The B2B buying process or B2B buyer journey/cycle, is the procurement decision-making process of B2B customers, in which the roles involved are approver, decision-maker, influencer, and executor from the business organization decide whom (which company) to place the order to.
This process may reflect the changes in the psychological concerns of purchasers and their decision in whether or not to develop the procurement process with a sales or selling company.
For example, a typical 3 phases B2B purchasing process is mentioned in the book of Solution Selling by Michael Bosworth:
- Define needs
- Evaluate alternatives
- Risk evaluation and action
The procurement process is not the same as the procurement procedure, as the latter more precisely, may refer to the internal procurement process of a company, which is the reflection of the procurement process, such as:
- Project establishment
- Supplier and information search
- Suppliers comparison
- Purchase order negotiation
- Contract review
The B2B procurement process can be divided into the following six stages under the value sell system:
- Not aware of the needs. Although the needs exist all the time, the customer/ business organization is not aware of some of their needs at the moment.
- Implicit demand. The customer is in the stage of implicit demand and begins to feel dissatisfied with the current situation, but may not take action.
- Starting to feel pain. The current situation is about to have a huge impact on customer’s business. So the customer begin to feel pain and realize the importance and urgency of changing the current situation.
- Formation of explicit needs. The customer is in the phase of explicit needs, and gradually form ideas to change the situation and solve the problem.
- Evaluation of workable solutions. The buyer begins to deepen the vision and evaluate the feasibility of the plans, including setting goals, finding paths and specializing measures.
- Final decision evaluation. Clients start to make decision evaluation, including positive/negative value evaluation, risk evaluation and cost evaluation.
Let’s see more details of every process.
Stage 1: Not aware of the needs
Any company has problems, and any customer also has the need to find lower costs, higher quality and better products or services, but the company may not be aware of his needs.
So when the customer is in this process and you ( a sales) contact them, most probably, you will get an answer “no need” or “I already have a stable supplier”.
Because each company’s resources are limited, the company will always allocate resources in places where the problems have been found and at the same time, the negative impact has arisen (such as sales and marketing).
What should Sales do in Stage 1?
The practice of many sales is to keep sending emails and calling every other time to try to make the customer know the existence of a potential supplier. Such as:
- “We have a new promotion recently.”
- “We have recently developed a new product.”
- ” Your supplier’s price is too high.”
However, is it useful? Sales who have experienced this may know that the effect is very low. Why?
Recall my weight loss journey, many people say how good weight loss is, but when I have not realized my weight problem, I choose to ignore it.
For example, if you like a girl very much, but she is already married, and the relationship between the couple is very good. You run over and say “I am very good, I am rich, marry me”, she will only slap your face…
The customer hasn’t even thought of buying it yet. What does it matter how good you are? It’s like you don’t have the idea of changing your phone at all, but I tell you how good an iPhone is.
Like I don’t have the idea of losing weight at all, so there is no point in telling me how good the personal trainers around the company are.
The suggested approach, of course, is to first make the customer aware of their needs and make the customer aware of problems that lie in his company, team or business.
There are two ways to do this:
1. At the sales level, applying SPIN Problem Question
Problem Question, refer to the investigation of dissatisfaction, difficulties, or problems that sales have with the customer, such as:
- Is there any problem with the current supplier?
- Is the product quality stable enough?
- Is the current competition in the market fierce?
- Will the delivery be on time?
2. At the marketing level, let the customer resonate by talking about your similar cases with other clients
Because talking about actual cases is the easiest way to get the buyer to think, “Oh, I have similar problems”.
Therefore, the actual cases of the company are important and are suggested to continuously accumulated and published through social media, and the effect will far exceed the sending of development letters.
How to write a sales case that others may be interested in?
Following are the six steps of writing a selling case for your reference:
- Problem. We have a customer, what kind of problem has he encountered.
- Influence. What kind of influence did this problem bring to him.
- Who. This influence is for whom.
- Solution. What kind of plan did we finally provide?
- Value. What value does this solution bring to the customer?
- Evaluation. How did this customer who was affected evaluate the plan?
Such a format may help you create a “pipelined” case writing style, and then you can publish it to influence customers.
Stage 2: In implicit demand
When a customer does realize the existence of a problem, for example, the price of his existing supplier is really more expensive than other suppliers, does it necessarily mean that he will take action to find a new supplier?
Not necessarily, especially when his or her company’s development can cover the cost of the existence of the problem. For example, when the buyer knows that the supplier’s price is high but the buyer still has enough profit, he will not take action, because action often means cost.
At this stage, when you contact a customer, he will ask you to quote and provide information, but you will find there’s always no further response after sending the email.
What should Sales do in Stage 2?
1. At the sales level, use SPIN Implication Question
If the Problem Question is the investigation of dissatisfaction, difficulties or problems that sales have with customers, then Implication Questions study the impact of these dissatisfaction, difficulties or problems on customers, such as:
- Is there any problem with the current supplier? (Problem question) – Does the current supplier’s XX problem have any impact? (Implication problem)
- Is the product quality stable enough? (Problem question) —Have online customers complained when the quality is unstable? (Implication problem)
- Is the current competition in the market fierce? (Problem question) —- How much profit margin and sales decline caused by fierce market competition? (Implication problem)
SPIN Implication Question is to hint customers: If you don’t take action, your problems will have serious consequences.
2.At the marketing level, to make customers feel pain by talking about cases, which focus on “influence”.
The purpose of the above two methods is to move the customer’s purchasing process further and make the customer feel the pain.
Stage 3: Start to feel pain
What are the pain points in business? The impact that is currently being caused or the impact that may be brought about in the future is pain.
Pain has two effects:
1. No Pain, No Action
A buyer who has no pain points will naturally not act, because action has a cost.
For example, who is loved to take such a long flight and stay in such an expensive hotel to visit the tired Canton Fair? Most probably a buyer with pain points.
Like a person, only when the disease starts to have pain, he will want to take medicine or see a doctor.
For example, the customer did not care much about the high price of the supplier, but now he pays attention to it as he has lost a large order due to low price competitiveness, and he predicts that his sales will drop sharply next year due to the loss of this order.
At this time, he will be in a panic and think about how to solve the price problem to avoid similar situations happen again. To solve the current problems, he will start looking for solutions and potential suppliers.
2. Pain can determine the budget
It’s like if a person catches a cold, just having a sleep or taking medicine will mostly recover. At this time, his pain is very slight, and the price he is willing to pay to solve this pain is naturally not high.
What if this person is in heavy sick? Naturally, it will be treated as it should be, and it will cost as much as it should be.
What should Sales do in Stage 3?
First, help customers quantify pain. How to quantify? The pain will be as severe as the impact is. As long as we quantify the impact, the pain will naturally be quantified.
For example, the current supplier price is 5% higher than the average market price, and due to this 5% the buyer may lose 1 million orders from the buyer’s customer next year. In this case, the customer’s pain is 1 million.
Second, help the client establish a vision to solve this pain, and make the client believe that you can help him solve this pain.
Why do many people still not act even if they have pain? The reasons may as follows:
- They don’t think this pain can be treated.
- They don’t know how to treat this pain.
- They think that the cost of curing this pain may be very high.
Take the U.S. tariff increase on importing China products as an example. Is this painful to US importers? It is definitely painful to them, but why only a small number of companies look for either Southeast Asian supply chains or place orders to other markets? One of the reasons may be that many business owners simply don’t know what to do, so it can be delayed day by day.
Therefore, from the perspective of sales, it is necessary to let the customer know that “you have a disease, I have medicine”, “your cost from the existing supplier is too high, my cost is low”; or if you are the existing supplier of that customer, “we can work together to reduce costs”.
These are to help customers establish a vision on how to solve this pain.
Stage 4: Formation of explicit needs
When the client has the intention to solve the pain, he already knows how to solve the pain, such as whether to take medicine for conservative treatment or radical treatment and surgery.
What should Sales do in Stage 4?
In simple words, from three steps:
- Set a goal for the customer.
- Finding a path: the way to achieve the goal.
- Specializing measure: What should do through this way to achieve the goal.
1. Set a goal
It is necessary to treat when there is pain, but the degree of treatment depends. For example:
- Improve quality by 5%
- Reduce costs by 7%
- Increase market share by 12%
If the customer has no goal, we cannot help the customer quantify our value and so we must help him set a goal.
For example, sometimes you may ask customers “what kind of supplier are you looking for?” Customers say: “We are looking for a supplier with better quality.”
But, how good quality is better? You may not have a concept. Customers themselves may also only have vague imaginations. so they can only rely on their feelings when choosing a supplier.
Therefore, customers probably choose us if we can know the customer’s goal or help the customer set the goal.
For example, we can present such data of goals we help customers achieve in front of the customer, and say “Look, we are in line with your goal, right?
2. Find a Path
The path is the way to achieve the goal.
For example: reducing purchasing costs by 7% is the goal of the buyer.
For customers, to achieve this goal, the path can be to reduce the price of the existing supplier by 7%, or reduce product quality to meet the requirement of reducing cost by 7%, or place orders to another supplier whose price can be 7% lower and etc, these are all paths.
3. Specialize Measure
Measure is the detailed work to achieve the goal.
For example, the supplier is almost no possibility of making a price 7% drop on raw materials which are used to manufacture finished products, and thus the buyer may adopt the cost reduction method – reduce product quality.
Then how the buyer specifically reduces it:
- Whether to replace the compressor or the sound insulation cotton (for example, in air condition)?
- How long does it take to reduce the cost?
- How much does it take?
- Prerequisite capital and time investment?
- At the same time, how to conduct business negotiations with new suppliers to achieve cost reduction requirements, and so on?
Goals, paths, and measures, these three points are all helping customers form an explicit demand, and finally move the customers buying process to the stage of evaluation of workable solutions.
Stage 5. Evaluation of workable solutions
From the buyer’s point of view, his first job at this time is to evaluate and compare all the alternatives, and see which solution can meet his requirements best, from the points of value, price, risk, time and etc.
At the same time, if the customer is a company of a certain size, at this time, decision-makers (such as CEO, COO, CFO) may be formally involved in (informal involvement may be at the final stage of need recognition).
Because decision-makers may need to look through the plan from a higher perspective (such as the rate of return on investment).
Most sellers start to feel out of control at this process, because they have not been able to touch the decision-making level before, and have little opportunity to influence their decisions. They will start to feel powerless and can only rely on waiting.
What should Sales do in Stage 5?
Sales are recommended to determine the final plan with the buyer’s plan evaluator. On the other hand, sales should start to contact the customer’s decision-making people, such as asking the buyer “I don’t know who is responsible for the project, is it convenient to introduce them to promote the process of the project”, and strive to push the procurement process to the last process.
Stage 6. Final decision-making evaluation
At this final stage, customers are most concerned about risk, value and cost. When you contact the buyer, he will most likely tell you “we are considering” or “will tell you if there is a decision.”
What should Sales do in Stage 6?
Wait? Of course not. At this time, you may have two tasks:
- Help customers magnify the value of their decision-making. For example, a young man’s goal is to buy a house with three bedrooms and two living rooms, the purpose of this buying is to prepare for getting married. At this time, you can guide his buying decision from the aspect of making satisfaction for his wife and mother-in-law.
- Help customers eliminate their concerns about risks, such as “Is there any concerns that I have not answered you clearly” or “some other customers will have XXX’s concerns before making a decision, I don’t know if it’s the same on your side” and so on.
Through the above six processes, you may have a better understanding of a business organization’s purchasing process. Hope you can define in which stages of your B2B customer’s buying process are easy and wish you achieve controllable processes and predictable results.