Key Takeaways 📈 🌐
- Unpredictable Buyer Journey: B2B buyer behavior is dynamic, necessitating data-driven strategies. Understanding the unpredictable nature of the buyer’s journey and optimizing touchpoints can help effectively reach the target buyer.
- Multi-Faceted Sales Funnel Stages: Catering to buyers at different funnel stages is essential. Each stage, from awareness to loyalty, requires distinct marketing strategies and messaging to guide the buyers toward making a purchase.
- Content Marketing Optimization: Content marketing is key in navigating buyers through the sales funnel. Tailored content that resonates with buyers at different stages can significantly impact their journey.
- Tailored Messaging: Effective messaging communicates the core business value. It should address the problems the brand solves and how it benefits the buyer, fostering engagement and advancing buyers through the funnel.
- Strategic Partnerships and Sponsorships: Building brand awareness through strategic partnerships casts a wide net. High-impact strategies like event sponsorships and collaborations with established brands can significantly broaden brand reach and recognition.
- Beyond Vanity Metrics: Measurement frameworks should look beyond superficial metrics. Analyzing site traffic, monitoring brand perception, and understanding the impact on leads and sales provides a more comprehensive view of marketing effectiveness1.
There are three ways to think about the B2B sales funnel. First, you have to look at it from the buyer’s standpoint and try to predict their journey. More on that is below.
Second, you must look at it from a B2B sales ad marketing funnel perspective and build digital marketing programs to reach them in disparate channels. And third, there’s reality. No one knows the psychology of why buyers do what they do. We have to rely on data and indicators to help make more intelligent decisions to reach buyers at every stage of the marketing funnel.
What is the B2B Sales Funnel?
A B2B sales funnel is a process enterprise brands use to understand how potential buyers (business and IT decision-makers) decide which products and services to buy. The insights are used by marketing and sales teams to build content marketing programs to reach these buyers at the different stages of the buying process.
There are hundreds of versions of the sales funnel stages. This post isn’t meant to reinvent the wheel or introduce a new sales funnel model. For the most part, they’re all the same. But to establish a baseline, let’s quickly walk through the traditional sales funnel–the awareness stage, consideration stage, preference stage, purchase, and loyalty (or advocacy).
The awareness stage targets top-of-the-funnel digital marketing programs. Content here creates brand awareness, thought leadership, and top-of-funnel messaging. At this phase of the B2B sales funnel, buyers seek information that helps them understand their needs and challenges related to a particular industry or market segment. In some cases, they might just be looking for new technology that will help them scale and drive innovation within their company.
The consideration stage of the B2B sales funnel helps potential customers consider your product or service as an option to solve their business or technology problems. They will most likely be doing more research, comparing products and specs to each other, and cross-referencing that against their business requirements. The middle of the marketing funnel is when your potential customers will show interest but are not yet ready to buy.
The preference stage of the sales funnel is where your potential customers are almost ready to decide on the purchase. They have already narrowed down 2-3 options and seek third-party validation from their peers, colleagues, analysis reports, the media, and influencers. The bottom-of-the-funnel stages is essential to generate quality leads and focus on customer relationships.
The purchase stage is before potential buyers sign a contract and use your product or service. It’s not uncommon for buyers to ask a friend or colleague for validation right before signing the contract, so enterprise companies must continue to push messaging that reinforces their value proposition.
The last stage in the B2B marketing funnel is loyalty. I prefer to call it advocacy. A happy and loyal customer will continue purchasing your product and renew their contract yearly. The customer advocate will do that and tell everyone they know about it. One of the main benefits of doing business is creating brand advocacy by providing good products or services.
Optimize Your Marketing Funnel for the B2B Sales Pipeline
True success happens when sales and marketing can map their digital programs to the B2B sales funnel. This means they must understand B2B buyers’ behaviors at each phase of the marketing funnel. The B2B buyer’s journey is unique because every buyer is different. They use Google differently, they have conversations with various people differently, and they seek advice in forums, on social media, and over the phone differently.
Here are a few ways modern B2B companies can optimize the different sales funnel stages with content marketing. To be consistent, let’s use the classic sales funnel outlined above as an example–awareness, consideration, preference, purchase, and advocacy.
Building Brand Awareness
|Marketing||Build awareness through partnerships, sponsorships, advertising|
|Messaging||Communicate business value and tailored messages|
|Measurement||Develop a framework beyond vanity metrics|
B2B buyers may or may not have heard of your product or service in this stage of the funnel. All marketing and sales initiatives must focus on top-of-the-funnel brand awareness.
Marketing That Reaches the Masses
Building broad brand awareness requires high-impact strategies that cast a wide net. Forming partnerships with established brands and sponsoring key events opens the door to massive, diverse audiences. A 30-second Super Bowl ad or media sponsorship on a major publication like Business Insider instantly connects your message with millions. Display and native advertising provide digital real estate to reach audiences at scale. Outside paid media, organic social sharing, content amplification, and influencer collaborations expand visibility.
The goal is to maximize reach across channels to get on target prospects’ radars. But awareness requires more than impressions – messaging must resonate. Creative that sparks interest and makes brands memorable rises above the noise. With strategic and creative awareness marketing, brands pave the path for future consideration and decisions. Big reach establishes the foundation, but substance converts that reach into long-term opportunities.
Messaging That Resonates With Core Audiences
Strategic messaging is pivotal when establishing awareness. First, it must communicate the core business value the brand delivers. Address critical questions like: What meaningful problems do you solve? How does your solution improve processes or performance? What unique benefits does your brand offer?
Messaging should distill the essence of your value proposition into resonant positioning. For companies with diverse audiences, tailor messages by segment. Meet IT buyers on functional needs and C-suite on business vision. Balance emotion and logic based on the audience. Awareness requires conveying not just what you do but why it matters. Craft messages that spark interest across stakeholders to drive engagement. While showcasing capabilities maintain an authoritative yet approachable tone that builds connection. With substantive, audience-tailored messaging, brands plant seeds that blossom into future consideration.
Superficial vanity metrics like reach and impressions often measure early awareness marketing. However, brands should avoid over-indexing on these. Awareness requires a measurement framework that connects efforts to downstream impacts on leads and sales. Analyze site traffic from campaigns, monitor buzz, and share of voice in relevant communities. Survey brand perception with target audiences. This multi-layered approach ties awareness to real business outcomes over time. Rather than isolated metrics, build an analytics foundation to inform strategy and optimization.
With deeper awareness measurement frameworks, brands gain tangible insight into what resonates with buyers and influences their journey. Big vanity metrics have a role but must combine with strategic analysis. When measurement is focused on the long-term, awareness elevates from a cost center to an engine, driving profitable growth.
|Marketing||SEO, content marketing, paid search, paid social, influencer marketing, sales enablement|
|Messaging||Differentiate through long-form content, product comparisons, influencer reviews|
|Measurement||Optimize lead gen, email marketing, subscriber growth, social media growth|
In this B2B sales funnel stage, buyers already know about your brand, product, or service. And if you’re lucky, you might be a part of the consideration set. Still, lead generation must be top of mind for sales and marketing to continue feeding the B2B sales pipeline.
Marketing That Drives Consideration
While awareness-building marketing tactics stay essential, the messaging and audience focus shifts during consideration. Relevant channels to leverage include SEO, content marketing, paid search ads, targeted social campaigns, influencer partnerships, and sales enablement programs. Each nurtures leads by providing useful information as prospects evaluate options. For example, optimized landing pages answer common questions and objections. Social ads maintain brand visibility and guide prospects to comparison content.
Influencers create authentic case studies. The goal is to cut through the complex researcher journey with relevant touchpoints, not simply noise. Consideration requires understanding subtle nuances in the prospect mindset and crafting multi-channel campaigns that engage and convert high-intent audiences. With strategic messaging and seamless experiences, marketing paves the path to purchase.
Messaging That Exemplifies Product Utility
Crafting messaging that uniquely differentiates from competitors is crucial during consideration. Impactful tactics include long-form content like whitepapers demonstrating deep category expertise versus alternatives. In-depth comparison charts spotlighting superior features and benefits make strengths clear. Case studies prove real-world value while collaborating with influencers for candid reviews lends credibility.
The messaging must walk a fine line – compelling prospects your solution surpasses options without overstating claims. Striking an authoritative yet approachable tone builds trust. The goal is convincing prospects you offer the best path forward before making final decisions. With strategic messaging, brands guide prospects to realize their offering aligns with true needs.
Consideration metrics go beyond superficial awareness vanity metrics to provide actionable insight. Brands should closely track lead generation and conversion rates from content offers. Optimizing email marketing performance and growing subscriber lists expands reach. Monitoring social media growth and engagement highlights valuable channels. Click-through rates on ads and content downloads reveal compelling messages and offers. The key is connecting marketing efforts to progress in the prospect journey, not just empty impressions.
By tying metrics to the consideration mindset, brands gain perspective on how to nudge closer to decisions. This clarity enables the refinement of messaging, content, and experiences to maximum effect. When measurement provides a detailed view of the complex B2B journey, marketing can guide prospects to the final decision.
Preference Stage (also known as the Evaluation Stage):
|Marketing||Email, lead gen, lead nurturing, paid search, social media|
|Messaging||Reinforce branding and differentiate from competitors|
|Measurement||Track sales pipeline, qualified leads, conversion rate|
In this stage of the B2B sales funnel, your product or service is one of two or three potential vendors or suppliers. In this case, you may fight to convert existing customers into competitors. That’s the challenge with the marketing funnel. While you acquire new customers through marketing and sales programs, your competitors do the same. This is the evaluation stage, so until you can secure a commitment from your prospects, lead nurturing will still need to be prioritized to infiltrate the buying process.
Engage Buyers Everywhere Through Integrated Marketing
During the preference stage, marketing efforts should be concentrated on tactics that engage prospects before deciding on a final purchase. Email campaigns focused on lead gen, nurturing, and conversion are critical. Paid search ads that target high-intent keywords help capture prospects actively looking for solutions. Organic and paid social media campaigns keep your brand in mind and nudge prospects toward a decision. Promotional discounts, free trials, and special content offers provide that extra incentive to drive conversion.
The goal with all marketing during the decision stage is guiding prospects through those last few steps down the funnel and converting consideration into actual sales. Rather than casting a wide net, marketing tactics should be highly targeted, personalized, and designed to directly address prospect needs and questions at this advanced stage. Creative messaging, innovative content, and resources that make the customer decision process easier will pay dividends. The decision stage is when prospects are ripe for conversion, so marketing should double down on understanding and serving their needs.
Reiterate Brand Differentiators In Messaging
The messaging that prospects receive during the preference stage is critically important. Before purchasing, this is the last chance to reinforce and differentiate your unique value proposition from competitors. Messaging should powerfully yet succinctly convey why your brand is superior and worth investing in. To craft messaging that truly resonates, deeply understand what your target customers care about and what language resonates with their needs.
For example, are they looking for ease of use and simplicity? Does excellent customer service hold more weight? Know the precise pains and desires that your brand alleviates. Then, use messaging to highlight how you uniquely deliver on those needs better than alternatives. The messaging should be concise, consistent, and focused on meaningful differentiation – not generic claims. When prospects evaluate multiple options, targeted and benefit-driven messaging will propel them to decide your solution is the right choice ultimately.
Brands should track several critical marketing metrics during this stage to quantify performance. First, analyze metrics related to building a robust sales pipeline, such as total qualified leads generated, lead conversion rates, and how leads flow through your sales funnel over time. Closely monitor campaign-level metrics – clicks, click-through rates, impressions, and engagement for each initiative. These numbers indicate how well specific marketing efforts resonate with prospects and drive them closer to conversion.
Beyond typical campaign KPIs, analyze metrics related to website traffic, search engine ranking, and organic reach. These measures showcase whether your overall assets and messaging are attracting high-intent prospects when they are actively evaluating options. By closely tracking decision stage metrics from multiple angles, brands gain data-driven insight into what is working and what needs improvement.
This enables smart optimization of marketing strategies, tactics, creativity, and messaging to maximize conversion rates. When decision-stage marketing is finely tuned, it has an outsized impact on generating qualified leads, accelerating the sales cycle, and ultimately driving higher revenue.
|Marketing||Leverage all channels beyond the top-of-funnel|
|Messaging||Reinforce brand differentiation and core messages|
|Measurement||Track deals closed, leads, sales, full funnel metrics|
Even in this stage, the B2B sales funnel is not yet complete, but it’s close. Marketing and sales teams are cusp of turning qualified leads into paying customers. After successfully leading your buyer down the marketing funnel, you must continue nurturing them by making them feel comfortable with their decision.
Driving Sales & Conversions
During the purchase stage, marketing channels should shift from focusing solely on lead generation to nurturing clients who have already purchased. While top-of-funnel efforts like broad awareness campaigns become less important, other channels remain essential to build loyalty and facilitate repeat purchases.
For example, targeted email campaigns highlighting new product features or promotions can entice additional buying. Social media that engages customers and answers questions also improves the post-purchase experience. Content marketing and SEO allow previous buyers to access resources and self-serve as needed. The key is having an always-on, multichannel approach that proactively nurtures customers after the initial sale occurs. This reinforces the brand value and retains happy clients over the long term.
Messaging That Converts
Crafting the right messaging is critical for retaining existing customers and nurturing loyalty. Retention messaging should focus on reinforcing the core brand differentiators and value proposition that attracted target customers initially. The goal is to showcase how the brand consistently delivers on its promises. For example, if product quality is a primary driver of brand appeal, continue creating messaging highlighting quality manufacturing, rigorous testing, durability, and other signals of superiority. If security draws customers in, retain them with ongoing security-focused messaging about encryption, access controls, or data integrity.
Regardless of specific differentiation, the messaging should remain highly consistent over time. This strengthens the associations customers have with the brand and its value. Minor messaging pivots or frequent radical changes often confuse audiences. Retention requires sticking to core messages that made the brand resonate originally. Customers want reassurance they made the right choice. Consistent messaging provides that reassurance and boosts the likelihood of repeat purchases and lifelong loyalty.
Measuring Sales & Conversions
Several metrics are critical for brands measuring marketing’s impact on sales. First, analyze key revenue-driven KPIs like deals closed from the sales pipeline, new leads from existing clients, and overall repeat sales. These quantify the hard ROI of retention programs. However, the full picture requires a long-term framework connecting marketing to loyalty. Track engagement on customer content campaigns, community participation, multi-year renewal rates, and customer lifetime value. Analyze how messaging influences brand sentiment and affinity over time.
This multidimensional insight spotlights how marketing systematically strengthens community enriches relationships, and nurtures advocacy with current users. The goal is to optimize initiatives to maximize retention, minimize churn, and build lasting affinity. With robust metrics, marketing becomes an engine fueling loyalty across the customer lifecycle.
|Marketing||Focus on community engagement, brand advocacy|
|Messaging||Reinforce product differentiation|
|Measurement||Track community metrics – engagement, new users, retention|
I am sure that you have heard this before. It’s more expensive to acquire new customers than to retain existing ones. Digital marketers need to keep their relationships strong with existing customers. I am prioritizing community engagement, active listening, and responding to customer complaints.
Marketing to Existing Customers
During the advocacy stage, marketing efforts should pivot to focus on nurturing engaged brand communities and advocacy programs. Many leading enterprise brands are investing in building owned online communities that enable customers to interact, share insights, and support each other. These platforms strengthen long-term customer loyalty, create connections, and allow brand superfans to emerge. Community members with exceptional experience often become vocal advocates who organically promote the brand to their peers.
Beyond owned communities, marketing can also nurture advocacy by highlighting customer success stories, creating referral programs, and finding other ways to empower satisfied customers to share their positive brand experiences. The goal is to establish systematic ways to turn customers into advocates who willingly promote the brand and its products. This community-building approach is far more powerful than any traditional marketing tactics.
Building Advocacy With Messaging
Although messaging becomes less of a focus in the advocacy stage, it still plays an important role. Brands, especially those with multiple product offerings, should continue highlighting each solution’s differentiated benefits. For example, sending existing customers content or campaigns that showcase how Product A excels at X benefit while Product B is superior for Y use case. This reinforces why customers made their initial purchase and strengthens loyalty to the brand’s offerings. Keeping messaging tailored, relevant, and focused on each product’s unique value continues building connections between customers and services. This ultimately nurtures higher levels of satisfaction and brand advocacy over time.
Measuring Brand Advocacy
Brands should prioritize several key metrics when measuring marketing effectiveness on retention. First, analyze metrics tied directly to revenue from current customers, including deals closed from the sales pipeline, new leads generated from existing clients, and overall sales revenue from repeat purchases. These quantify the raw business impact of retention programs. However, retention requires a longer-term perspective. To fully understand how marketing nurtures loyalty, brands should build measurement frameworks that connect marketing efforts to retention over time.
For example, track engagement metrics on customer-focused content campaigns, community participation, customer renewal rates year-over-year, and lifetime value of existing clients. Analyze how messaging affects brand sentiment and affinity.
The goal is to gain multidimensional insight into how marketing systematically strengthens retention, community, and advocacy in current customers. This framework provides a complete picture of marketing’s role in nurturing lasting loyalty and repeated purchases. With robust retention metrics, brands can optimize initiatives to maximize customer lifetime value, reduce churn, and build communities of brand advocates.
Gartner’s B2B Buying Jobs & The Sales Funnel
Gartner fielded a study about the B2B sales funnel and identified six buying “jobs” that potential customers must complete before finalizing a purchase. This study is valuable for both sales and marketing teams.
The six buying “jobs” are below:
- Problem identification: This is when potential customers realize they have a problem and need to find a solution quickly. This could also be considered “identifying an opportunity” to drive technology innovation.
- Solution exploration: B2B buyers start assessing the landscape to understand the technology vendors in the market. They may read the Gartner Magic Quadrant and other reports that evaluate various technology solutions.
- Requirements building: This is when buyers start to document all the internal requirements to ensure a smooth deployment of new technology.
- Supplier selection: Once the B2B buyer has the list of B2B companies and vendors, they will seek buy-in by collaborating with other internal business decision-makers and stakeholders.
MEDDIC and The B2B Sales Funnel
|Market Mapping||Assess target segment opportunity, competition, potential|
|Economic Buyer||Identify customer needs and buying motivations|
|Decision Criteria||Understand customer preferences influencing purchase decisions|
The B2B sales funnel has evolved over the years. It used to be linear, or marketers thought it was linear. A few years ago, we completed a project for a client where we built a buyer persona (informed by accurate data), and we mapped their conversations to MEDDIC—an acronym for Market Mapping, Economic Buyer, Decision Criteria, Decision Process, Identify Pain Points, and Competitive Landscape.
MEDDIC is a sales process that emphasizes better customer qualification and is used globally by sales and marketing teams. It tracks how buyers and IT decision-makers consume content and media in the marketing funnel.
Market mapping is the first step of the MEDDIC sales process. It involves building a set of market-related questions designed to assess a target segment’s opportunity, competitive dynamics, and potential. This sales process aims to separate high-value projects from those that wouldn’t be worth pursuing. Market mapping builds upon research spanning different industries and geographies to provide unique perspectives on the market landscape and digital ecosystem.
In contrast to market mapping, the economic buyer involves a set of questions that focus on the customer side of the business equation. These questions identify what people want from a product or service and why they might consider buying one like yours. This analysis ultimately drives how to define a target segment, which customers to pursue first, and then how to reach them as they navigate the B2B sales funnel.
Decision criteria involve documenting questions about what will – and won’t – influence customers’ purchasing decisions within the target segment. Enterprise and B2B companies often sell multiple products to a single customer, but these customers have budget limitations and preferences for how they want to be sold. To overcome objections, sales teams must understand these preferences and prepare language, documents, and other collateral.
The decision process is a parallel set of questions about the audience within the target segment within the B2B sales funnel. This includes which players are involved, what information they can access, and what types of contracts or deals they favor. Gartner’s “buying jobs” above is a good example of this.
The fourth step of the MEDDIC sales process is to identify pain points. This involves a set of questions that help customers articulate their reasons for not buying our product or service and any other problems associated with their current solution. The purpose is to help marketing and sales understand what issues we can address during each stage of the sales cycle and how those issues affect their ability to close deals.
Finally, the fifth step of the MEDDIC sales process is to analyze the competitive landscape. To be successful in today’s market, companies need a thorough understanding of their competitors’ moves and initiatives. The purpose is to understand what makes a product different from similar products and services, how they stack up against competitors, and how their company’s strengths can counter competitors’ weaknesses.
The MEDDIC sales process is a powerful model that provides a much-needed structure for sales prospecting. It allows companies to identify customer pain points, create targeted marketing messages, tailor the selling approach accordingly, generate qualified leads, and close more deals. This sales process can make all the difference in today’s highly competitive sales environment.
Now, let’s look at the buyer’s journey from their perspective.
The B2B Buyer’s Journey
Interestingly, the number of buyers in B2B markets is growing and changing. Seven years ago, in 2015, Google released a study in partnership with Millward Brown called “The Changing Face of B2B Marketing“. Roughly 3,000 B2B buyers were surveyed about purchasing software and using digital and social media channels. Google also analyzed a year’s clickstream data from Millward Brown Digital’s desktop panel.
At that time, the results were surprising. I remember reading the report and sharing it with colleagues because no one thought millennials were a natural target for B2B marketing.
One of the report’s biggest surprises was that nearly half of all B2B buyers are, in fact, millennials, and this was in 2015.
The report discusses how brands must go beyond the C-Suite when building a marketing plan and sales process targeting an inbound buyer’s journey. I couldn’t agree more. I have done much work with the buyer journey mapping, and one thing is consistent. I have found that other internal stakeholders influence each customer journey stage.
I am also a B2B buyer. I have probably managed about a dozen or so software RFPs since 2006. The first one I was involved with was in 2006 when I worked for Intel. We were in the market for enterprise collaboration software when building our community platform strategy. At that time, there weren’t many vendors in the space, and we signed with Clearspace, which became Jive Software.
In the early days of social media, we also looked at software providers like Scout Labs, Radian6, Sysomos, and Collective Intellect for social media monitoring, publishing, and analytics. But unfortunately, none of those platforms exist anymore.
I have also reviewed several RFPs for publishing and social CRM platforms like Sprinklr, Spredfast, Involver, and Vitrue. I also helped my clients navigate the employee advocacy space and helped them decide on platforms like Dynamic Signal.
My Buyer’s Journey Stages Are Different Than Most
One of the advantages of my career is that I have been in the social media space for a long time. In my bio, I often say that I have been “building brands online since Al Gore invented the Internet.” That’s a joke. But, to give context, I joined Twitter in 2007 and have been tweeting nonstop ever since.
Because I was an early adopter and user of social media, I knew many technology vendors in this space. So rather than downloading a white paper, filling out a form, reading a blog post from a SaaS provider, and going through the traditional sales process, I would typically tweet a colleague asking about a demo. I usually get a response very quickly, take it offline, and set up the meeting.
I would always ask for a 30-day or 60-day free trial access to the platform. After that, I wanted to get my hands dirty and test the software for as long as I could have access to it. My colleagues and I would like to joke around and say that we like to break the platform quickly. I want you to know this isn’t the typical B2B buyer’s journey, but I am not your standard B2B buyer.
How Much of the Customer Journey is Digital?
This is a good question. I would say that 99.9% of the buyer’s journey is digital for several different reasons. First, as mentioned above, many B2B buyers are millennials and digital natives. They live and breathe on the Internet. They don’t pick up newspapers, and they don’t notice outdoor ads. Google is their homepage.
Secondly, today’s culture is about mobility, apps, and access. Even with the pandemic, we want access to information quickly and efficiently, whether traveling or not. When traveling, we want the ability to access apps to help us with our everyday tasks, whether a ride to the airport, ordering takeout food, or grocery shopping.
Our culture today is digital. 100%. So is the buyer’s journey.
What is Buyer Journey Mapping?
Buyer journey mapping creates content and programs to intercept buyers as they are weaving in and out of the purchase funnel. Let’s look at the buyer’s journey below and read it linearly. You will see that the first thing a buyer goes through is realizing they either have a problem or an opportunity. Many refer to this as the awareness stage.
|Product Differentiation||Discover more innovative solutions than the current platform|
|Goal Alignment||Acquire software aligning with business/tech goals|
|Speed to Value||The current stack is slow and needs faster innovation and value|
|ROI||Need tangible ROI sooner than the current solution provides|
|Scale||Discover software helping scale martech stack and drive growth|
Once the needs are identified, the rest of the buyer’s journey is all over. Gartner calls it looping. It makes sense as much as that sounds like a science fiction movie, similar to The Matrix. It’s another way of saying that the buyer’s journey is unpredictable.
Predictably, the B2B buyer spends most of their time researching information. So it would make sense for marketers to create relevant content that addresses each of the factors and pain points listed above. These are all buyer actions that you can use to create demand. You can create content related to each problem in your industry and then answer why your software can solve that problem.
There’s an opportunity to create white papers, blog posts, and social content addressing these issues. It would also make sense to partner with influencers and co-collaborate on content. This could be a video series where influencers interview executives, existing customers, or partners. It can also be as simple as paying influencers to promote branded content on their social media channels. In these cases, it’s about creating content at every B2B sales funnel stage.
The Common Denominator of the Buyer’s Journey: Research
After the problem is identified, the rest of the buyer’s journey touches the consideration stage and involves requirements building, exploring different solutions, and selecting the right vendor. Those three steps can take the majority of time throughout the buying journey. But the common denominator here is that buyers are consistently using Google.
This is where long-term planning comes into play. Because it takes so long for Google to index long-form content, you’d have to think about this 6 to 12 months before your program or campaign. Investing in long-form content like blogs and YouTube videos will ensure your content will appear in search engines over time.
It should be noted here that social media content is excellent for engaging with influencers and buyers in real time. However, it is not meant to drive long-term visibility for the brand. This is because the shelf life of social media content is less than a day and, in many cases, just a few minutes. On the other hand, the shelf life of long-form content is forever, assuming it’s written well and addresses all the keywords your buyers use when going through the B2B buyer’s journey.
However, just because you write a blog post doesn’t mean it will rank in Google for the right keywords. So, you must ask yourself whether you researched properly before writing the blog post. In many cases, B2B marketers create target audience personas that give a 360-degree view of the buyer.
An intelligent blog post is grounded in data. Likewise, all marketing must be grounded in audience data.
Did The Pandemic Transform the B2B Buying Journey?
Forrester released their latest B2B Buying Trends report, revealing how the pandemic shaped B2B purchasing. According to the report, B2B buyers now exercise more due diligence than ever, reinforcing what we have known for years. Buyers spend more time researching and engaging in more technical conversations with vendors and 3rd parties before deciding.
Here are a few data points from Forrester’s B2B Buyers Journey Report:
- Buyer journey actions increased 60% from 2019 to 2021
- Digital buying actions outpacing human interaction
- 55% of buyers find human interaction valuable
- 43% say B2B buying process is complex
- Buying involves C-suite, finance, IT stakeholders
The Forrester report confirms what we have long suspected: the pandemic has irrevocably changed how B2B buyers operate. Buyers are now conducting more due diligence than ever, researching options exhaustively and engaging in lengthy conversations with vendors before deciding. This new reality presents both challenges and opportunities for software vendors.
On the one hand, the increase in buyer complexity makes it more difficult to win business. Vendors must contend with more extensive and diverse stakeholders with priorities and concerns. Furthermore, buyers rely more heavily on digital resources, making it harder for human sales reps to stand out.
On the other hand, the increased scrutiny of purchase decisions presents an opportunity for vendors who can provide a differentiated offering. In a world where buyers do their homework, those with a strong product and a track record of success will be well-positioned to win business. Similarly, sellers who can effectively navigate the new B2B buying landscape will be well-positioned to succeed in this rapidly evolving market.
The pandemic has made the B2B buyer’s journey more complex. With more stakeholders involved and more research being done, vendors must be prepared to engage in longer, more complex sales cycles.
Creating a B2B Buyer Persona is Smart Marketing
Creating a B2B Buyer Persona isn’t hard to do. Anyone could download a template from Google and add any content they want. However, savvy marketers build audiences and create B2B buyer personas driven by 100% accurate data.
Here’s an example of an IT decision-maker B2B buyer persona.
All of the data on this persona is real. I have written at length about creating buyer personas if you’re interested. But one of the things that should be included when developing a B2B buyer persona is conversation analytics.
A conversation analysis will help uncover what keywords and phrases B2B buyers use publicly on social media. This data is critical. It can inform your entire editorial strategy when creating content. You can create a data-driven approach and reach buyers with relevant content through blog posts, white papers, and ebooks. The point is to create content throughout the entire customer journey.
Final Thoughts on the B2B Sales Funnel
Understanding B2B sales funnels isn’t like playing a game of checkers. Sales and marketing teams must understand that the buyer’s journey can be as long as 18 months, so a long-term strategy must be developed to create a sales pipeline and close deals.
With that in mind, I started to map some initial thinking to address the B2B sales funnel:
- Empathize with the tech challenge
- Provide unbiased & alternative solutions
- Reinforce product capabilities of the tech stack
- Elevate customer references and amplify them everywhere
- Activate influencers for 3rd party validation
The B2B sales funnel isn’t linear. It doesn’t map to the marketing funnel you learned in business school. It’s unique, ever-changing, and dynamic. More importantly, the buyer’s journey is unpredictable. Mapping data-driven content to the buyer’s journey is essential to your brand marketing efforts.
The B2B sales funnel isn’t dead, despite the industry punditry. It is changing, yes. But the beauty of data is that you can uncover insights that will help deliver content in the right channel, to the right audience, and at the right time.