B2B Buying Process: 8 Stages of the Business Sales Funnel

Business-to-Business (B2B) Sales Funnel

Listening is key for B2B sales success.

Business buying committees follow a predictable course of behavior when making a purchase. The process generally mirrors the AIDA (Awareness Interest Desire Action) stages of the consumer buying process. However, the accountability and consensus required of formal buying committees makes the process more complex. Essentially the business sales funnel can be broken down into eight distinct stages. And if you are trying to move your business prospects deeper into the sales funnel, having an understanding of the overall process and your prospects’ position in it can help focus your sales and marketing efforts.

  1. Need recognition: The buying process officially begins when a company identifies a need that can be resolved by acquiring a product or service. But you don’t have to wait for a company to discover the specific need you can fulfill (in many cases they never will)! You can stimulate need recognition through a through a variety of proactive marketing tactics.

  2. Definition of the characteristics and quantity: The buying committee will often work with the initiator, users, or others to determine the required characteristics and quantity of the product, in addition to researching alternative solutions to fulfill the need.

  3. Development of the specifications: For more technical or complex products the buyer will define the product’s technical specifications. Pay attention to the technical requirements! Defining rigid specifications is often a strategy by buying committees to quickly pair down the list of potential suppliers by eliminating those that are too expensive or fail to meet prescribed standards.

  4. Search for and qualification of suppliers: The buying committee identifies the most suitable suppliers. And that initial search is most likely to be conducted via the Web. Having a SEM (Search Engine Marketing) prospecting strategy with targeted keywords relevant to buyers in this stage of the process is critical to insure awareness of your product or service at this early stage in the process.

  5. Proposal or quote solicitation: Oftentimes the buying committee will require a detailed written proposal and extend an RFP (request for proposal) inviting qualified suppliers to submit proposals. After reviewing the proposals the buyer will invite a few prospective suppliers to make formal presentations in person. At this point it may make sense to stop all other marketing communications directed at this prospect and focus all communicatiosn via personal communication between the buying committee and sales person.

  6. Evaluation of proposals and supplier selection: Before choosing a supplier the buying committee will specify the desired supplier attributes and then rank the suppliers based on these attributes to identify the most suitable supplier. As part of the process buyers may even attempt to negotiate with preferred suppliers for better prices and terms before making a final selection. In order to position yourself most favorably, take the time to understand the specific buying situation, relative importance of the product attributes and how their prospects determine their valuations.

  7. Selection of an order routine: After selecting a supplier, the buyer will negotiate the final order by listing the technical specifications, agreed upon price, quantities, expected time of delivery, return policies, warranties and any other terms of negotiation.

  8. Performance evaluation and feedback: The buyer periodically reviews the performance of the chosen supplier. The performance review may lead the buyer to continue, modify or end the relationship with the supplier. Don’t forget to manage the relationship. Proactively assessing your own performance will identify simple issues that can be resolved before they escalate into problems revealed through a supplier performance evaluation.

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