The Buyer's Journey and What it Means for B2B Marketing [Video]
Even if you work in sales or marketing, you're likely being sold or marketed to more often than 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.
Let's imagine that in the middle of an in-person sales pitch, the salesperson starts 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 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 buyer's perspective. Rather than moving from a lead to a conversion, the buyer begins by identifying a need or issue, researching the issue to ascertain whether anyone is selling a viable solution, and then making a decision based on his or her own needs.
The buyer's journey in B2B marketing is the process that a potential customer goes through to become aware of, evaluate, and decide to purchase a product or service from a business. As stated by HubSpot, "buyers don't wake up and decide to buy on a whim. They go through a process to become aware of, consider and evaluate, and decide to purchase a new product or service."
By inverting the traditional sales train-of-thought in this way, businesses can more effectively tailor their messaging, 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 they need.
Compare this to a more traditional sales funnel. Because there is no structure for thinking through the process from the buyer's perspective, it can be difficult to figure out precisely what information or content would be helpful 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 they're trying to solve.
The stages of the Buyer's Journey
Generally, there are three stages of the buyer's journey. Thinking about the journey in terms of these stages can help you to understand the changing needs of your potential customers as they move deeper into the sales process.
At the awareness stage, your prospective buyer realizes he or she has a need or problem. They might not have a name for it, and they might not be sure 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 their problem yet.
During the Awareness stage, buyers are often motivated by a desire for personal growth or advancement. Individuals may be trying to make more money, save more money, or find more success with their business or personal life. Understanding these motivations can help businesses create content that resonates with their target audience.
Consideration-stage buyers have defined their problems 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 making a purchase, but they're still gathering the information they'll need to make an informed decision. Here, your content and messaging should show them what a potential solution might look like and how to evaluate one.
During this stage, a buyer might be:
Researching potential solutions: Searching for information online, reading reviews, and comparing products or services that could solve their problem or fulfill their need.
Requesting more information: Contact the businesses they are considering and requesting more detailed information about their products or services. This could involve asking for a demo or speaking with a sales representative.
Evaluating different options: Creating a list of pros and cons for each option they are considering or creating a comparison chart to evaluate the solutions they have found.
Finally, we come to the last stage. The prospective buyer has finished researching and is ready to make a decision. This is where your potential customer will be ready to think about and evaluate specific products—including yours! This is when your buyers are ready for a more traditional sales pitch that differentiates your product from 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 regarding 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?
The Buyer's Journey helps you segment your audience into categories based on their changing needs.
You move from "always be closing" to "always be helping."
In a traditional sales funnel, everyone is assumed to be eager to hear increasing information about your company or product; in the Buyer's Journey, you put your product aside 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 purchase enterprise software requiring 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. Suppose you're developing an e-mail marketing campaign. In that case, you can make sure that your awareness-stage buyers receive relevant 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 by giving you their business.
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