What is Path to Purchase? How Do You Track It?
Updated on 26th March, 2023.
A customer’s journey online is not as simple as walking into a store and walking out with a product. This is especially true for B2B purchases that require a long and complex buying journey. There is a ‘path to purchase’ for every customer and in this article, we will talk about it in detail while exploring options for tracking and analyzing the journey while adhering to data regulations.
What is Path to Purchase?
The path to purchase is the journey of a customer right from their very first touchpoint with your business to the very last. This journey happens on your website and across every other channel as a customer engages with your business. These channels might be emails, social media, or adverts. The path to purchase is also commonly referred to as ‘customer journey’ and consists of the same stages until the purchase happens.
Why Should You Track Path to Purchase?
There are two primary reasons for you to track the path to purchase: analytics and customer intelligence.
Tracking the path to purchase helps you answer questions like:
- Which channels are bringing the most customers?
- What does the journey of the customers usually look like?
- What do customers who purchase engage with on our website?
- Which touchpoints are crucial for conversion?
- Which campaigns or touchpoints are underperforming?
- Which channels bring the most qualified leads?
- Which actions are usually performed by customers who buy?
Tracking path to purchase will help you understand buying intent and sell better. It helps you and your salespeople answer questions like:
- Which leads are showing the most buying intent?
- What does the customer’s journey tell about the customer?
- What is the customer exactly looking for?
- How active is the customer?
- What are their pain points?
From a purely analytical standpoint, both B2B and B2C businesses benefit from tracking the path to purchase. It helps them understand where their customers come from and how exactly they engage with the business before becoming a customer. That way successful channels, touchpoints, and strategies can be prioritized and replicated as needed. Analyzing the path to purchase will also help you improve customer experience and optimize the journey to increase conversion rates. On the other hand, for B2B businesses, the data provides crucial sales intelligence and helps sales reps understand the buyer’s motivations and pain points and stay one step ahead. For example, if a lead is checking out videos on your website about a very specific use case, your reps will immediately know what the lead is looking for. Such intent signals can be used to score and prioritize leads. Plus, a lead’s activity level during the journey heavily determines if they are ‘hot’ or ‘cold’. All of these data points help reps close deals more efficiently.
Stages in Path to Purchase
The path to purchase can be broadly defined into three stages – Awareness, Consideration, and Purchase.
This is when your customer becomes aware of your product. It might be through an ad they say or a blog article from you that they found while searching for information. This is the very first step of the path to purchase. In the language of marketing attribution, it is called the ‘the first touchpoint’.
Tracking this stage is crucial because you need to attribute your customers correctly to their origin. How they discovered you both helps you identify the money-making channels and analyze intent. For example, if you searched for ‘path to purchase’ on Google, read our article, and then visited the home page to sign up, we would know that you are looking for a product to track customer journeys. And, we will move forward accordingly. (Not so subtle plug, heh!)
The consideration phase is when your leads are considering if your product fits their requirement or not. They might book a demo, take a trial, read your copywriting, watch your videos, and compare your product to competitors. All of these actions come under the consideration phase. While you can’t track what they do outside of your website (like scheduling demos with competitors), you can definitely track and analyze what they do on your website. Their actions on your website tell you about their interests and intent and make the data key in the path to purchase.
Getting back to our previous example. You came to our website by discovering this article. It gives a strong signal that you are looking into customer journey tracking. Next, you check out our lead scoring solution. This gives another signal that you are interested in tracking customer journeys and then qualifying leads based on that. After that, you sign up for the free trial by selecting the Growth plan. This, again, tells us which plan you are interested in.
The name gives it away but this is where the purchase happens. That’s it! Many businesses also give weightage to the last touchpoint. That is the last action customers take before making the purchase. For a self-service or B2C model, this is very important. The customer might have decided to purchase after getting a discount code from you through email or they might have seen a retargeting ad that prompted the action. Things are, however, different in B2B sales-assisted deals as the sales rep would heavily be involved with the last actions before the purchase.
There are other stages in the customer journey that happen after the purchase is done like retention and advocacy but since we are only talking about the path to purchase, the stages end here.
Factors That Influence the Path to Purchase
In B2C, a lot of factors influence the final decision to purchase – sometimes one key factor could be impulse. On the other hand, in B2B buying, the factors that influence the buying decision, while not as susceptible to biases as B2C, can still range from a wide variety of reasons. These factors can also influence multiple decision-makers from the same organization. For example, Decision Maker 1 from an organization could be the person who discovered your product and signed up for the demo. However, Decision Maker 2 may discover something that deters them and creates a blocker in the path to purchase. On the other hand, positive influences, like having a good referral, can also move the Path to Purchase forward. It is important to identify and analyze these factors to strengthen the customer journey.
Reputation and Credibility
This is the most important thing B2B buyers look for. Many organizations would rather overpay for underwhelming services rather than experiment with vendors whose credibility cannot be verified. And, this is perfectly reasonable. A bad purchase from an Instagram store will just mean you throw the shirt in the trash but a bad B2B purchase can sometimes mean millions of dollars in loses.
B2B businesses would research your organization, check out reviews from customers in platforms like G2, and examine your policies and certifications to understand how you are complying with regulations and how you are securing their data. They might also ask their peers about you. If you are tracking the customer journey, it would be fairly easy for you to identify this stage and convey all the information to the customer.
Referral and Word-of-Mouth
A referral in B2B goes a long way. Businesses are much more likely to buy from you if you are referred or if they hear about you from others they work with. In B2B, trust is considered to be the most important factor in the decision-making process. As mentioned earlier, businesses go through a thorough vetting process before making a purchase decision. Trustworthiness is a key criterion that businesses look for during this process. If a business discovers that other companies, similar to theirs, are using your products or services, it increases their confidence in your organization. Building a positive relationship with people who engage with your account can also lead to positive word-of-mouth recommendations. This is especially useful when people switch companies as they may still remember your services and recommend them to their new organization.
Another effective strategy to enhance your position is to showcase relevant case studies and testimonials throughout the customer journey. This allows potential customers to view your company’s track record and gain insights into how your products or services have benefitted other businesses. By leveraging referrals and word-of-mouth recommendations, B2B businesses can strengthen their credibility and increase the likelihood of a successful Path to Purchase.
Presales and Support
Throughout the long and complex B2B sales process, customer support is important both before and after the sale happens. Having a robust presales and support system can greatly impact the customer’s decision to choose your product or service over a competitor’s. In many cases, customers prefer to buy from businesses that have a strong support system, as it gives them confidence that their needs will be met after the sale.
Good support also helps you build a strong rapport with prospects, as positive experiences can lead to favorable customer reviews and can increase the likelihood that decision-makers will choose your product at other companies they work for. Furthermore, a strong support system can make the Path to Purchase more predictable and help you retain customers better, as ongoing communication and assistance can address any issues or concerns that arise.
There are multiple other factors that influence the customer journey (like culture-fit, timing, etc.) but these are the most important ones. Addressing them can help you track the Path to Purchase more effectively.
Tracking Path to Purchase: Data Points
Now that we understand the importance of tracking the path to purchase, let’s talk about datapoints and how you can use them. In digital selling, most of the action happens on your website and you are in complete control of the data. Outside of your website, you are able to track how customers engage with your emails and social media channels. You are also able to track about channels that customers use to come to your website.
Here are the data points you need to use to chart the path to purchase:
Source / Referrer
This data point determines the origin of the lead both for their first visit and subsequent visits from other platforms. For example, if a lead visits your website from a Google Search ad on XYZ keyword, that becomes the first touchpoint in the journey. Subsequent visits can be direct visits or from different channels like remarketing campaigns. A web analytics or tracking tool is able to determine the referrer in many cases. It is, however, in your best interest to use UTM parameters and tracking templates (where possible). UTM parameters are attached to the suffix of your URL. Tracking templates provided by ad platforms or social media management tools can track specifics like campaign ID or post ID.
Page Visits / App Interactions
Page visits are tracked to learn where your leads navigate to on your website. Website or app interactions are the most prominent parts of the path to purchase. A potential customer would take several actions and navigate through your website or application across every stage of the buying journey. For B2B businesses, common page visit actions would be visiting the home page, pricing page, specific service/product pages, customer review/testimonials page, contact page, etc. If you are a product company, leads would sign up for a trial or freemium plans and visit application pages that are important for you to track. You can also track how much time customers spend on each page.
Website and application engagement would fill up the path to purchase and provide you the most data about customer engagement.
Funnel entry points are where your leads provide their contact information and enter the sales process. Contact forms, live chat plugins, sign-up forms, and demo forms are all lead entry points. It should be noted that the path to purchase does not start with the entry point. The customer does a lot of engagement before the sign-up happens. The sign-up actually starts the consideration stage. Regardless, it is crucial to track this data. Not only does it help you track and analyze sign-up conversions but also helps you connect the customer journey data with individual customers.
Website Content Engagement
Page visits technically come under website content engagement but we are talking about these separately to dive into specific content engagement. Your customer would engage with several pieces of content from your website. These could simply be your copywriting material or videos and other forms of content. Let’s say you have embedded a product tour video on your landing page and a customer has watched the video. That action becomes a key.
Email engagement happens throughout the journey as customers engage with your newsletters and sales emails. It is important to track both. Businesses send both generalized and personalized newsletters (based on user behavior) and customers engage with them to perform an action or just visit the website to learn more. Newsletters can easily be tracked through UTM parameters. Tracking sales emails helps your reps know when leads have checked out their emails and performed actions. These actions are all part of the path to purchase. It is to be noted that email open tracking is not accurate anymore because of Apple making changes to how emails are loaded. Tracking clicks should give more accurate data.
Your Business Checkpoints
Every path to purchase has crucial checkpoints that take leads to the next step of the journey. Or, these checkpoints would give strong signals of purchase intent. These checkpoints are unique to your business and need to be determined by you and tracked. It can be a very specific email action or signup, or clicking an important button, or doing an important activity on your website or app. For a SaaS company, adding a credit card to their trial account or adding team members can be crucial checkpoints in the purchase journey. It is important to track crucial checkpoints and map them in your path to purchase analysis.
Key Challenges in Tracking Path to Purchase in B2B
We have talked about why you should track the path to purchase and what data points you need to track for the same. It is now time to address the biggest challenges that will come in the way and how you can mitigate them.
Long customer journeys
B2B customer journeys are long. Depending on the ticket size or the nature of the business, it can take anywhere from several weeks to several months for a deal to turn into a purchase. Tracking the journey for such a long duration accurately might be difficult. If most of the customer journey happens on your website and channels you have control over, you can still track the entire path with a first-party cookie-based tracking implementation.
Customers would engage with you on several channels. It is literally impossible to track all of them and attribute them correctly. Will you ever know if someone found you by a LinkedIn post and then searched for your business on Google and landed on your website? Even if you use proper attribution, the trail will only lead to the Google search.
It is still, however, a good idea to track engagement on different channels across several touchpoints as accurately as possible. You have complete control on tracking whatever happens on your website. Email, social media, and third-party engagement can be traced using UTM parameters and referrer data. If social media is a very important channel for you, you can use a social media tracking solution to track engagement. Otherwise, general UTM parameter tracking will do the job.
Multiple Decision Makers
A B2B purchase might involve several decision-makers since you are selling to a business instead of a person. This can severely complicate things as different decision-makers would have their own journey and associated tracking cookies. One way to solve this problem is to track the account i.e the business and group different decision-makers under the same account for tracking the path to purchase. Usually, each purchase would have one primary decision maker, and tracking that individual’s journey might be enough. But, if your business frequently involves multiple key decision makers then this strategy needs to be implemented.
Long journeys, omnichannel touchpoints, and multiple decision-makers can easily result in fragmented data. Your ad platform will have advertising-related data, your social platform will have social media data, etc., etc. Plus, there might also be complications with the tool you use. For example, if you are using iframe embedded forms provided by your CRM vendor, there can be a struggle to connect the data with the rest of the customer journey
To avoid this problem, you need to implement a tracking mechanism that aggregates and unifies the data as much as possible to help you accurately track the path to purchase. You might also need to add or replace tools in your marketing tech stack to do this successfully.
Tracking Path to Purchase with Salespanel
Salespanel is a B2B first-party data tracking platform that can help you track the path to purchase of your customers in a unified manner and use it in your sales, marketing, and analytics systems. Before we talk about how it can help you, we would like to quickly take some time and talk about data regulations.
Privacy and data security have become a top concern and as such, data regulations like GDPR have become increasingly stringent. Even marquee products like Google Analytics are failing to comply with GDPR. So, how does Salespanel help you track path to purchase while complying with data regulations? We help you track your customers consentfully and do not use the data for other purposes. We are also not located in the USA and are not under the CLOUD act. Salespanel tracking can be set up to start tracking only after consent is obtained. All of these things make the product data regulation friendly. Reading the above-linked article is highly recommended!
Analysis of the path to purchase is crucial for both analytics and smart sales and marketing alignment. It helps you understand your key channels and touchpoints, analyze customer behavior, and replicate success efficiently. Proper monitoring and leveraging of the path to purchase paves your path to success. 😀 Talk to us if you want to know more about how Salespanel’s customer journey tracking solution can help!
Sell more, understand your customers’ journey for free!
Sales and Marketing teams spend millions of dollars to bring visitors to your website. But do you track your customer’s journey? Do you know who buys and why?
Around 8% of your website traffic will sign up on your lead forms. What happens to the other 92% of your traffic? Can you identify your visiting accounts? Can you engage and retarget your qualified visitors even if they are not identified?