Navigating the b-to-b buy cycle

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The purchase of B2B industrial products and services can be a lengthy, complex process often involving multiple decision makers. This is called the buy cycle, and it is a well-documented and recognized process. What's different now is the way buyers navigate through the buy cycle and where they go to get information: it is primarily done via the desktop.

In a recent survey we conducted among industrial professionals who have influence on their company's purchases, the top three most frequently used sources for searching for products and services to purchase are search engines, supplier websites and online catalogs. With the increasing popularity of social media tools, even using colleagues as a source of information has an online component.

From the beginning of the buy cycle to the end, the supplier that is eventually selected is exposed to the buyer many times. The company may have first become visible through an Internet search, exposure via its online catalog, a banner ad on an industrial site, or any number of other entry points. A marketer may not always know which exposure initiated the process that culminated in a sale.

For example, a buyer may type your company name into the Google search box, but it would be a mistake to assume this specific exposure through Google initiated the buy cycle or delivered the sale. It is more likely that a series of marketing placements provided broad exposure and good content fulfilled your buyer's early research needs. That led them to remember your company and take subsequent buy cycle actions, which eventually resulted in your company receiving the purchase order.

Marketers should know that throughout the buy cycle, buyers want access to content that helps educate them, improves their decision-making capabilities, and increases their confidence level in their final purchase decision. You need to provide that content consistently. The more expensive the purchase, the more content buyers will review before making their decision.

You can also gain an advantage by making sure you are found by potential buyers in the early stages of the buy cycle. Our survey showed 42% of buyers evaluate four or more suppliers early on, but as buyers move closer to a decision, only 26% get quotes from four or more suppliers. Those that drop off the list are often those who did not provide the right level of information to buyers or did not meet some other perceived or real need in the buyer.

Marketers should build their presence across multiple online channels to make sure they are visible to buyers in the early stages of the buy cycle, and offer useful, relevant content online in order to reach and influence buyers at each subsequent stage of the buy cycle.

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