I’ve been preaching for a while that B2B buyers buy differently these days. The old sales funnel is dead and prospects are now self educating and building trust online. Your ability to win the customer depends on how well you know your B2B buyer.

Creating a B2B sales process that aligns with the buyer journey is critical. So where do you start to create a B2B sales process to track your prospects to customers? First, you need to understand the buying stages.

Hubspot’s Inbound Sales Methodology flow diagram (below) shows the stages of the buying process from strangers to customers.

Hubspot Sales Process

I like to extend this B2B buying process out further to 7 stages (below) and look at the interaction of the marketing and sales processes. After all, sales and marketing need to align if you’re going to turn strangers into customers.

  • Strangers
  • Visitors
  • Leads
  • Marketing Qualified Leads
  • Opportunities
  • Customers
  • Advocates

1. Strangers

Strangers are people we don’t know but we want to. Create a B2B sales process to get these guys into your funnel.

In the oldie-worlde days of broadcast marketing, where we’d ‘spray and pray’, strangers were called our target market.  They were the group we segmented out and then sent stuff to in the hope that some would buy.

Those days are over. Potential customers are now self-educating and don’t want to be bombarded with your self-focused advertising. Instead, you need to provide quality education and content to help them make their decision.

2. Visitors

Visitors (or site traffic) are people who visit your website but you don’t know their names. When you create a B2B sales process these are the guys at the start of their journey with you.

Visitors are important because they’ve come to your site for a reason. A percentage of them will be prospects. A percentage of those prospects will be ready to buy, and others won’t.

The more visitors you have (it’s likely) the more prospects you’ll have as well. That’s why we put in place strategies and tactics to turn visitors into subscribers, leads and so on.

You attract visitors by making sure the copy on your website is (search engine) optimised for the terms people are searching for – like CPA accountant in Perth or Mining Service Drilling Australia. Writing regular blog articles on topics relevant to your audience increases visitors – as does sharing your articles on social media so others can read and share and become visitors.

Visitors arrive at your website as ‘traffic’ and are bucketed into new visitors or returning visitors. They are defined by a number – their IP address. We can learn a lot about visitors using tracking with cookies – what pages they visit, what they’re interested in. As a collective, visitor traffic can tell us a lot about what ‘hot topics’ are resonating with people interested in what you are selling. When you know what your prospects are interested in, you can work out how to connect with them.

3. Subscribers

At subscriber stage people go from being just a number (literally) to people we can start a relationship with. This is because they have trusted us with their email address in return for something of value. This is usually subscribing to our blog or newsletter.

Subscribers are saying I want to start a relationship with you.

4. Leads

Leads – the salesperson’s lifeblood and what we think about when we create a B2B sales process. People go from being a subscriber to a lead when they take action or fill out a form on our site in exchange for content we are offering, like an ebook, tip sheet or how-to-guide. Something to help them on their buying journey that educates them or helps them solve their problem.

This is a sign of the next level of commitment towards choosing you as their vendor – game on!

5. Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL)

A marketing qualified lead (MQL) is judged more likely to become a customer compared to other leads based on lead intelligence.  This could be based on something like they’ve downloaded certain types of content from your website, attended a webinar, actively engaged in an online email course you ran, or attended your online or offline event.

6. Opportunity

Opportunities are MQL’s that the sales team confirm are real sales opportunities and they pursue the opportunity. The marketing team (with the help of the sales team) determine when the MQL becomes a real opportunity. An opportunity can also be called a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL). From here pursuit of the opportunity is transferred from marketing to the sales team. It’s the goal of the sales team to close the opportunity.

7. Customer

The customer is everybody’s favourite stage – it’s our single goal when we create a B2B sales process. It’s where you finally get to meet the client’s need, solve the problem and deliver the value.

8. Advocate

A customer becomes an advocate (a person who publicly supports, recommends or champions your cause) when you deliver over and above expectations. ‘Just satisfied’ customers rarely become advocates, you need to unexpectedly delight them. Do this and they’ll sing your praises from the rooftops! Advocates are usually not a large group, but they are vocal.

Advocates will refer new business to you unsolicited. They often bring in new customers via their own networks and help you reach leads you may not have been otherwise able to get.

Final Thought

Knowing your buying stages is critical in order to create a B2B sales process that works. As is understanding what action you need to take to move your prospect through the sales funnel. Think about using the stages in your CRM to plan your inbound marketing plan to take people from strangers to advocates.