Even if you work in sales or marketing, it’s likely that you’re being sold or marketed to more often then you’re selling to others. Whether it’s targeted advertising on your most-frequented websites, or in-person sales pitches at your local stores, you’re almost constantly being asked to consider a panoply of different products and services.
Now, let's imagine that in the middle of an in-person sales pitch, the salesperson start referring to you as a “lead.” She asks you what steps they can take to “convert” you and “close the deal.” Just a guess, but it’s hard to imagine that you’ll want to buy from this business. Why? Because they’re talking about the sale in terms of the business’s needs rather than yours. In other words, they’re failing to consider the Buyer’s Journey.
Buyer’s Journey vs. Sales Funnel
So what, exactly, is the Buyer’s Journey? Simply put, it’s the entire sales and marketing process reimagined from the perspective of the buyer. Rather than moving from a lead to a conversion, the buyer begins by identifying a need or issue, researching the issue in order to ascertain whether anyone is selling a viable solution, and then making a decision based on his or her own needs. By inverting the traditional sales train-of-thought in this way, businesses can more effectively tailor their sales pitches, marketing campaigns, and content creation to the process that each buyer goes through before coming to a decision. By looking at this process through the eyes of your prospective buyers, you can more easily empathize with their position and provide them with the advice and information that they need.
Compare this to a more traditional sales funnel: because there is no structure in place for thinking through the process from the buyer’s perspective, it can be difficult to figure out exactly what information or content would be useful to prospects at different stages of that process. As a result, many businesses overwhelm their potential customers with product specifications and hard sales-pitches before they’ve even figured out the nature of the problem that they’re trying to solve.
Awareness, Consideration, Decision
Different organizations will describe the Buyer’s Journey in different terms, but in general there are three agreed-upon stages. Thinking about the journey in terms of these stages can help you to understanding the changing needs of your potential customers as they move deeper into the sales process.
- Awareness: At the awareness stage, your prospective buyer is just coming to realize that he or she has a need or problem. They might not have a name for it, and they might not be certain that it’s something that they’ll need to take steps to resolve. Awareness stage buyers might be searching for educational content that helps them to define their issue in clear terms and points them towards possible solutions. Presenting awareness stage buyers with a litany of reasons why your product will solve their problem won’t be an effective tactic, because they don’t know what their problem is yet.
- Consideration: Consideration stage buyers have defined their problem, and are ready to research possible solutions. They may not be ready to think in terms of individual products or services, but they’re eager to know what types of products and services might be available in the marketplace to help them address the need that they’ve uncovered. Critically, they still haven’t decided to buy anything (they might realize that they already have the resources to solve their problem, or that it isn’t worth the money it might take to deal with it directly). They’re open to the possibility of making a purchase, but they’re still gathering the information they’ll need to actually make an informed decision. Here, your content and messaging should show them what a potential solution might look like, and how to evaluate one.
- Decision: Finally we come to the last stage. The prospective buyer has finished researching and is ready to make a decision. This is the point at which your potential customer will be ready to think about and evaluate specific products—including yours! This is the point at which your buyers are ready for a more traditional sales pitch that differentiates your product from other, similar options. Though this is the first instance in which it’s really helpful for a buyer to hear about the specifics of your offerings, remember to continue to couch your discussion in terms of their needs.
Okay, we’ve danced around the answer to this question in the sections above, but let’s get a little more explicit: what, exactly, does this have to do with marketing in general and B2B marketing in particular? Simply put, the Buyer’s Journey helps you segment your audience into categories based on their changing needs. In a traditional sales funnel, everyone is assumed to be eager to hear increasing amounts of information about your company or product; in the Buyer’s Journey, you put your product aside in order to help educate the consumer until the final stage. Why? Because that’s the way that people make informed decisions—and an informed customer is an ideal customer.
This is especially true in B2B, where businesses may be purchasing enterprise software that will require ongoing support and information, or large, expensive bulk purchases that need to be just right. If, for instance, you’re providing software to other businesses, you’ll want to organize your leads based on where they are in their respective journeys. If you’re developing an e-mail marketing campaign, you can make sure that your awareness-stage buyers are only receiving appropriate content—content that helps them define a problem they’re having with their hiring, marketing, automation, etc.
Likewise, consideration stage buyers would receive emails that help them understand the problem and explore solutions. Only once they’ve reached the decision stage would you try to schedule a call to discuss your product and how it might resolve their problems. In this way, you guide your prospective buyers through their decision making process, rather than trying to push them through it. More often than not, they’ll thank you in the form of their business.