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Map the buying journey and drivers of supplier choice

Circle is an expert in B2B buyer behaviour research.  Through a programme of primary research we’ll:

  • Map out the typical customer journey followed in your market and the critical steps
  • Identify any key customer segments where the journey deviates from the norm
  • Pinpoint who you need to influence and how best to do so (channels and messages)
  • Uncover the true drivers of supplier choice

Based on these insights we’ll then make clear recommendations on how to influence buying decisions and increase sales.

Over the last decade we’ve mapped the customer journey in dozens of markets for world-leading B2B brands.  Brands like Microsoft, Premier Farnell, REXEL and Vodafone. We couple this extensive experience with a deep understanding of buyer behaviour in B2B environments and a suite of smart techniques which probe far beyond the superficial.

The result is research which makes a real difference.

Our guiding principles

Our guiding principles

There’s no one buying journey and no single set of choice criteria – every individual, every situation and every market is unique. However, our extensive experience of mapping B2B buying journeys and the self-funded research undertaken by our CircleLabs™ team has revealed nine fundamental characteristics which many buying journeys share. These observations guide (but never constrain) our approach.

1. Odd as it sounds, the status quo, how things are now, is an important stage of the buying journey. Even when a buyer isn’t in the market for your product or service they may well be keeping themselves up-to-date with market developments and forming perceptions of suppliers. This constant soaking up of information influences later decisions, so even when buyers are in a ‘dormant’ state you need to be priming them to prefer your brand

2. A trigger event disrupts the status quo and causes the buyer to consider purchasing a specific product or service, or to find a solution to a problem. This trigger can be internal (e.g. need for a replacement, dissatisfaction) or external (e.g. supplier sales activity). So to maximise the opportunity you need to either be the trigger or failing that, just make sure that you’re around when the trigger does occur

3. Some buying journeys end shortly after they begin. A lack of conviction or barriers to change (e.g. internal resistance, lack of time) can return the buyer to the status quo. And even if these initial hurdles are overcome, barriers remain a threat to suppliers throughout the journey as they can emerge at any point. You need to be aware of these barriers and help buyers to overcome them

4. In B2B environments decisions often involve multiple individuals – the Decision Making Unit (DMU). This DMU can be simple or complex, have clear or subtle power dynamics, and may include several roles (with one individual potentially filling multiple roles). To maximise the odds of success, you need to navigate the DMU effectively and influence key members of it

5. Many buying decisions will proceed through multiple stages before a purchase is made. However, in re-purchase or very simple purchase decisions buyers often proceed straight to purchase as it is the obvious and easy decision. If multiple steps are followed the nature of these and/or the way in which they are executed (e.g. formal or informal, fast or slow) is influenced by a number of factors – the individuals involved (their personality, expertise and engagement), the dynamics within the DMU, the organisational culture, the complexity of the product/service category and the circumstances of the decision (e.g. urgent need). You need to be aware of the different steps in the decision process and use the appropriate engagement style at each point

6. The first step in choosing a supplier is for the buyer to educate themselves about the area (if needed) and then decide which solution will best fit their particular problem (and the associated specification of this solution). This choice of solution can be conscious or unconscious, and made in conjunction with or isolation from potential suppliers. This means that you need to be available as a key source of information at this stage (e.g. through thought leadership content) so you can shape the agenda

7. The buyer then needs to understand their potential options so will recall potential suppliers from memory and potentially seek out additional candidates. This means that it’s important to create brand awareness, nurture high levels of market advocacy and be visible in the places buyers look

8. Having identified their options the buyer will then create a long-list (3+ potential suppliers) or a short-list (2 – 3) and may even decide on a single engagement with just one potential supplier that has caught their eye. Either way suppliers are then engaged and evaluated. During the evaluation process the buyer or DMU assesses suppliers against a variety of criteria to identify the most suitable choice. These criteria include mandatory (essential just to be an option) and differentiating factors (high performance in these areas ultimately sways the decision in one supplier’s favour). It’s also of note that whilst B2B buyers may claim to be rational beings during decisions like these, in reality their evaluation is often influenced by sub-conscious factors and is not always fully rational. All of this means that you need to understand the criteria you’re really being assessed against and what ‘excellence’ looks like in each

9. Having made a choice, and if necessary having had it approved and negotiated terms, the buyer then makes the purchase and returns to the status quo…until the next trigger. This means that with existing customers you need to build loyalty and barriers to change

Read Case Study

Global Blue: B2B market segmentation case study

Like many other B2B businesses, Global Blue believes that the purchasing behaviour of their target market is largely influenced by their ‘firmographic profile’ – their size, their speciality, their home country and so on. However, examples of retailers behaving in unexpected ways, given their firmographic profile, led Global Blue to consider a different viewpoint. Are a retailer’s needs and attitudes not a far more powerful predictor of behaviour?

If this was the case then it had far-reaching implications. Product development should be driven by the needs of each segment, separate marketing messages should be tailored to resonate with their particular world view and sales teams should potentially be organised along different lines. This was an important and exciting revelation.

To develop an alternative approach to segmenting the market, Jorge Casal (Global Blue’s Senior Vice President of Tax Free Shopping) invited several research agencies to pitch their approach and ideas. B2B specialists Circle Research emerged as a natural choice for this strategically important project. As Alexandre Vukanovic (Product Retail Manager) who subsequently managed the project explains: “Circle are experts in B2B research and segmentation.  This helped to bring credibility to the project and was a very strong deciding factor for us.”

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