The B2B buyer’s journey is typically much longer and more complex than the B2C buyer’s journey. After all, companies are often spending thousands—or even millions—on your product, and the larger the company, the more decision makers there are in the mix. You can’t really rely on an impulse buy from an Instagram ad. Instead, you have to educate and build relationships with your customers, and that’s where content can help.
In 2021, HubSpot reported that 82% of marketers actively use content marketing. This is especially important in the world of information technology, where decision makers generally download five assets before making a purchase. Still, the most effective content meets buyers where they are in the buyer’s journey. B2B brands are no longer taking a sales-first approach, trying to push as many conversions as possible (though, that is the ultimate goal). They’re moving to a customer-first model, which hinges on the understanding that although your target customers may be searching for similar solutions, their needs vary depending on where they are in the buyer’s journey.
Customizing content for the buyer’s journey builds trust and connection, two things that breed lifelong customers. It’s actually not that hard to enact once you have an understanding of the whole process. This guide can help.
What is the B2B Buyer’s Journey?
Some marketers use the term buyer’s journey and sales funnel interchangeably, but rest assured, they are not the same thing. The latter hinges on the idea of sales reps moving consumers down the sales funnel from their first introduction to a brand to the point at which they convert. However, in modern B2B sales, 60% of buyers don’t want to speak to a company until they’ve done their research—and they’re largely doing that research on their own, through search engines, websites, newsletters, events and by asking their personal network.
Rather, the buyer’s journey focuses on a potential customer’s path independent of the sales team. Though it is complex, it typically follows a certain overarching trajectory:
The awareness stage: Where a buyer first learns about your brand. This hinges on problem identification, where a buyer notices they have an issue and realize they need to find a solution.
The consideration stage: Where a buyer weighs their options. This stage involves:
- Solution exploration: when a buyer looks into how they can solve their initial problem
- Requirements building: when a buyer identifies the parameters of their ideal purchase
The decision stage: Where buyer either makes a purchase or opts for a competitor. This is where they select a supplier and convert.
Throughout this process, B2B businesses should validate buyers by proving they understand—and can solve—a buyer’s problem, which is why it’s important to first outline your buyer persona. If you don’t fully understand your audience, it’s difficult to craft a meaningful message that will resonate. You can’t solve their problems unless you intimately know what they are.
Once you understand your buyer persona—be it through market research and/or analysis—you can start to craft content that targets each phase of the buyer’s journey (i.e. the part where you attract, engage and delight customers, pushing them closer to making a purchase decision).
The Awareness Stage
The awareness stage is at the beginning of the buyer’s journey. Typically, at this stage, an event occurs that triggers a buyer to start looking for solutions or to delve into a certain subject. That’s not to say they always are aware of an issue. A buyer could first stumble upon your brand with a particularly well-targeted Facebook ad. Per HubSpot’s report, brand awareness is the No. 3 marketing priority of 2021—but pure awareness doesn’t mean a buyer is taking interest. Rather, the most effective content anticipates a problem, serving a buyer a solution that’s there when they need it.
Regardless of how a buyer jumps into the awareness stage, at this phase, they’re generally looking for answers, opinions, insight, resources, education or research data. For example, during the awareness stage, an enterprise company that recently realized they’re running out of space on their in-house server may ask themselves, “How can I get more server space?” and start researching types of storage solutions.
When it comes to awareness, some content is more valuable than others. For example, an SEO and thought leadership campaign with blog posts, white papers or written tutorials can specifically target consumers who are seeking explicit answers to a well-known customer problem (another reason why your buyer person is so important). During this phase of initial awareness, content marketers often prefer:
- Blog posts
- White papers
- Social media (original content and via social listening)
In modern marketing, the focus is largely digital, but B2B brands also find success logging off and getting out into the real world. The research backs this up: 45% of B2B technology decision makers actively rely on information from conferences and trade shows to inform their purchasing decisions. In this case, speaking engagements, panels, trade shows, conferences, and other networking events can raise your brand profile and foster a sense of expertise as an industry leader.
The Consideration Stage
The consideration stage is the middle of the process. This is where B2B buyers generally understand their challenge, are figuring out exactly what product or service they need to overcome it, and are exploring the numerous potential solutions. Going with the example above, that would mean the company may start asking, “Should I be using a cloud server or an in-house server?”
Toward the end of this phase, most buyers have a shortlist of companies they’re weighing against each other, and the aforementioned 60% will want to reach out to a physical sales or customer service representative. Your content can do some of the heavy lifting here, too. Focus on content that serves as a resource to help buyers determine which solutions best suit their needs. This could come in the form of:
- Case studies
- Scholarly reports and analysis
- Comparison guides
- Free trials
- Product/service demos (especially those utilizing video)
- Customer testimonials and reviews
- White papers
Since the B2B buyer’s journey is particularly long during this phase, newsletters are also valuable in providing information while reminding consumers that you still exist. There are a lot of options out there, and you don’t want to get lost in the shuffle.
The Decision Stage
By the decision stage, buyers have found their solution. They’re focused on picking a provider. In other words: they’re going to either choose you or a competitor. For example, at the decision stage, that same company may now ask themselves, “What are the most cost-effective cloud storage companies for enterprise businesses?”
According to HubSpot’s report, when buyers are getting ready to make a purchase, they’re looking for content that includes product information, features and functions; ratings and reviews; and peer experiences. They’re basically running a competitive analysis on your business and companies offering similar solutions, so your content should really help you stand out. As such, you may want to include content centered on:
- Free trials
- Live demos
- Coupons and special offers
- Spec sheets
- User experience
This could play out across a variety of channels in a number of different ways. For example, live Q&As on social media, targeted email newsletters, SMS messages and dynamic ads. At this phase, remarketing campaigns and cart abandonment campaigns can give an interested buyer the push they need to convert. During the final decision phase, it’s important to understand customer pain points, so you can alleviate them and use your content to instill buyer confidence.
The Bottom Line
The buyer’s journey is complex, and businesses must overcome the challenge of understanding and anticipating buyer problems to remain competitive. Overall, the content that resonates the most provides validation at every stage—whether a buyer is first stumbling upon a brand or well-versed in the market. The most important thing is to use your content to build trust, especially because of the sheer length of a B2B buyer’s journey. Maybe this time a buyer doesn’t convert, but if they have a good user experience, they may come back in the future.