In the buying process, B2B buyers act very differently than consumers. The process your leads or prospects go through when buying B2B is much more complicated and usually involves a lot of back and forth movements as the seller continues to nurture the leads and drive them down the sales funnel.

Now, the behavior of B2B buyers has changed dramatically in the past few years as they increasingly look for a consumer-like digitized experience. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic shows an even bigger shift towards digital and remote engagement.

According to recent research from McKinsey1, 70% ~ 80% of B2B buyers now prefer remote human interactions and digital serviceBecause of the ease of online planning, travel cost savings, and security concerns. And research also shows that a remarkable one 70% of B2B buyers are now open to placing high-ticket orders over $ 50,000 online through end-to-end digital self-service. That means digital selling and prospecting has become just as effective as face-to-face meetings in reaching and converting your customers.

Savvy B2B sellers are now learning to adapt to the new norm, switch to digital means and find the best way to stay relevant to the changing behavior of B2B buyers. The recent US SMB confidence poll conducted by Alibaba.com shows US manufacturers are looking for ways to tackle new waves of digitization.

“Digitization is no longer a must, but a must for companies in all industries to move from survival to success in the next era of business life.”

Before we go any further, let’s dig into the basics of the B2B buying process and help you break down the key stages in the B2B buyer’s journey that have remained unchanged overall. And then we’ll examine how Alibaba.com, an online B2B marketplace, helps streamline the process. We offer tips and strategies to help you as an Alibaba.com supplier get more orders by enhancing your buyer’s journey and experience.

What is the B2B buying process?

The B2B buying process is the journey shoppers go through when purchasing products for their business. This process differs from the B2C buying process in several ways. The following table shows the differences between the buying and decision-making process in B2B and B2C.

B2B purchase B2C purchase
Decision maker A procurement / purchasing team of 6 to 10 decision makers in a company Individuals & households
Motivations Rational towards rational and involves cost-benefit analysis Distorted towards emotional and can be based on impulse
Sales cycle Longer sales cycle with more stages, not linear Shorter sales cycle with fewer stages
Purchase size High $ amounts Low $ amounts
Pricing and Payment Usually tailor-made prices that are negotiated individually Same prices for all customers
Key driver Relationship, product information, customer support Product information, brand awareness
Knowledge required High, use jargons often Low to moderate use of jargons

There are also areas where the buying behavior of B2B and B2C customers converges.

  • Both value excellent customer service and customer service
  • Both are moving towards a fully digitized seamless shopping experience
  • Customer loyalty is an overarching goal
  • Authenticity and credibility are important prerequisites for commitment.

As a B2B seller, one of the most important things you need to understand is how to influence the B2B buying journey and develop your sales strategy with B2B decision makers in mind to maintain professional and long-term relationships.

5 phases of the B2B buying process

The B2B buying process consists of 5 different phases. This process is driven by the strategic decision making required to run a profitable business. Let’s take a look at each stage of the B2B buying process.

1. Problem identification

The first phase of the B2B buying process is to identify the need or demand for goods or services. This need is not necessarily related to the operation of the business itself, but rather to the desire to grow the business.

The problem detection can be triggered by different requirements:

  • a lack of stock
  • Need to expand product offerings for retailers
  • the need to replace an unreliable supplier
  • Need to source raw materials for manufacturing into end products

Once a company has decided that it needs certain goods or services, it moves to stage 2.

2. Search for information

Once buyers have identified their needs, they will head out to do some initial research to find the right product or service and compile a list of possible options. This process can be time consuming and will detail and compare price, supplier reputation, quality of goods, product or service offering, and delivery options.

There are many ways B2B customers can search for products or solutions, including traditional offline channels and digital channels such as search engines, vendor websites, and B2B marketplaces. With B2B buyers moving towards digital, it’s more important than ever for B2B sellers to have an online presence.

On Alibaba.com, millions of business shoppers source products through website search every day. Therefore, it is of vital importance for you as a seller to optimize your product bookings for SEO on the platform and to use advertising programs such as keyword advertising to your advantage.

After the buyers have carried out their search and gathered all relevant information from the product details, they need to compile and narrow down the options and move level 3 for further evaluation.

3. Evaluation

Level 3 is the assessment level in which the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative option are weighed. This evaluation process can take the longest time compared to the other phases.

B2B buyers can consider the following factors when evaluating the various options:

  • Product specifications including features and functions
  • price comparison
  • Quality assurance and demonstration
  • Availability of the inventory
  • Reviews and testimonials
  • Terms of payment
  • delivery terms

As a seller, you need to find out what sets you apart from your competition so that buyers can easily tell the difference and understand why you are the right choice for them. By displaying high quality pictures and videos of your business, positive customer feedback, and authoritative certificates on your mini-site as an Alibaba.com seller, you make such important information easily accessible to potential buyers and increase your chances of closing the deal.

Alibaba Minisite storefront

In phase 3, B2B buyers often turn to manufacturers and suppliers with an inquiry. Each supplier is asked to provide an answer to a Request for quotation or Request for quotation. This is the most important opportunity for suppliers to attract a B2B buyer and convert an inquiry into a sale. It is important for sellers to respond to the inquiry in a timely and professional manner, answering any specific question that the buyers have asked. Flexibility with minimal order quantities and the willingness to respond to your customers, such as Providing samples, for example, also shows that you value your customers, which is a plus.

4. Purchase

Once a supplier has been selected, it is time to place the order. This can be a one-time purchase or part of an ongoing supply chain commitment.

The type of transaction phase is also very different for B2B and B2C buyers. In the B2C sector, consumers pay the same price for the product as other consumers. In the B2C e-commerce world, the process is therefore relatively simple and straightforward: consumers browse the products, choose what they want to buy, enter delivery information and checkout via online payment gateways and then expect the products to arrive.

In the B2B area, however, prices can vary and can be negotiated. The order volume, the relationship with the buyer, the terms of payment and delivery and many other factors can influence the price structure. Customers often do not pay at the time of the order, but receive an invoice in which mutually agreed terms of payment are specified.

Although research has shown that business customers in the post-pandemic world are more willing to place orders online, the complexity of B2B transactions means that B2B sellers face many challenges when switching to e-commerce and attempting a fully digitized checkout -To offer experience for them buyers. These challenges include:

  • Integration into an offer system
  • offer flexible payment methods and terms
  • Integration with administrative systems such as invoicing, accounting, CRM and ERP
  • Risks and Fraud Prevention

Alibaba.com buyers can place orders through Alibaba.com Trade Assurance, which protects orders from payment through delivery. It provides a secure payment platform for buyers and sellers, ensures products arrive at their final destination on time and as expected, and provides impartial mediation in the event of a dispute.

5. Post-purchase activity

The final stage of the B2B buying journey is the post-purchase activity. This phase includes customer feedback, product reviews, and satisfaction surveys.

Post-purchase activities help sellers to improve their service or goods and generate satisfied and satisfied customers. Positive feedback should be received very positively and hopefully lead to more inquiries and orders. Negative feedback must be appreciated and implemented. That way, you can set the tone for a long-term relationship with the customer and increase the likelihood of future purchases.

Final thoughts

Understanding the B2B buying process is important for sellers as it will help them provide a better experience for your customers. By improving that customer experience, you can make sales and maintain relationships with customers, which can help you grow your sales and grow your business.

If you want to improve the B2B shopping experience for your customers with e-commerce, Alibaba.com is the perfect solution. Our platform is equipped with tools and functions that optimize the process for the parties on both sides of the transaction. In addition to the user-friendly online B2B marketplace, Alibaba.com offers secure portals for communication and payment, trade assurance, request for quotations and much more.

Contact us now if you have any questions about how Alibaba.com can help you grow your online business and meet your goals.

References:
1. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/these-eight-charts-show-how-covid-19-has-changed-b2b-sales-forever