Surely but steadily, B2B eCommerce continues to grow. It is projected to make up at least 12% of all B2B revenue next year. With 80% of executives doing product or service research in the evenings on their tablet, it’s no wonder that according to Accenture, B2B buyers are 57% of the way through the buying process before they first meet with a representative.
So, if the internet has changed how buyers buy, then marketers must change how they pursue this new breed of buyer. Building a website and waiting for traffic won’t work. Understanding your B2B sales funnel ensures that your marketing doesn’t just attract leads into one silo, and your sales doesn’t just pitch their leads into another silo while the business owner or senior executives are left pondering the mystery of their poor digital channel performance. Visualizing your B2B sales funnel is a baseline, a starting point that saves your business from numerous costly mistakes moving forward.
Classic B2B Sales Funnel Stages
The classic B2B sales funnel concept was developed in 1898. Leads pour into the top where they become aware of your brand, product or services. The chance to catch their attention here is fleeting. The average person spends 37 seconds looking at an article.
In the Awareness stage of the B2B sales funnel, people are looking for answers. They need the resources, education, data, opinions, and insight necessary to solve their problem. The problem may be as simple as a new supplier for their manufacturing concerns or as complex as software that integrates their front-end and back-end operations. At this stage, the value of the lead is low because there is no guarantee they are going to pursue a solution from your company. But, if you provide them enough high-level information and content, they may become interested in your products and services. At the upper level of the funnel, a persona is vital to understanding how your buyers think, what problems they are trying to solve, and the path they take to the solution.
As they move to the Interest stage, they begin to research your products to gain more information about them. This is the first stage in the journey where trust is formed. At this point, nurturing the lead is focused on raising the opinion of your company in the buyer’s eyes.
During the Evaluation stage, you’ve solidly captured the buyer’s attention. Now it’s time to focus on showing how your solution is optimal for their needs. To further solidify trust, this is the time to let leads know if your solution isn’t in their best interest. A display of honesty and integrity at this stage may pay off in the future, even if your product or service doesn’t meet the buyer’s needs at this time.
Once your lead is in the Engagement stage they’ll be interacting with your sales force. This may include product demonstrations, sales pitches and a clear communication that you understand the buyer’s pain points and want to help them work to a resolution. The degree of relationship and trust you create at this level is a key factor in the lead moving to the last stage.
In a traditional funnel, the Purchase stage is the end. The Purchase Order is written or the commitment to the purchase is approved. But just because money and product change hands doesn’t mean that you’ve reached the end of the B2b sales funnel. Post purchase engagement not only keeps the customer happy; it further feeds the funnel and is key to building a B2B sales pipeline. That’s because 84% of B2B sales begin with a referral by a friend or colleague and these referral leads convert 30% better.
This traditional sales funnel is still the most widely used model. However account based marketing is changing the traditional funnel. Stay tuned for a future article on this new way of aligning sales and marketing.
Marketing Tactics for the Different Funnel Stages
As buyers move through the funnel, their needs change. That means your marketing tactics and strategies must evolve too. What works in the Awareness stage is ineffectual in the Purchase stage. Offers that are appropriate for the Purchase stage are lost in the Awareness stage. So, mapping your marketing strategy and tactics is as important as mapping your customer journey.
In the Awareness stage and Interest stages, potential buyers may not know you exist. And to make things worse, they may not even really know that they want or need as they begin to research the solution to their problem. Understanding your personna during these stages is more critical than ever. Your SEO tactics, lead generation, and content marketing must all be laser focused on your personna. Whitepapers that address common pain points, eBooks with detailed information, and instructional videos help buyers begin to see possible solutions to their problem and raise awareness of your company at the same time. Pay-per-click ad campaigns may be appropriate for lead generation. The new kid on the block, FaceBook Chatbot Messenger Ads is proving highly effective in engaging leads. Ironically, people are drawn to their initial anonymity because they aren’t required to give up their email address. However, once your lead has opted in, you have access to FaceBook data about the lead that you wouldn’t otherwise have. This is important as you begin your personalization efforts. The key to effective Chatbot Messenger marketing is to end each interaction with a prompt for further action.
Once you’ve captured their attention, it’s time to make the case for why your solution is the best. Now you can truly educate your lead. That’s your focus in the Evaluation and Engagement stages. It’s time to share case studies showing how you’ve helped others in similar situations. Personalized drip email marketing campaigns are easy to automate. In fact, 75% of companies report that they currently use automated marketing tools. Here’s a look at what a drip campaign with conditions might look like in this stage:
Webinars with time set aside for Q & A may be another effective way to engage leads at this stage in the process.
Once your lead has landed on the Purchase stage, it’s time to close the deal or lose the lead. Marketing and Sales must work together to navigate the lead to conversion. This is the time Marketing must arm sales reps with case studies, provide product demos, and offer incentives. Too often, marketers offer incentives and product demos too early in the funnel, when leads aren’t yet committed to a purchase. By holding your offers until the lead is primed to purchase, your Sales force will have more direct impact on the making of the decision.
The B2B Commerce Sales Pipeline isn’t the B2B Sales Funnel
Often the terms sales funnel and sales pipeline are confused. Let’s bring clarity to the issue once and for all.
The B2B sales funnel represents how your leads are being captured and moved through the different stages of interaction until they make a purchase or leave the funnel. The sales pipeline focuses on the actions taken by your salespeople and the potential for revenue in any given point in time. Think of it this way, the funnel is concerned with the buyer’s perspective and the pipeline is focused on the seller’s need to meet sales and revenue goals.
The B2B sales pipeline stages are not the same as the B2B sales funnel stages. To visualize the difference, let’s take a look at a sample pipeline stage report.
As you can see, the B2B sales pipeline stages are different. In the Qualification stage, the marketing net is cast to find the people that are interested or need your products and services. This goal is to determine if this is a potential customer and if so, get the information you need to request a meeting.
During the Meeting stage, you are persuading them that they are on the right path and need to continue to journey. While sales reps are on the phone, the marketing department is busy delivering relevant content.
The Proposal stage is where things can get complicated. The average B2B transaction now requires over 5 people to sign off on the purchase. At this stage, you’ve got to know that you’re negotiating and meeting with the right people to close the deal. And speaking of closing, during the Closing stage you will either classify the deal as lost or won. If the deal is won, you need to take the necessary steps to follow through on every promise and don’t be afraid to ask for referrals. For lost deals, it’s time to dissect what went wrong and what could be changed in the future.
You’ve got to keep the B2B sales funnel full to keep potential buyers moving through the B2B sales pipeline. Just like you need marketing tactics and strategies to keep the funnel full, you need best practices for building a B2B sales pipeline.
Building a Sales Pipeline
Building a robust B2B sales pipeline requires analyzing the needs of each of your qualified leads at their various stages of the purchase journey.
For example, in the Qualification stage you might offer articles that solve your lead’s problem and only mention or feature your product or service in a very unobtrusive way. You may provide comparisons of your offerings versus your competitor’s. In the Meeting stage active listening will help identify the client’s specific pain points. Sharing relevant case studies at the stage can be highly effective. During the Proposal stage you’ve got to make sure that you identify barriers to closing before the proposal is made and be ready to remove those barriers. The Closing stage is the best opportunity you have to feed your funnel and get more qualified leads in the pipeline. Don’t wait and hope for a referral, ask for a referral. Perform a post-mortem on deals that didn’t close. Is there some way to get them back into the funnel? Are there barriers that should have been identified earlier in the process but weren’t? Answers to these questions will help with subsequent deals.
Digitizing the Sales Funnel and Sales Pipeline
Marketing and sales should work together in creating the B2B sales funnel and building a B2B sales pipeline. Sometimes that much easier said than done. However, technology provides the tools to break down barriers between marketing and sales, prevent information silos, improve communication, and make everyone job’s easier and more effective all while providing customers with the frictionless purchasing experience they want.
CRM. A good Customer Relationship Management software package (CRM) allows you to effectively manage leads, opportunities, and customers. After all, customers are your company’s most asset. It only makes sense to leverage the technology available to build and strengthen customer relationships. A CRM helps from the very beginning of the relationship. Once you initially capture a lead, it can be segmented and qualified. Leads can be automatically assigned to a sales rep and then every interaction tracked. You can even keep up with when emails are opened! With a CRM, every member of the team and management will know where leads are in the funnel and in the pipeline. And once the deal is closed, your customer service reps will have a 360° view of the client for superior support.
eCommerce Platform. The right B2B eCommerce platform supports your sales team. Since B2B transactions are often the same order placed at regular intervals, an eCommerce website that has quick re-order forms gives existing customers the self-serve model they want. In fact, Gartner’s research finds that B2B buyers increasingly spend more time acting independently and less time (only 17%) meeting with potential suppliers.
When your eCommerce site has the content buyers need, they connect on their terms. This 24/7 virtual sales force frees your human sales force to focus on closing more deals with new customers and strengthening relationships with existing customers.
Marketing Automation. One of the greatest digital tools for building a B2B sales pipeline and filling the B2B sales funnel is automated marketing.
With automation you can build a relationship over time at the buyer’s pace. From trigger-based delivery of marketing materials to a ChatBot, automation is making it easier to personalize the marketing experience. And according to Epsilon Marketing research, personalization leads to 80% more conversions.
Future Proof Your Sales Funnel and Pipeline
Are you looking for tactics, strategies and solutions to fuel growth today and in the future? In Overcoming B2B Digital Complexity with a Future Proof Platform you find ways to overcome the challenges that come with digitizing your funnel and pipeline. How to Get Offline Customers to Purchase Online shows how to move your customer base forward in the digital age. When you have questions, Oro has answers.