Chapter 1: The B2B Customer Journey + Buying Process

September 7, 2022

elcome to Chapter 1 of A Master Guide To B2B Content Marketing.

Understanding the B2B customer journey is the first step to building an effective content marketing strategy.

The art of B2B content marketing involves aligning your business goals with your audience's needs. A good B2B content marketing strategy caters to your audiences' personalized interests within specific phases of the buying process and sales funnel.

B2B marketing and sales funnel

 Let’s run through the top 10 factors that define B2B customer journeys, looking at the buying process in particular.

In this chapter:

  1. Longer Nurturing Times
  2. Multiple Buyer Roles With Differing Priorities
  3. Online Research Is the Biggest Purchasing Activity
  4. Vendor Websites Is the Favored Research Channel
  5. Buyers Want Content To Guide Them
  6. Several Pieces of Content Are Required
  7. Trust Is the Most Important Factor
  8. Industry Trends and Tech News Is Favored
  9. Content Must Integrate With Sales Processes
B2B customer journey from the buyers perspective
Sources: Gartner, Forrester, Showpad, FocusVision, DealsInsight, Statista, LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, Clutch

1. Longer Nurturing Times

B2B sales conversions are not immediate impulse buys. They are highly logical decisions that require multiple data inputs, and will be considered at more than one level of an organization.

  • Gartner found that 77% of B2B buyers found purchasing very complex or difficult. The process is not linear, with buyers typically looping back to previous stages. 
  • On average, 75% of B2B companies take at least 4 months to win a new customer, but more complex deals can take much longer. 

It takes time to fully define purchasing criteria, explore options, and weigh them up before reaching a final decision. That’s why the B2B customer conversion process is a sustained effort that requires a diversity of content to support effective lead nurturing strategies.

b2b buyers journey

2. Multiple Buyer Roles With Differing Priorities 

Collective purchasing decisions will make or break a business, so of course, it’s not taken lightly. A B2B buying process will potentially involve multiple departments and job roles. 

  • Data from 2017 found that an average of 6.8 people were involved in purchasing decision making, up from the previous year. (Of course, this depends on the size of your target customers’ businesses.)
  • Today, 73% of people involved in the B2B buying process are millennials, and 81% of non-C-suiters have a say in purchase decisions.

Your content library needs to target decision-makers for conversion, but equally cater to influential researchers and end users as crucial players within the process. If you're only marketing to the highest level, you're overlooking people who need to notice you before things progress to the decision-making stage.

There are typically 4 main buyer roles:

1. Influencer or Initiator - A person close to the process who identifies the need for an outside solution and whose opinion counts in the buying decision. They could be an end user, a team manager, or act in an advisory capacity.

2. Information Gatekeeper - A person who controls the flow of information and communication in the organization, whether a manager or a tasked assistant. They typically control access to decision makers.

3. Decision maker - The person who makes a final call and approves the purchase. They aren’t often an end user, but sit higher up within the managerial hierarchy with priorities that could differ from an end user or manager.

4. End User - The people who will actually use your solution or service in an operational capacity. They might become the main contacts for the relationship on a day-to-day basis after purchase.

3. Online Research Is the Biggest Purchasing Activity

It is vital that your brand shows up during the online research process. In 2019, Gartner found that 27% of the complete B2B buying process is spent on online research. This is the largest portion of time spent on purchasing activities. 

  • The amount of time spent on online research increases in line with the value of the purchase, but is 20 hours on average. 
  • Your sales reps may get as little as 5% of total buyer time during the whole process. B2B buyers can carry out over half of the buying process through digital touchpoints before they establish contact.
  • In terms of making a decision, buyers will progress more than 70% of the way to making a final decision before engaging sales representatives. 
  • 62% of B2B buyers say they can make a purchase selection based solely on digital content. 
B2B buying activities by time
Source: Gartner

4. Vendor Websites Is the Favored Research Channel

Most B2B buyers will use your website as their primary research tool.

When it comes to channels for purchase planning specifically, a 2018 Statista survey of global B2B marketing professionals found:

  • 88% of buyers most commonly used vendor websites, returning to sites multiple times in their journey. 
  • 70% go directly to a known website.
  • 67% conduct a general internet search.
  • 53% go to social media to find purchasing information. 
  • 50% used LinkedIn to research vendor content.

5. Buyers Want Content To Guide Them

When it comes to online research, 32% of buyers said they couldn’t find the information they needed, and 37% said there was not enough information relating directly to purchase. 

Creating clear and streamlined content flows for defined buyer personas according to their interests, roles and needs is a crucial goal to work towards.

  • C-level executives (60%) and VPs (82%) report that content-related issues - such as not understanding the content or not being able to share content internally - are the top factors slowing down purchase decisions.
  • 45% of buyers said they want a personalized content portal to help them find relevant content. 

Content personalization is a trend that continues to grow as inbound marketing evolves, raising customers’ expectations.

B2B buying challenges

6. Several Pieces of Content Are Required (But Not Too Many) 

Key content touch points must be planned to progress users within a B2B buying process to completion. Expanding your customer touch points while portraying your brand authority consistently at every journey stage is a key part of building brand awareness and then trust. 

More B2B marketing touch points are required than B2C on average. We’re talking around 10 digital touch points before first contact as a general rule of thumb. And most buyers (77%) will consume more than 3 pieces of long-form content before making contact.

However, content provision needs to be strategically considered with relevance prioritized over volume. There is a sweet spot for deeper-funnel content volume in terms of driving conversion. 

  • Buyers have been found to consume 13 pieces of purchasing content on average, with 8 being from the leading supplier they are considering.
  • 86% of buyers get overwhelmed when there are more than 10 pieces of purchasing content to read from an individual supplier.

7. Trust Is the Most Important Factor

The larger and longer-term investments typically involved in B2B mean that buyers need to build trust before they make any commitments. Relationship building for extracting high lifetime value is a much larger part of the equation. Your leads are evaluating your company for the commitment to serve their best interests and deliver what they expect over time with consistency. 

  • Over 90% of decisions to buy from another business depend solely on the trust created.
  • 84% of buyers say they would be more likely to purchase from a supplier they had a good relationship with, even if their competitors had better sales terms.
  • 75% of B2B marketers found that content marketing was successful for building trust during 2021.

8. Industry Trends and Tech News Is Favored

The B2B customer journey can start long before an active buying process. Building topical authority within your niche helps you reach the relevant people to build brand awareness and credibility. You want your brand to come top of mind when a buying process is activated. 

Most buyers (75%) say that thought leadership helps them create a vendor shortlist, and 49% of decision-makers say thought leadership has directly led them to do business with a company.

B2B audiences regularly spend time consuming content:

  • 88% of B2B professionals consume business-related content online at least once a week and are prepared to spend time consuming content. 
  • A 2019 study found that 34% of buyers would invest 30-60 minutes in a content session, and 26% spent as long as it took if the content was great. 
  • In 2021 overall B2B content consumption increased by 22%.

In terms of topics, B2B buyers are most interested in industry trends, especially backed up by data and metrics: 

  • Clutch found that the leading reasons for consuming content was to stay up to date with industry trends (45%) and industry technology (45%), followed by 24% looking for small business topics. 
  • IT and tech buyers are particularly driven to stay up to date with new trends. Isoline’s 2019 survey of IT buyers found that 66% of respondents were aiming to learn about industry developments, and 56% read for purchase planning.
  • 66% of surveyed B2B buyers say they want vendors to use more data and research to support their content.
b2b buyer pain points

9. Content Must Integrate With Sales Processes

While B2B buyers spend most time researching online, 70% still want contact with a sales rep at some point in the buying process. B2B is significantly more dependent on people relationships for conversion. 

Marketing content should integrate with your sales team’s processes for a smooth wooing and conversion process. Your business's financial success depends on how easy it is for buyers to move through the funnel and convert. Every part needs to function together, with a smooth hand over to sales staff for qualified leads.

Automated marketing tools can really help you with this, but more on that in Chapter 4!

Summing Up

Given the importance of online content marketing for building B2B brand awareness and nurturing the buying process, your business can’t afford not to show up online!

Search engines are particularly important at the starting point of a buying process. However, pre-building brand awareness among your target audience using online thought leadership puts you 10 steps ahead of competitors who don’t do this as well. You want buyers to come directly to your website as the first port of call.

Getting to grips with what your audience are most interested in and providing genuinely helpful content relevant for your offering will make sure they think of you first when a buying process is activated. To achieve this, leverage online channels where your audience spends time consuming business content, such as LinkedIn, online media publications, eNewsletters and Google.

Once a buying process starts, your job is to provide clear content for the consideration + action stages by explaining solutions, the value they deliver and supporting evidence.

And this concludes our exploration of the B2B buyer customer journey.

What next?

Discover more of this four-part series below, designed to help you achieve your content marketing goals. Or why not bookmark them for later?

More In This Series:

Research Worth Reading:

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