What is path to purchase research?

Path to purchase (or buyer journey) research involves understanding and evaluating the end-to-end experience a buyer has when purchasing a product or service, as well as the ongoing experience with the supplier.

While traditional customer journey mapping research is an extremely useful exercise, it has two major limitations:

  1. It is restricted to focusing on existing customers and / or internal perspectives rather than considering the needs of prospective buyers.
  2. It commences at the moment of purchase, thus excluding the triggers for purchase and the research conducted prior to formally approaching suppliers.

Path to purchase research responds to these two limitations to give a full view of entire purchase process from the perspective of both existing customers and prospects.

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What are the typical stages investigated in the path to purchase?

In general, path to purchase research investigates the following phases:

  • Trigger: What triggers the need for and awareness of the product / service?
  • Review: How are potential suppliers identified? How are their offers evaluated?
  • Decision: What criteria are used to select suppliers?
  • On-boarding: What happens during the on-boarding stage?
  • Relationship management: How can we improve the on-going customer experience?
  • Renewal / re-purchase: How can we encourage repeat customers?

Nonetheless, any path to purchase research project should validate the stages of the journey to ensure that they are relevant to the specific context in question.


What should we understand at each stage?

marketing personalisation

Typically path to purchase research aims to understand the following questions at each stage of the journey:

  • What happens at this stage?
  • What are the touchpoints through which customers / prospects interact with suppliers?
  • Who is involved and what are they trying to achieve?
  • What are the pain points?
  • What information do they need?
  • Where do they look for information?
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How do you research the path to purchase?

Path to purchase research is most effective when a mixed methodology is employed, including both quantitative and qualitative methods.

Quantitative research allows us to validate the journey with statistically robust data, which can be useful when important business decisions need to be made. However, in many B2B contexts the target market for a product or service is niche and hence it is not possible to reach a large sample size though quantitative research.

Qualitative research is therefore critical in gaining a nuanced understanding of the buyer, their relationship with the wider decision-making unit, their needs and pain points. Qualitative in-depth interviews also provide the opportunity to gather verbatim feedback which brings richness to the final outputs.

b2b customers


Top tips for successful b2b path to purchase research

  • Covering all decision makers and influencers: Given the complexity of most b2b decision-making units, it is crucial to develop a sampling framework which gathers sufficient insight from all components of the decision-making unit – both the final decision-maker as well as influencers. These are often spread across disparate departments such as operations or technical areas, general management, finance and procurement. Personas can be developed to bring each role to life, and any outputs should highlight how the needs of each persona differ at each stage of the path to purchase.
  • Providing clear actions: To ensure that the research is useful, it is crucial to provide clear actions at each stage. These can be used by a range of stakeholders across the business including sales and marketing teams. Actions can be key sources of information to develop, topics of conversation that will resonate with buyers, and styles of communication which meet the needs of buyers.
  • Clear and impactful outputs: In addition to the typical PowerPoint deliverables, creating a visualized version of the path to purchase can help the findings become more impactful and useful across the business. For path to purchase research, large-format posters can be created which present all the key information in one place. At B2B International we have our own in-house graphics team who can prepare visualized outputs that adhere to client brand guidelines.
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