?”
The buyer identifies different suppliers who might provide the ideal solution.

5. The Request for Proposal (RFP): “Please submit proposals for (—)”
The buyer creates a formal document outlining their specific requirements and sends it to suppliers they are considering doing business with.

6. The Appraisal and Decision: “Which supplier is the best choice?”
The buyer compares proposals from different suppliers and selects the one they feel can best meet their needs.

7. The Purchase Transaction: “Let’s do business.”
The buyer and the chosen supplier negotiate terms, sign contracts, and implement the agreed purchase.

8. The Review: “Did we make the right decision?”
The buyer evaluates whether the solution they purchased has helped them resolve their problem or meet their need. If not, they may seek out a different solution.

Though it may seem complicated and time-consuming from a sales and marketing perspective, these distinct stages of the B2B buying process exist for good reason. A typical consumer will go through much the same process of evaluation, only faster and more impulsively. The more formal process described above helps decision-makers to take their emotions out of the buying process. This is beneficial for both the buyer and the supplier, as it leads to better-informed decisions and reduces the risk involved. In theory, this analytical decision-making process is more likely to result in satisfaction on both sides.

If you’re marketing to other businesses, understanding and catering to their needs at each stage in the B2B buying process is critical. Keep these steps in mind when planning your sales and marketing strategy and you’ll be well on your way to closing more deals.

Strategic decision making

1. The Problem Becomes Clear: “We have a problem!”

To begin with, your potential customer isn’t even in the market for what your company offers. They are blissfully unaware of their need.

The first stage in the B2B buying process is underway when the buyer realises they have a problem or need that must be addressed.

At this point, the buyer is beginning to understand the nature of their problem. The buying journey has begun. They are building a detailed picture of the deficiency in their business and starting to define it.

Your job at this stage is to make your potential customer aware of their need for your product or service. You can do this through marketing campaigns, targeted content, educational webinars, or even just a conversation that helps them to see the issue you resolve.

2. The Hunt for Solutions: “What solutions exist?”

Once they become aware of their problem, they start to look at all available solutions.

This is broad, top-down research that most often takes place on the internet via search engines. They want to understand all of their options and evaluate the pros and cons of each one.

As a marketer, you need to generate awareness around the pain points your product or service can solve. Digital channels like your website and social media accounts are great for sharing thought leadership pieces that show off your company’s expertise.

B2B buyers

3. The Action Plan: “Are we going to act? If so, what do we need from this solution?”

The business needs to decide what type of solution it wants and then consider the benefits and drawbacks of each option.

After evaluating their options, the buyer will decide what action to take – if any. They might accept the status quo and the buying journey ends here. Or they commit to a particular solution and define the service or final product specification they intend to purchase. This includes setting an appropriate budget.

If you’re familiar with Jobs Theory, decision makers at the company are deciding what job needs to be done at this stage of the buying process. The outcome might be pretty standard, or a unique set of company-specific requirements.

This takes place internally, behind closed doors. As a marketer, you need to make sure you’re providing the right information to help with this decision. That means comparing your solution with every possible alternative under consideration, not your direct competitors. Point out the cost of inaction too. You need the company to continue the buyer’s journey if they are to become a viable customer.

4. The Supplier Shortlist: “Who can provide us with XYZ?”

Now that the buyer knows what they need, it’s time to identify who can provide it.

The buyer will put together a list of potential vendors, usually starting with online research. They’ll use their own experiences and recommendations from others in their network to narrow down the field.

The goal here is to be included on the supplier shortlist. You can achieve this by ensuring that you have a strong online presence and positive reviews from past customers.

Make sure your website gives business buyers a good first impression and encourages them to request more information. Other digital channels such as LinkedIn and other social accounts need to be active and have an equally polished appearance.

Make it easy for B2B buying teams to contact you with enquiries. This will give you the chance to follow-up with far more detail. The B2B buying process is slow, it’s considered, and it’s well researched. And print marketing collateral can be far better absorbed by decision-makers. A quality corporate profile can help get your sales reps to get through the door and onto the supplier shortlist.

Evaluation process

5. The Request for Proposal (RFP): “Can you provide us with this solution?”

The request for proposal (RFP) is the first sign of commitment you may see as a supplier. RFP’s are standard practice for any large business that wants to find the best possible partner for its specific needs. By clearly outlining your requirements and objectives, an RFP allows the buyer to compare potential suppliers on a level playing field. It also helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page from the start of the project, which can save a lot of time and frustration down the road.

The purchasing manager (or senior management) will normally score vendors for their performance against specific criteria. This scoring system takes the emotion out of the decision-making process and ensures that only the most qualified vendors are considered for contracts.

6. The Appraisal and Decision: “Which supplier can provide us with the best solution?”

Finally, you’re nearing a purchasing decision. In the later stages of the B2B buying process, businesses are evaluating proposals from the shortlisted vendors and scoring them against specific criteria.

During the appraisal process, it’s not unusual for decision-makers to go back to vendors with questions or clarifications. They might also ask for additional information, such as customer references or demonstrations of the product or service in action.

At the end of this stage, the buyer will have a good understanding of each vendor’s capabilities. They’ll be able to compare apples with apples and make an informed decision about which supplier is best suited to their needs.

B2B purchasing decision

7. The Purchase Transaction: “Let’s do business.”

Once the evaluation process ends a purchasing decision can be made. It’s time to sign on the dotted line and make the purchase. For most businesses, this is a relatively straightforward process. The buyer simply needs to choose the preferred vendor and agree on terms, including payment terms and delivery schedules.

Payment is usually made upfront or shortly after delivery of the product or service. In some cases, however, the purchase transaction can be more complex. If a business is purchasing a large or expensive item, it might need to finance the purchase or sign a lease agreement.

8. The Review: “Did we make the right decision?”

The B2B buying process doesn’t end when the contract is signed. After the purchase has been made, business buyers will review their purchasing decisions and make sure that the chosen vendor is living up to their promises.

This review should take place shortly after the product or service has been delivered. It’s an opportunity for the buyer to assess whether they’re happy with the purchase and identify any areas where the vendor could improve.

If the buyer is satisfied with the purchase, they may choose to do business with the same vendor again in the future. If not, they may start the B2B buying process all over again, looking for a new supplier that can better meet their needs.

It’s important to nurture your relationship with the customer and ensure they’re happy with the purchase decision they’ve made. Focusing on customer satisfaction will help to build loyalty and encourage repeat business down the road.

Customer service

Aligning your marketing to the B2B buying process

Remember that these stages are actually tasks within the purchase process. Business buyers need to complete each step on their way to a purchasing decision.

By understanding the stages of the B2B buying process you can ensure that appropriate marketing collateral is always in place. It helps you provide the right information, produce the right marketing collateral, and have the right conversations to swing sales decisions your way.

Aid their research efforts

The buying process began with problem identification. Your marketing can speak to that need. Help the prospect start the buyer’s journey by identifying the problem they face and how it could potentially affect their business. Remember that first, you need the senior decision maker to commit to resolving their problem and begin their buying journey. You want to make the cost of inaction clear.

Next, the B2B buying team will look into all available solutions.

Buyers are looking for information that will help them understand their options. They might search online for articles or white papers that compare different products or services. Or they might attend a trade show or webinar to learn more about what’s available. You’ll need to be there with the right information, knowledgeable and capable.

Excel in the evaluation phase

As a marketer, you can ensure that your website is optimised for relevant keywords and that your sales team is prepared to answer questions about your products or services. You might also consider creating helpful resources, such as ebooks or guides, that buyers can use during their research.

During the evaluation stage, buyers are looking for more detailed information about specific vendors. They might request a product demonstration or a pricing proposal. As a marketer, you can ensure that your corporate profile and marketing brochures are top-notch. Have testimonials or case studies that highlight the benefits of your products or services.

Reassure when the purchase process ends

It’s important to stay in touch with buyers after the purchase has been made. It’s human nature to second-guess ourselves and you can expect some degree of buyer’s remorse.

 As a vendor, it’s your job to reassure the key decision maker that they’ve made the right decision.

The post-purchase follow-up is an important part of the B2B buying process and it’s an opportunity to continue building your relationship with the customer. You might send a thank-you note or give them a call to check in and see how they’re enjoying the product or service. 

The B2B buying process is much like any other customer journey. Yes, it’s a more formal decision making process, but that’s an opportunity in disguise. With good marketing collateral and a solid understanding of the steps involved, you can guide prospects smoothly through to a purchase decision – and beyond.

We are a design agency that can help you with your B2B marketing needs and increase your chances of winning formal purchasing decisions. Contact us today, and we’ll get started on working together.

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