You’re probably familiar with sales funnels. Simply put, sales and marketing funnels are action paths. Yet while the sales funnel concept is applicable across many industries, a B2B eCommerce funnel has some nuances that set it apart.
You’re probably deeply familiar with the idea of a sales funnel, but in this article we will specifically focus on a B2B eCommerce funnel.
Simply put, sales and marketing funnels are action paths.
They are steps designed to get your customers to do what you want - often, this is to purchase your goods or services. The funnel model illustrates the buyer journey, starting at the wide top of the funnel, narrowing as the customer becomes increasingly loyal to your brand.
While the sales funnel sounds lovely in theory, it’s not a guarantee. Certainly, not everyone who enters the funnel will result in a sale. But beyond that, not all customers enter the funnel at the top, and many don’t move through it in a linear path. Nonetheless, it’s a solid framework from which to build a plan.
And while a sales funnel is a concept that’s applicable across many industries, a B2B eCommerce funnel has some nuances that separate it from the standard model.
B2C vs. B2B eCommerce funnel
Most B2C customers are solo purchasers, or perhaps are relying on input from friends and family to help them reach a decision. They are also less likely to interact with a company representative. For eCommerce businesses, chances are that a B2C customer will never interact with a company representative, unless something goes wrong.
Yet for B2B buyers, sales representatives usually become involved at some point throughout the funnel, typically towards the end. B2B buyers also tend to have multiple people involved in the purchasing process, with representatives from various departments weighing in and guiding the decision-making.
The internet has drastically shifted how buyers select products and services, and consequently, B2B businesses have to shift how they’re marketing their products and services.
The B2B Commerce Sales Pipeline isn’t the B2B Sales Funnel
B2B vs. B2C aren’t the only delineations we need to make regarding sales funnels. In fact, the sales funnel and sales pipeline are frequently confused. Let’s break down their differences.
As mentioned above, a sales funnel is an action path. It tracks how your customers and potential customers are being moved through different stages of the buying process.
But a sales pipeline is about the seller’s journey, and what steps a salesperson needs to take to close a deal.
Typically, this looks like:
Assessment - Determine who is interested in your products and services, and who may need them
Meeting - Meet with your potential customer and discuss their objectives, build a connection, assure them your brand can solve a problem for them
Proposal - This is the trickiest stage, as so many people are often involved in a B2B transaction. You’ll need to negotiate and interact with all people involved in the purchase.
Closing - In this stage you’ll either close the deal or have to let it go.
And while a sales pipeline is critical to closing on deals, the sales funnel has to be full in order to feed people into your sales pipeline.
The Stages of the Funnel
Now that we understand the difference between B2B vs. B2C, as well as Sales Funnels vs. Sales Pipelines, let’s break down each stage of the funnel.
At the top, or widest level of the funnel, is is awareness. Potential customers come into the awareness stage via digital marketing, traditional marketing, social media, search engine optimization, advertising, and other strategies.
Potential customers not only become aware of your business, but learn a bit about your products and services, ideally, about how you can solve a problem for them.
Hopefully you collect some potential customer information, allowing you to further their trip down the B2B eCommerce funnel.
It’s important to note that the awareness stage is simply an introduction. Customers may not be actively looking for solutions; they may not even know they have a problem.
Consequently, it’s critical in this phase to share pieces of content that are meaningful, not sales-focused. Use this as an opportunity to begin a conversation between you and your customers. Allow them to get to know your brand, and educate them through quality content, visually-engaging content, and content that provides value.
Depending on your products and services, this can happen in a variety of ways:
Long-form content that educates potential customers on issues meaningful to them, or provides thought leadership for your industry
Shareable content, like downloadables, white papers, templates, etc.
Engaging, visual content such as videos that tell your brand’s story and showcase your personality, or demonstrate how your products work
For B2B brands, your content may be even more specific to target a certain audience (i.e. C-suite, managers, marketing teams, etc.) Consequently, when you’re creating content, you may find that it needs to be highly technical to be the most useful to your target audience.
The next stage in the sales funnel is interest. Again, not everyone who is aware of your brand may be interested. The timing could be off, and they may learn more about your brand in this moment, only to return later when your products or services solve a problem for them. In fact, 90% of B2B buyers loop back through the sales funnel repeating at least one stage before progressing all the way to a purchase.
But if you do have an interested potential customer, this is the phase where they spend more time getting to know you.
Most interested customers will do this by taking an action step. They may visit your website and download a specific tool you offer. Perhaps they’ll sign up for your email list, and you can include them in a welcome series drip marketing campaign. Others may follow you on social to get a better sense of your brand, or read your latest blog posts.
This stage is where you can differentiate your brand from your competitors.
Consider ways to help grow interest in potential customers. Perhaps you can integrate social into your eCommerce site. Some brands even do this in extremely personalized ways: social followers can include their Instagram or Twitter handles in their account setup, and then whenever they “like” a product, those products become part of their personal recommendations.
Design your website so that it has clear calls-to-action, guiding touchpoints, robust product pages, and is easily searchable. This is critical for customer satisfaction - nearly half of B2B buyers will leave a website if the company’s message isn’t clear and they can’t determine what the company does, and another 40% will quit due to poor navigation or design.
Remember to address this important question: what makes your brand more interesting to a potential buyer?
A solid content marketing strategy can help deepen a potential customer’s connection to your business. Just be sure to invest in the right forms of content marketing - the majority of B2B businesses cite SEO and blogs as their best lead generation tools.
Most importantly, make sure that your content marketing truly is meaningful and directed to your target audience. The leading reason business buyers have limited engagement with B2B vendors is because marketers are sending them too much irrelevant content.
Once someone is in the consideration stage, you can begin communicating with them in a more specific fashion. This includes special offers and perks, free trials, and other tactics to help them move down the B2B eCommerce funnel.
Unexpected shipping costs are the number one deterrent for online shoppers; free shipping could be a huge encouragement to click that “Buy Now” button.
It’s also a great time to reinforce your brand’s trustworthiness and value. Utilize items like case studies, peer reviews, product ratings, testimonials, and other elements to help sway potential buyers.
Studies show that online shoppers trust peer reviews, especially written ones where buyers can detail their experiences, versus simple 1-5 star rating systems.
In this stage, potential customers indicate they are interested in your products or services. If you are a B2B company, then perhaps the customer has vocalized this to their account manager or salesperson. Or, perhaps they place items in their cart, and you can reach out (either via a salesperson or via a follow-up email) to encourage them to make that purchase.
During evaluation, customers are making their final decision about whether or not to make that purchase. They may want to know additional product details, understand warranties, return policies, and other pieces of information critical to informing their choice, and particularly in B2B purchases - negotiate.
Remember, B2B sales cycles are increasingly becoming longer and more complex.
More people are involved in the decision, more time is spent online analyzing options, more sources of information are examined prior to signing off on a purchase.
The easier and more accessible you make this information throughout all the stages of the sales funnel, the more likely you are to close on a deal.
In the last stage, a potential customer becomes an actual customer, and makes a purchase. Truly satisfied customers can turn into repeat purchasers, and just as significantly, into referral sources. A referral, of course, renews the funnel process, and that potential customer starts at the top, ready to complete their own journey through the funnel.
Happy customers are powerful ambassadors who have a potential for a loyal, long term relationship with your brand. They also have a direct impact on your bottom line, as referrals have some of the highest conversion rates.
Wrapping It All Up
The B2B eCommerce funnel is more nuanced than other variations. Naturally, the process is more complex when there are multiple voices involved in a decision-making process, as there are in the average B2B deal.
Personalize or Die: Nearly half of B2B buyers want personalized content not only in marketing materials, but via personalized web portals when visiting a site. This trend keeps growing, as brands offer increasingly customized experiences that set the bar for cusstomer expectations.
Mobile Matters: More than 90% of buyers say they’re likely to buy again from a vendor that had a superior mobile experience, and more than 90% of senior executives own a smartphone used for business, which they use to research products and services.
Keep it Short & Sweet: Nearly 70% of B2B buyers say that requiring too much information to complete an online form will deter them. So do automatic email subscriptions. Make it easy on your customers to provide you with the information you need, but don’t make it mandatory.
Invest in Digital Marketing: More than half of B2B buyers are millennials. 62% of them make a purchase solely based on digital content, and the majority of the sales funnel happens online, prior to any contact with a rep. If you’re not investing in digital marketing, your brand can no longer succeed in today’s landscape.
Sarah is a nimble and creative marketing leader with 15 years of experience in a mix of agencies, B2B, and B2C enterprises. She brings a background in building and driving impactful marketing practices and processes for growing businesses. Sarah has expertise in brand, content marketing, lead generation, and marketing operations. She’s a co-author of the 2019 book on B2B eCommerce Digital Branch Secrets: eCommerce Playbook for Distributors.