6 steps to understanding your customer's buying process

Alex Clarke explores the average B2B customer's decision-making process, and how marketers can make an impact at each stage of the purchase journey

 

6 steps to understanding your customer's buying process

1. What are my customer’s pain points?

It’s a broad and sweeping statement (every business suffers from its own set of unique roadblocks, after all) – but in B2B, truly recognising your prospect’s pain points can be half the battle won.

And remember, it’s not up to the customer or prospect to tell you what their issues are, it’s your responsibility to identify these pain points and deliver a solution.

What can B2B marketers do?

There are so many options here, but content should underpin it all. Make sure the content you’re producing is addressing the relevant issues, providing answers, and being articulated by the way you market said content.

And don’t forget to talk with your customers. Take a genuine interest in identifying the hurdles that inhibit their work, and determine how you can help them accordingly.

6 steps to understanding your customer's buying process

2. Where are my customers searching for information?

Once a customer has identified the issues plaguing their workplace – everyone knows where they turn next (it’s the Internet, by the way).

This presents B2B marketers with the opportunity to truly present their brand as industry leaders in their respective niche, most notably through solid thought leadership content. Creating that content is an issue for another day – but once you’ve got your hands on it, you need to establish the best places to market it so that your customers will stumble across it on their information search.

Peer-to-peer recommendations usually follow the initial online search, so make sure your existing customers are well-placed to shout about your skills (more on this later).

What can B2B marketers do?

As with most tactics in B2B, you’ll have to reluctantly submit to the irrepressible ‘pay to play’ mantra. Consider using Google Display Planner to advertise with AdWords, or use content identification tools like BuzzSumo to determine what your customers are talking about, then present them relevant content via paid social media advertising.

Display, social media, email, direct: the possibilities are endless – just make sure the content you’re serving to prospects is relevant to their specific need.

6 steps to understanding your customer's buying process

3. How do I stop my customers choosing someone else?

Let’s be realistic. There are dozens (if not more) companies out there who are offering exactly the same service/product as you. And you know what? The quality of that very service or product is probably exactly the same as yours too.

As long it does the job, your customer doesn’t care much else about the solution. It’s your relationship with the customer that truly differentiates you from the competition – it’s your ability to really ‘get’ them.

What can B2B marketers do?

Prove to prospects that if they choose you, they’ll be looked after. Everyone craves recognition, understanding and appreciation, and this is no different in a B2B context.

The most successful B2B relationships are those that are built upon mutual understanding, where words like ‘client’ and ‘vendor’ are superfluous. Be open and honest with your prospects, even if that means discussing a cheaper competitor – the trust you establish will, in most cases, outweigh monetary considerations – especially during this stage of the purchase journey

6 steps to understanding your customer's buying process

​4. How can I clinch the deal (purchase decision time)?

If you’ve absolutely nailed steps one through three, by this point in their journey, your prospect will have thoroughly researched their pain point and drafted up a list of possible purchases, with pricing options front of mind.

Seemingly, everything is in place for you to clinch the deal. Yet, ultimately, your customer can always decide to walk away at the eleventh hour – after all, how many times have you abandoned an Amazon shopping basket at the last minute because something didn’t feel quite right? The same psychology applies to a B2B purchase decision.

What can B2B marketers do?

It’s often human nature to seek affirmation before making a decision – you’re a barefaced liar if you’ve never been subject to peer pressure (“Go on, stay for one more pint” is often my vice).

Hence, this is the perfect opportunity to exercise a gentle reminder of the business issue at hand, and affirmation as to why your solution will ease their woes (just don’t approach them in quite so the aggressive manner I do when attempting to leave the pub early).

6 steps to understanding your customer's buying process

5. Job done! Or is it…

Congratulations, you plucky marketer – you’ve nurtured the prospect perfectly along the purchase journey, go and celebrate. But wait, there’s still ample reason for a prospect to cancel their purchase even after they’ve started the payment process?

There are a number of variables that can affect a sudden change of heart, whether via negative feedback from peers, or difficulty actually carrying out the purchase from a user experience perspective.

A few months back, I was looking to pay for some social media analysis software that would allow me to filter B2B Marketing’s 100,000 Twitters followers by location (specifically in the US). I did my research, found a piece of software that would do the job, and started the purchase process. But when it came to entering my company postcode, the system would not recognise it – and didn’t allow me to continue without entering completing the field.

Safe to say, I went elsewhere and chose a slightly more expensive (yet functioning) solution.

What can B2B marketers do?

If the aforementioned company had undertaken regular testing of their purchase process, they’d have another $99 in their pockets (it all adds up, okay?).

Marketers can often be guilty of seeing their website through an admin’s eyes, not the everyday user’s – so the lesson here is to make sure you’re constantly testing and refining your purchase process UX, not from a back-end developer perspective, but from front-end user viewpoint. You’ll be surprised at how many issues need fixing, and they’re usually really quick wins.

6 steps to understanding your customer's buying process

6. How can I retain my customers post-purchase?

Ah, the mythical cross-sell and upsell. Marketers often whisper these words in hushed tones at the end of meetings to blithely demonstrate they’re taking interest in retention levels.

The dirty little secret? Marketers are often awful at retaining their hard-won customers, especially in B2B. And I’m sure you’ve all heard the stat about acquisition costing up to five times more than retention. So, why is it 80% of companies spend less than 30% of their time on marketing activity aimed at customer retention?

What can B2B marketers do?

We’ve live in a world where people are constantly seeking a better alternative, and as B2B marketers, you need to be in the position to offer that alternative not just to new customers, but existing ones too.

Communication is the key here. Customers will appreciate you getting in touch a couple of months down the line to see how you can help improve their experience. Leave it too long, though, and your attempt to reach out can seem insincere and forced.

A nice side effect of establishing a positive post-purchase relationship with your customers is that you’ll be creating advocates for your brand, the very people your new prospects will be going to for recommendations (it’s such a clever cycle, see?). Encourage your customers to provide reviews, they’ll not only improve your credibility and online visibility, they’ll also serve as a valuable resource for improving existing services.