What is the Buyer’s Journey and How Has it Changed?

Elizabeth Sullivan-Hasson
May 17, 2021
Marketing, Sales

What is the Buyer’s Journey and How Has it Changed?

Consumers consider different factors and weigh their options before making a purchase. (Especially large and expensive ones.) This is even more pronounced in the B2B world. Business technology purchases are often more expensive than B2C purchases. And they are closely tied to the return on investment (ROI) of the business. 

As a tech marketer, it’s critical to understand the journey your buyers take. Which steps do they take? What do they care about most in each phase of the buyer’s journey? And how can you best support them as they narrow down the list of products they’re considering? 

Answering these questions will help you forge stronger relationships with your buyers. 

What Is The Buyer’s Journey in B2B?

Before detailing each stage of the buyer’s journey, here’s a quick explanation of what it is. 

The buyer’s journey starts when the buyer realizes they have a problem and need a software solution. The middle part of their journey is about researching, evaluating, and comparing different options. The final stage of their journey is selecting a product to purchase and enter negotiations with the vendor. In summary, there are three main stages of the buyer’s journey. 

There are also a few important things to keep in mind. First, our industry research shows that a single B2B buying decision is typically made by a committee of people. In 2021, we found that 95% of buying decisions are made collaboratively. So while the buyer’s journey may conjure the image of an individual buyer—multiple people are going on that journey together. 

Second, buyers do different things and need different resources in each phase of their journey. You can think of this as the buyer’s journey funnel. Buyers at the top of the B2B buying funnel probably aren’t ready to look at the datasheet for your product yet. But they’re likely looking for pricing model information for the 5-10 most popular platforms. 

Thirdly, the buyer’s journey can look very different for B2B buyers compared to B2C consumers. B2C purchases are often not as complex, high-stakes, or expensive as business tech purchases. Check out our article detailing the differences between B2B and B2C to learn more.

Serving your buyers the wrong marketing content at the wrong time is a surefire way to lose prospects. Match your marketing content strategy to what your buyers are looking for at each stage of their journey. 

B2B Buyer’s Journey Stages 

Many B2B companies broadly recognize and refer to three main stages of the buyer’s journey: 

  • Awareness stage 
  • Consideration stage 
  • Decision stage

While this is a solid foundation for conceptualizing the buyer’s journey, it doesn’t fully explain what’s involved in each stage of the journey. It also doesn’t differentiate between key parts of the journey such as product discovery, evaluation, and selection. 

This model is reflective of the buying patterns and behaviors we see on B2B software review websites.

In our model, there are four main stages of the buyer’s journey: epiphany, discovery, evaluation, and selection. Though there’s an extra ‘maturity’ stage at the end. This represents the ongoing relationship buyers have with tech vendors once they turn into customers. 

Stage 1: Epiphany 

B2B buyers start their journey with the ‘aha moment’ that they have some type of business problem. This could be a problem with the status quo, a process or tool that’s broken, or the need to upgrade a tool to the next level. 

It may sound counter-intuitive, but this can be an exciting moment for the buyer. They finally know what’s wrong and have ideas about how to potentially fix it. This excitement can be a driving force, and help make the buying experience a positive one. 

Scoping out the problem and identifying all the departments and people it touches can be challenging. Clearly articulating the business problem and how a new or upgraded software product will help is an essential first step. 

During this phase, figuring out how much to budget for potential solutions is critically important. Some buyers face challenges around budgeting as well. For example, not being sure how much budget to allocate or getting approval and buy-in from executives within their company.  

Advice for Marketers

You can help buyers through this early phase of their journey by providing the right type of content and guidance. Educational content around common business problems and how your product’s use cases map to some of those problems is a great place to start. 

Stage 2: Discovery

Next, buyers enter the product discovery phase. As the name implies, this is when buyers are actively navigating the (sometimes very wide) universe of options they have. 

Many buyers may know what one or two of the top product options are, but lack familiarity with specific tools beyond that. They’ll start doing their own online research and reaching out to network connections for recommendations. This is an area TrustRadius has done extensive research. Based on our recent industry research, the top three ways buyers first discover products are: 

  • Prior experience with the product 
  • Recommendations from their network 
  • Searching online for top products

Buyers also start collecting a ‘long list’ of products to consider, which will soon be paired down to just a few products. They’ll pay close attention to how much the products cost, what features they offer, and the limitations of the software. 

Understanding the total cost of ownership (TCO) of the solution, not just initial costs, is essential for buyers. I.e. Are there additional maintenance costs besides the annual licensing fee? Does the vendor charge extra for implementation or premium support? Does external hosting or additional cloud or on-premise storage cost extra? 

Buyers desperately want to understand the pricing model and the degree of feature functionality that comes along with it. Many buyers will disqualify products from their long list based on price.

Advice for Marketers

You can only influence one out of the top three ways that buyers discover products. A buyer’s previous experience with a tool or the recommendations their network provides are out of your control. But you can impact how well your products rank for keywords and shows up in search results. Using smart SEO and paid search strategies will make your product easy to find. 

As giant directories that contain hundreds of different types of business tech, review websites often rank highly on page one of the Google search engine results pages. Make sure you have an active presence on these websites, so you show up where buyers are looking for you. Get started creating your free profile on TrustRadius.  

Stage 3: Evaluation

Buyers in the evaluation stage start narrowing down their long list of products into a shortlist. Most shortlists include between 2-5 products. As they compare products against one another, buyers turn to online resources for more information. These include review websites, case studies, customer stories, whitepapers, blog posts, podcasts, etc. In 2021,the average B2B buyer uses about 7 different resources to help evaluate products. 

This is typically the stage where buyers start reaching out to vendor representatives to set up an initial call or get a product demo. Many buyers look for free trials and accounts so they can get hands-on experience with the product. From our recent research, we know a large majority of buyers (87%) want these types of self-service options. 

B2B Buying Disconnect 2021 - Forecasting Radical Changes in Tech Buying Behavior - ©TrustRadius

Key challenges that buyers face in this stage of the buyer’s journey include: 

  • Having trouble truly differentiating products
  • Lack of vendor transparency around pricing 
  • Making sure they’re choosing the right products for their shortlist 

Advice for Marketers

Buyers in the evaluation stage are either midway or close to the bottom of the buyer’s journey funnel. Thinking about this from a content marketing perspective, your buyers are ready for more detailed and in-depth content. They’ve already done much of their own online research, and have narrowed down their options to your product and a few other competitors. 

Buyers are now looking for information about your product’s competitive differentiation and their specific use case. They also want to see case studies that prove ROI. They’re also looking for validation from their peers and trusted third-party sources. For many, this is where reviews play a huge role. 

Reviews are an especially influential resource for buyers during this stage, and one of the resources they trust most. Read more about why you should care about third-party validation here. Provide your buyers with resources that will help them compare the products on their shortlist and find the right one for their business. 

B2B Buying Disconnect 2021 - Forecasting Radical Changes in Tech Buying Behavior - ©TrustRadius

Stage 4: Selection 

The selection stage is the final stage of the buyer’s journey and results in a purchase decision. At this point, your buyers have whittled down their shortlist to just two or three products. They are ready to choose one to move forward with. 

Once they do, the waiting game begins. Going through negotiation, legal review of the contract, and getting final approval can take a long time. Odds are that both you and the buyer are anxious to have the deal finally signed. 

Buyers might still be looking for some last-minute validation that they made the right choice. (Even though they’ve already decided to purchase a product.) They may ask for references or want to see even more case studies. Or, they might be thinking a few steps ahead. For example, reading through reviews that describe other customers’ implementation experience. 

The biggest potential challenge that both buyers and vendors face in this stage is the deal getting stalled or falling apart. If this happens, it can mean a lost deal and future revenue for your business. It can also negatively impact the buyer’s perception of your products or brand, making them less likely to work with you in the future. 

Advice for Marketers

One of the best things you can do is keep your buyers engaged during this phase, especially if it lasts a few months. The buyer’s initial excitement may be wearing off, especially with the lengthy purchase decisions of the B2B world.

Buyers may need extra assurance that they’ve made the right choice. Offering them a free trial, a sandbox environment to get started in, or other ways to start using the product can help keep them engaged. 

Make sure you have references, technical documentation, and implementation materials at the ready. 

How The Buyers’ Journey Is Changing

The buyer’s journey has changed over the past few years, especially during 2020 when 100% of business operations were conducted online. Some key B2B trends have been in motion for a long time, while others have sprung up in our remote-first business environment. 

One critical way the buyer’s journey is changing is the demographic makeup of buyers themselves. 60% of buyers are now Millennials (ages 25 – 40) and 2% are from Gen Z (age 24 or younger).  

This matters because the younger generations of buyers behave differently than older generations. For example, they’re more likely to first discover a product by searching online. They’re also less likely to use analyst reports and rankings as a resource when evaluating products. 

B2B Buying Disconnect 2021 - Forecasting Radical Changes in Tech Buying Behavior - ©TrustRadius
B2B Buying Disconnect 2021 - Forecasting Radical Changes in Tech Buying Behavior - ©TrustRadius

Buyers are becoming more independent and want more control over their buying process. As a result, they are craving more self-service options.  87% of buyers now want some type of self-service option. Millennials (like the author) who like self-checkouts at grocery stores and purchase almost everything online are bringing these trends to B2B markets.In a similar vein, buyer’s are doing more independent activities now than they were before the pandemic: 

  • 33% spend more time researching products
  • 31% spend more time prioritizing selection criteria
  • 33% spend more time comparing products
  • 34% spend more time clearly defining expected return on investment (ROI)

Data security concerns are also weighing heavily on buyers as they consider which products to invest in. This often results in buyers doing extra product research. They also may consider fewer products or have longer procurement processes. 

B2B Buying Disconnect 2021 - Forecasting Radical Changes in Tech Buying Behavior - ©TrustRadius

As a tech marketer, your best defense against all of these changes is acceptance and adaptation. Meet your buyers where they are today, and expect them to keep evolving. Buying decisions are now arguably 100% digital. Use these changing realities as an opportunity. Make sure your marketing strategy has fully adapted to our digital and remote-first world. Be ready to embrace younger generations of buyers and let them drive their buying journey. 

5 Takeaways For Tech Marketers

The buyer’s journey can be a harrowing and confusing experience for tech buyers and marketers alike. But it doesn’t have to be. Here are 5 tips to take to make it a smoother journey for your buyers:

  1. Make sure your product or service has a strong online presence.

Prioritize web presence, including on review websites. This helps buyers come across your solution organically during their early-stage buying research.

  1. Expect to see more millennials taking charge of buying decisions.

Prepare for this by making sure information about your product is easily accessible across online channels. This is especially true for channels that younger buyers prefer. These include Google search results, user reviews, and self-service offerings. 

  1. Invest in the resources buyers continually rely on.

That’s product demos, your company/product website, user reviews, your reps, and free trials/accounts. These have been buyers’ go-to information sources for five years straight. They’ll likely continue to be the most important resources they consult while decision making.

  1. Update your data privacy standards and documentation.

A majority of buyers report being concerned about data security this year. Some are making purchasing decisions based on compliance. If you have these qualifications, don’t hide them on page 3 of the features list. 

  1. Provide your buyers with additional self-service options

These include do-it-yourself product demos or the ability to purchase your product with only a credit card. Offering more self-service options can help reduce unnecessary friction during their purchase process.

About the Author

Elizabeth Sullivan-Hasson
Elizabeth is a Research Analyst at TrustRadius where she focuses on tracing the evolution of business software and finding new ways to synthesize and visualize reviewer data. Elizabeth has a BA in Economics and Political Science from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and an MSc in International Development from the London School of Economics. When she’s not in the office, Elizabeth enjoys exploring new cities, hiking, trying out new recipes, and diving into sci-fi novels.

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