Consumers and businesses have very different purchasing needs, so it’s no surprise that they use different buying processes. When you sell B2B, you rarely sell to one person. More likely, you sell to a diverse group of individuals composed of decision-makers, stakeholders, end-users, and the gatekeepers who surround them.
The B2C buying process may be completed in mere minutes, as the consumer makes an impulse purchase. The B2B buying process has a longer evaluation and relationship-building period, involves larger order values, and results in a longer customer lifecycle. When you sell to businesses, you must also consider their organizational hierarchies and the various environmental and personal factors that influence their purchase decisions.
In this post, we cover the stages of the B2B buying process, as well as the players involved, what influences them, and how changes in technology have impacted the buying process.
How Technology Is Changing The B2B Buying Process
Technology constantly evolves – and as more buyers adopt new technology, their behavior changes. Business buyers are less predictable in engaging with brands, leading to non-linear sales cycles. Sales teams, working on limited budgets, must constantly adapt to ever-changing buyer behavior. Buyers are inundated with information and choices and sellers must be more competitive just to stay relevant. The ability to place an order online isn’t the only way technology and eCommerce are changing the B2B buying process.
Technology raises expectations
Even as COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns become a thing of the past, customers don’t want to return to face-to-face interactions. They expect a more enhanced digital experience. Five years ago, being omnichannel meant that organizations engaged with customers using just a few channels. Today, McKinsey research suggests that the number increased of channels is up to nine or ten. Furthermore, customers expect to engage seamlessly across all channels.
Supports more decision-makers
Technology makes sharing information much easier. As a result, the days of marketing to one key individual are long gone. Research by DemanGen indicates that 61% of B2B buyers have increased the number of people in their purchase process, while 71% manage purchases through a special committee. Sales teams must target the decision-makers (which involves more research and preparation) as well as the decision-making committees.
Makes personalization the norm not the exception
Collecting data and then using it to personalize messaging is now so common that buyers expect it. And expectations keep increasing. It’s not enough to personalize a name in an email. Brands need to let buyers know they listen to them and understand their needs. B2B marketing and sales teams must focus on contextualized personalization, assistance, and guidance.
Changes customer engagement
As customers engage online, they leave digital tracks in the form of page views, downloads, form completions, add-to-carts, and other activities. Using this data to personalize and contextualize engagement is a start, but that’s not enough. Today’s B2B businesses don’t sell products or services, they sell solutions to customer problems. Modern sellers help customers find the signal through all the background noise.
According to Gartner, this sense-making approach should be the basis for interacting with customers. This approach simplifies customer learning by prioritizing the information that’s personal to their needs, allowing them to arrive at their own decisions with more confidence.
Supports omnichannel experiences
The majority of B2B customers expect ease to engage with suppliers on multiple channels. And the most popular channels today are digital. Whether it’s video, chat, mobile, or eCommerce websites, B2B buyers want many channel choices during the purchase process.
Furthermore, omnichannel doesn’t mean just showcasing product information and availability. Customers now expect the channel they use to support making purchases, getting order update information, and obtaining real-time order tracking. No matter the channel, the experiences are expected to be consistent.
Everyone seems to be going online. Even B2B sales, where ways of working and doing business often are less agile than B2C. Early adopters enjoy the opportunity to get ahead of the competition. Companies must embrace digital to meet the increasing preferences of B2B buyers.
All that makes for a buying process that changes and evolves as time passes.
What Is the B2B Buying Process?
The B2B purchase process involves various workflows and steps B2B businesses must perform to complete a purchase. It involves five discrete stages that include recognizing there is a problem, evaluating solutions, selecting a supplier, approval, and relationship-building. It’s important to realize that not every purchase will involve all five steps, and the steps don’t always occur in the sequence described.
Problem identification and requirement definition
The first stage in the B2B purchase process happens when the business identifies a need. This is usually when a problem arises or a committee or department manager determines a product or service is required to meet a goal. The source of the need can be external (such as adapting to a changing competitive landscape or meeting new needs of customers) or internal (such as parts for equipment repair or new productivity software).
After the problem is identified, the next step is to commit to the purchase and define the requirements. While this might be unnecessary for low-cost or emergency purchases, a large purchase may require budget approvals, regulatory oversight, and greater company participation. Large purchases can affect many areas of the organization, so defining requirements can take many people and an extended period.
Solution exploration and market research
The second stage covers investigating what the market offers to solve the problem. Also called the evaluation phase, it can involve a single department director or require collaboration from multiple areas of the organization. During this stage, organizations may hire an outside consultant or agency to manage the research phase and ensure compliance with regulatory bodies, if necessary.
Supplier selection and purchase
With ample information on potential vendors, you’re ready to narrow down suppliers that meet your needs. Depending on the decision-making process used within your organization, you may have shortlisted vendors from whom to purchase. Or, you may allow company representatives to connect with suppliers directly. In other cases, companies employ researchers to examine websites, content, and case studies.
In more complex scenarios, vendor-based or cost-based research is conducted to help narrow down prospective vendors. Then, many B2Bs employ lengthy RFP (requests for proposals), RFQ (request for quotes), and engage approval committees, to narrow down the field of contenders.
Consensus and approval
Before the purchase order is issued, the buyer, manager, or committee must justify the necessary allocation of resources for the purchase decision to the approving authority. This may require additional internal collaboration to reach consensus and external support from the supplier.
This stage may be nothing more than a few calls or memos or it may involve additional meetings to get answers to questions and clarify information. During this phase, the potential supplier must assure the buyer they are getting the best solution for their needs.
Repeat purchases and relationship building
Many B2B purchases are not just one-time transactions but happen because of long-term relationships. In the B2B buying process, repeat purchases are the norm. Longer relationships mean that the buyer and seller must forge deeper ties with one another, and in many cases become interdependent on one another.
Who Is Involved in the B2B Buying Process?
At every stage of the B2B purchase process, sellers engage with numerous individuals inside or outside of the purchasing organization. These individuals can influence the sale in different ways and play one or more of the following roles:
The initiator is the person who notices the problem or opportunity and voices concerns to others in authority. This can be anyone within the organization.
The buyer is the individual purchasing the solution. It can be a department manager or a purchasing manager that signs off on the purchase.
A decision-maker is someone who makes a final call and approves the purchase. Decision-makers can be company leaders, business development managers, purchasing executives, or heads of accounting departments.
Influencers are internal or external experts with professional opinions that can sway the purchase decision. They can be department heads, consultants, or members of the purchasing committee.
Gatekeepers control the flow of information in the organization. They include administrative assistants, researchers, and other individuals who are the first point of contact.
A user is someone who will use the product and needs it. The user’s feedback can be very important during the purchasing process.
What Influences the Buying Process?
Ever walk into a store and discovered what you need is in the very back? Retail stores (especially grocery stores) are purposefully set to get you to walk through the store and purchase more. In a B2B buying journey, the seller can influence buyer behavior in similar ways. If they have an online presence, they can influence buyer behavior through web design, features, and advertising. However, other factors you can’t control.
Environmental factors influencing the B2B purchase process can include the economy, the competition, and customer expectations.
In many industries, the health of the economy impacts budgets and spending, dictating whether companies can make a purchase. Economic forecasts, interest rates, overall demand, and competitive pressures impact the urgency of purchases and affect B2B buying decisions.
Regulatory requirements can constrain organizations, too. Government-affiliated organizations and businesses operating in regulated industries often find limits in their purchasing decisions. Cultural influences and religious customs can also limit purchases, for example, business meetings and decisions are often put on hold during the Ramadan fasting period in Muslim majority countries.
A single business purchase consists of many moving parts. Business goals and the individuals involved play a major role in the buying process.
Organizational factors include company goals, missions, and policies. They’re influenced by the company’s organizational hierarchy and decision-making process. Lastly, every purchase decision is limited by resources – time, money, human, and technological capacities within the organization.
Organizational factors can influence the supplier selection process, even before the purchase takes place. The purchase itself can be long or short and may involve consultations, approvals, exchanging documentation, and contracts.
In any purchase decision, relationships matter. In a B2B purchase, where dozens of relationships may influence the purchase, they matter even more. For example, a gatekeeper or decision-maker can recommend one supplier over another based on an existing good relationship. Even in the most democratic of organizations, different opinions carry different weights. Sellers must be aware of these interpersonal relationships and how they influence the purchasing decision.
While demographic variables such as gender, age, income, and education are important in B2C, they may not carry as much weight in a B2B purchase. Since B2B buyers are making purchases as part of their jobs, their actions are less emotional. Business buyers can have different attitudes towards their purchase decisions:
- A price-focused customer is concerned about price and the balance between price and value.
- Quality-focused customers prioritize quality over quantity and focus on quality as a strategic value.
- Relationship-focused customers focus on personal interactions before, during, and after the sale.
- Customers focused on building partnerships prioritize long-term, strategic, and mutually beneficial partnerships.
Understanding these different types of attitudes will help you better engage with the individual buying group during the purchase process.
Ways to Improve the B2B Buying Process for Customers
First, understand your selling environment. The buying process is changing, and organizations must change too. Get to know your customers, and create a customer journey map. Business purchases are made up of many individuals who have different motivators and ways they arrive at purchase decisions. Similarly, work with your sales teams and train them in consultative selling. As a seller, you should help buyers through their buying process.
Every B2B buyer is different. Businesses often have multiple subdivisions or sub-units, complete with branches, offices, departments, and teams. Make sure you can accommodate their varying needs.
Today’s buyers are overwhelmed by choice. A comparison page helps potential customers to compare products or solutions from other manufacturers and identify the appropriate solution to their problem. You can even compare different versions of your products to simplify product selection.
Business customers have trouble finding accurate information for an objective purchase decision. Use content and guides to inform, educate, and help customers make the best decision.
Sales reps should act as sherpas to guide customers through their self-service process. This can include helping them navigate the eCommerce portal, providing supplemental information, and submitting pricing or certifications if necessary.
One of the easiest ways to increase sales, average order values, and customer satisfaction is by recommending a product or service at the right time. Also, share reviews and recommendations from your existing customers to build credibility.
Personal, relevant prices eliminate questions and misunderstanding when purchasing products, and eliminate effort during the shopping process. Pricing engines can even automate the process so the right price is quoted every time.
With many individuals involved in a B2B purchase, you should understand the buyer’s approval process and help them shepherd the transaction to the next stage of the buying process.
Sometimes business buyers need to manage many documents as they move through the purchase process. Make it easy for customers to submit and approve RFQ and QTC documents, contract documents, and invoices online to minimize paperwork.
Checkout, payment & shipping
Lastly, businesses have their own checkout, payment, and fulfillment requirements. They can be lengthy or short, complex or simple. Know what they are and how you can meet them.
Leverage Technology to Improve the Process
The appropriate use of technology helps buyers smoothly move through their B2B buying process. Don’t cut corners when looking for the best B2B eCommerce platform for your needs.
A great solution is OroCommerce, as it can streamline the B2B buying process from start to finish. Make use of features like automated RFQ and QTC workflows, a dynamic pricing engine, checkout workflow, and B2B account management to conform the process to your customer’s needs. OroCommerce allows sales teams to even login on behalf of customers, to guide them through the purchase process.
How B2Bs Are Using Technology to Improve The Buying Process: 3 Case Studies
Here are B2B buying process examples of how eCommerce companies streamlined the buying journey and customer service.
SaltWorks wanted to accommodate these diverse buying personas from a single website. When the time came to replatform, SaltWorks selected OroCommerce, the multichannel eCommerce platform designed for B2B, B2C, and B2X scenarios. With Oro’s native functionality, SaltWorks offers its B2B buyers personalized prices and discounts, extended checkout options, and custom shipping methods. Today, eCommerce remains a significant sales channel for SaltWorks and is popular with B2B and B2C buyers.
With OroCommerce, Dunlop rolled out websites for its smaller customer base in just a few weeks. The goal of this partial rollout was to evaluate the feasibility of the new digital buying process. The result was greater order transparency, order tracking, and reduced data entry for back-office staff. The platform’s adoption led to a 40% increase in conversion rates and a 10% increase in average order values, prompting Dunlop to roll out digital purchasing to 80% of its customers.
TruPar utilized OroCommerce’s real-time integration capabilities to deliver real-time pricing, real-time product availability, and live lead times based on customer location. OroCommerce also proved to be robust enough to handle orders across time zones, languages, and currencies. In the end, customers reacted favorably. TruPar saw a 25% increase in online revenue and a 70% increase in average order values.
Questions and Answers
What is the B2B buying process?
Here’s a simple B2B buying process definition: the B2B buying process includes the steps and processes a company uses to procure goods and services. The process can include various channels such as eCommerce websites, procurement catalogs, phone, fax, and more. Unlike B2C, a B2B buying cycle is usually more complex, longer, and involves more people.
Why is the B2B buying process changing?
The B2B buying process is changing for many reasons. First of all, customer experience has become a prime differentiator. Technology enables customers to demand and get personalized experiences as B2C consumers. They have the same expectations for their B2B experiences as well. Business sellers now have more data than ever and, with the right strategy, can utilize it to make strategic decisions.
What are B2B buying process steps?
The B2B buying process can be characterized by the following steps:
- Problem identification and requirements building
- Solution exploration and market research
- Supplier selection and purchase
- Consensus and approval
- Repeat purchases and relationship building
What’s necessary to create a great B2B buying process?
When you’re making adjustments to the B2B purchase decision process, it’s important to do ample research about the market, customer, and competition. Get stakeholders within your organization onboard and commit resources for your transformation. Only then can you go through your purchasing stages, optimize points of engagement, and craft messages that consider the participants in the purchase process.