Understanding Buyer Intent and the New Sales Funnel

Find and convert prospects into buyers at every stage of the new sales cycle. Maximize buyer intent to grow your sales funnel.

March 1, 2016


Funnel, cycle, pipeline—call it whatever you want—today’s customer journey from lead to conversion has changed.

In the past, marketing teams could reliably count on advertising to funnel leads into the sales cycle, where sales reps would then progress prospects through the buyer’s journey toward an eventual conversion. All very linear.

There’s variation and nuance in each stage, but the B2B sales funnel from 10 years ago typically looked like this:

  • Awareness (Unqualified leads)
  • Consideration / Research & Evaluation (Prospects)
  • Conversion (Clients)

Catch leads, qualify them, convert them. Beautifully simple.

However, today’s buyers (yes, that’s plural—but more on that later) are different. Kevin Thomas Tully, VP of Marketing Enablement at Markistry claims:

“The purchase journey has evolved from a linear, event-based funnel to a multi-touch buyer progression — from discovery to research to conversion — that is influenced in numerous ways on diverse digital sources."

Online information and the explosion of social media (and the rise of “influencers”) has changed how buyers view B2B purchasing. Understand their intent and thrive. Or don’t.

Increasing Buyer Intent: The Death of “Leads”

According to Fleishman-Hillard, 89% of B2B buyers begin the buying process online. And that was back in 2012.

In 2016 and beyond, sales reps can no longer simply progress unqualified leads from the top of the sales funnel toward pre-packed solutions. Today’s B2B buyers are educating themselves, comparing vendors, and qualifying their own inquiries in new venues before they ever engage with your sales team.

In a very real sense, unqualified “leads” are giving way to informed, highly motivated “prospects” right out of the gate. This customer evolution means that buyers are entering the sales funnel later than ever—in the research vs. awareness phase—but with the corresponding increased buying intent.

The New Sales Funnel: A Cylinder

Instead of a funnel with a broad entry and gradual winnowing, the new sales cycle looks more like a cylinder, with leads appearing at all stages of the buyer’s journey. This diverse, accelerated sales cycle requires equally meaningful sales interactions at every stage. Luckily, the ROI is great due to higher buying intent, and therefore fewer exits from the sales cycle once a prospect has engaged.

Essentially: Better buyers means more quality sales.

Buying By Committee

While buyer intent might be higher than ever, it’s also more difficult to identify, thanks to the rise of purchase by committee. According to CEB, the average B2B purchase involves “five or more people.” This single shift above all others fundamentally changes how you view buying intent and directly affects the quality and duration of the new sales cycle.

Gone are the days of one-on-one sales interactions with department heads and managers. B2B purchasing power has diluted into multiple streams, each with their own buying intent.

Buyer Intent: The Long Road

While social media interaction and readily available online information have created more informed, motivated buyers—therefore nearly eliminating the initial stages of the sales cycle—the buyer journey from awareness to conversion has actually gotten longerup to 22% longer, according to SiriusDecisions.

Contrary to popular opinion, this means your sales teams will actually have more interactions—meaningful ones—with prospects than ever. Nowhere is this more evident than during the research stage of the buyer journey.

Education: The More They Know

Leveraging B2B buyer intent today hinges on your expertise.

According to SiriusDecisions’ Buying Interactions Model:

“The highest level of buyer/seller interaction for all buying scenarios occurs during the education phase of the buyer’s journey.”

Your sales team can gain a massive competitive advantage with a thorough understanding of your product, your market, and the solutions buyers are looking for. Buyers crave education from industry experts. Take advantage of this pivotal moment in the buyer’s journey to ramp up buyer intent and place prospects on the fast track to not only conversion, but premium solutions based on expert knowledge.

Content Creation: Solve Buyer Problems

Content marketing is an integral part of the new sales funnel, and remains an excellent way to drive awareness and insert your solution earlier in the buyer’s journey. The key to uncovering buyer intent is to solve buyer’s problems.

What do your potential clients struggle with? What do they need? Providing information focused around these two simple questions is a simple, effective way to filter and find highly motivated buyers at relatively low cost.

An important note about content marketing: Content should not always be explicitly about your product. Focus on the topics and questions that buyers are curious about and you can build a rabid audience with high buying intent.

It’s All About Timing

Buyer intent is really all about timing. Too many businesses focus their sales and marketing strategies on expanding the first stage of their funnel—awareness—and they neglect buyers entering the sales cycle at later stages or in novel ways.

Identify where a buyer is in your sales cycle—still browsing or ready to purchase—and guide their buying intent toward conversion with these two simple tactics:

  • Solve Buyer Problems (Content Marketing)
  • Educate Prospects (Sales Knowledge & Expertise)

Today’s buyers are more educated, motivated, and engaged than ever. Identify and nurture buyer intent by responding to buyers at every stage of the new sales funnel with expert information aimed at solutions, and make your sales team truly indispensable.

Download your free copy of our eBook, How Personalized Selling Unlocks Competitive Advantage, and take the first important steps toward understanding and motivating buyer intent.