The industrial buy cycle is the process your customers go through to purchase products and services. The process can be long and complex and often involves multiple decision makers. The more costly the purchase, the more this holds true, according to the GlobalSpec Industrial Buy Cycle Survey.

As a marketer, you may be able to gain a competitive advantage by aligning your marketing strategy and tactics with the four stages of your customer’s buy cycle: Needs Awareness, Research, Consideration & Comparison, and Procurement.

The Buy Cycle’s Four Stages
1. Needs Awareness: buyers first realize they need a product or service to fulfill the requirements of a specific task. Buyers begin to define and refine requirements, as well as scan the market.
2. Research: it’s time to further investigate the marketplace for vendors, products, and services that might meet their needs.
3. Consideration & Comparison: buyers start weeding out vendors who don’t meet their needs or who they don’t want to do business with for various reasons. Result: the short list.
4. Procurement: this is the final decision among the vendors on short list, ending with the purchase of products or services.

While the stages of the process haven’t changed over the years, the way buyers navigate through the buy cycle and where they get information has changed dramatically. Today, your customers turn to online methods to reach a decision: from examining the marketplace and conducting research on the Internet, to contacting suppliers and requesting quotes from suppliers online, to comparing supplier offerings using content found online, to submitting purchase orders. The top three sources used by industrial buyers when searching for products and services are online sources: search engines, supplier Web sites, and online catalogs.

Your goal is to connect with buyers at each stage of the cycle, make their short list, and earn the best opportunity to compete for your new business. Here are two things you must do to reach your goal.

Get Found Early in the Buy Cycle
The buy cycle is funnel-shaped. The entire market landscape sits at the higher, early stages of the buy cycle, but at later stages — when it’s time to make a purchase decision — only a few vendors remain in the running. The funnel gets narrow because potential vendors get eliminated. During the early research phases of the buy cycle, 42% of buyers evaluated four or more suppliers, but as buyers move closer to the procurement stage, only 26% get quotes from four or more suppliers. Suppliers that drop off the list are usually those that did not provide the right level of information to buyers or did not meet some other need, whether it’s a technical specification or an issue with the company or brand.

To be found early in the buy cycle, you need to establish a broad presence in the online resources used by buyers. Your customers use a variety of information sources — supplier Web sites, search engines, online catalogs, e-newsletters, online events, Webinars, and social media. They gather data, review product specifications, read white papers, view drawings, download product specs, listen to colleagues and industry experts, and more.

You should establish brand visibility and lead generation programs across a variety of these online channels where you can connect with potential customers. E-newsletter advertising, online banner ads, online events, and searchable catalogs can capture prospects’ attention early. Use online part finders and RFQs to help prospects along in later stages.

Develop Content for Multiple Decision Makers
Often, multiple decision makers and influencers are involved in the industrial buy cycle. 71% of companies use three or more decision makers on purchases over $1,000. Each of these people wants access to content that helps educate them, improves their decision-making capabilities, and increases confidence in their final purchase decision.

The higher-end the purchase, the more content buyers will review before making a decision. For purchases under $1,000, 83% of buyers review three or fewer pieces of content, while for purchases over $10,000, 70% of buyers review four or more pieces of content.

If your company has small average order sizes, a few targeted pieces of content for your buyers might suffice. But if you have larger average order sizes, you may need a broader library of specification sheets, e-newsletters, Webinars, white papers, application notes, videos, case studies, and more to make your case and get on your buyers’ short lists.

Get found early. Develop content. Those are two requirements to help align with your customer’s buy cycle. For more recommendations, download the white paper: “Understanding the Industrial Buy Cycle: How to Align Your Marketing with Your Customer’s Buying Process.”

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