How to Market to the 5 Stages of the Buyer Journey
When building a business to business (B2B) content marketing program there are many articles and eBooks which will tell you why it is worthwhile and what you should do. There is far less information on how you should do it. How do you know what content to build and for what purpose?
My previous posts have laid out some answers. First, you should have content that can help customers answer the three questions of why they should do it, why now and why with you. Second, you should consider the four buyer motivations known as the pains, gains, fears and peers. Third, you should look at the buyer journey as an important guide.
Most people recognize that the basic goals of marketing are to create awareness among prospective customers, convert awareness into leads for the business and build favorable associations about the brand in the mind of the prospective customer. However, B2B marketers must do more. They must also help prospects advance along the buyer journey toward purchase.
The 5 Buyer Journey Stages
There are thousands of sales processes and approaches, but nearly every one can be aligned directly to a five-stage buyer journey model that includes the Aware, Interested, Involved, Convinced, and Committed. Keep in mind that this is the buyer’s state and not yours. You can influence how they feel about these states but the buyer owns their perspective. You should also note that the buyer is a recipient of information in the first two stages, but becomes an active participant and the owner of the buying process for the remainder of the journey.
Marketers need to recognize that simply delivering prospective buyers to the awareness stage and handing them off to sales is insufficient. Previous studies have demonstrated that prospective buyers don’t rely solely on sales representatives to gather information and make decisions. They hear from competing sales representatives and do their own research to determine their next steps. This research also shapes their thinking about the solution space and the vendors that inhabit it.
Whether the sales representative is delivering the information directly or prospects are gathering it themselves, marketing should play a pivotal role. And sales representatives should welcome the assistance in order to gain more leverage during the sales cycle. If not, marketing teams are not having maximum impact and are leaving too much to chance. The marketing function must align with sales to both deliver prospects into the funnel and help move buyers toward purchase. If marketing teams are not helping sales close deals, are they providing any value? That is the ultimate measure of marketing success.
How to Market Across the Buyer Journey
Marketing across the buyer journey requires that you both feed prospects where they are and help motivate them to advance to the next stage. Your content plan and outreach strategy should reflect this reality. It should also recognize that the logical and emotional needs in play are different along the journey. That means you need to employ different tactics depending on the stage. Consider these questions that buyers typically have at the stages depicted below.
This model offers insight into the type of messaging and content that is most relevant to buyers at these stages. Does your marketing proactively answer these questions and do you have a process to make sure the information is distributed at the right time? Another way to leverage this model is to align it with the three questions that all buyers must answer affirmatively before they make a purchase.
Marketing teams should have content designed to answer these questions and tools in place to ensure that content can be distributed to prospects based on their buying process stage.
How to Motivate Movement Along the Buyer Journey
Finally, we can take this model up a level to first principles and the core messaging that motivates advancing between the stages. What many marketing and sales professionals fail to understand is that the key messaging objective changes depending on where the buyer is in the journey. We saw that above in the questions within the stages, but there are also questions that govern movement between stages.
When buyers are aware of a vendor or solution space they need a solid Why or What’s in it for me (WIIFM) to desire further education on the topic. They are going to give up time to learn and they want to have confidence that the new information will be worth the trade-off. Once they have already expressed interest they need to answer the What question as in: What would it be like for me or my organization to use this solution? If this vision is appealing, they will then become active participants in the buying process and invest even more time and resources in further evaluating the opportunity.
The Involved stage is where many sales teams spend the bulk of their time and where so many sales cycles get stuck. This is where the buying rationale is defined. However, what many fail to recognize is that even buyers that believe the solution can deliver benefits harbor concern about their ability to implement and use the solution successfully. Can you blame them for this worry? A CIO article recently cited a study that 55% of companies had experienced a recent IT project failure and Project Smart reported, “Gartner studies suggest that 75% of of all US IT projects are considered to be failures by those responsible for initiating them.” When you know that projects fail often, it is logical to be concerned that your project will be one of them.
This means that the right messaging and content can help the transition between Involved and Convinced by assuaging fears about implementation. You should be able to communicate clearly to buyers How you ensure successful implementation and provide evidence. If you have current customer examples, that will be your best bet for generating buyer confidence. However, if your product is new and you don’t have a lot of customer examples, you can fill this gap by providing detailed implementation plans, information about your implementation and support teams, or user documentation and training materials. The same thought process is true for ensuring How they can be assured of capturing value. Will your solution be easy to use? Will the company realize the benefits? Again, case studies of successful customers, user experience studies showing the alignment with user needs and habits, and operational plans that complement implementation plans can help reduce concerns and increase confidence in moving forward.
Finally, when you move from Convinced to Committed you start to encounter an entirely new set of people in the buying process. In most B2B purchases, the sponsor or economic buyer of a project can say yes, but they cannot sign a contract alone. Legal, purchasing, risk, IT and other departments may have a defined role to play before a purchase is complete. People in these roles are not impacted by your solution on a day-to-day basis so they don’t care much about what you do or how it will be implemented and used. They trust their colleagues have done due diligence on these topics. However, they may care about whether your solution is going to impact the bottom line and your project sponsor will need this ammunition to overcome organizational resistance. This means you must revert back to the Why messaging as your primary weapon, only this time you have specific examples about how the buyer will benefit.
4 out of 5 = 0
There is simple math associated with every buyer journey. If the buyer doesn’t complete all five stages, there is no sale. You don’t get bonus points for a buyer that is convinced and even gives you a verbal yes, but doesn’t go to contract. In that scenario, your company has invested marketing and sales dollars for zero return. The idea of marketing throughout the entire sales process is to focus on improving the yield of your customer pipeline by improving win rates. It takes a lot of activity to draw prospective buyers into your sales process. You need to organize your marketing efforts to both fill the funnel and help move qualified prospects to a purchase.
Marketing Content to Support Your Inbound and Outbound Activity
Content marketing has proven successful particularly for technology products. It can help drive prospective buyers to consider your offerings through inbound marketing activities driven by your website, SEO and social media efforts. It provides the reason for prospects to engage with your company through outbound marketing activities such as email, SEM, display, and events. It also provides tools for the sales team to utilize through the buying process to maintain prospect engagement and help them advance toward a purchase.
Many executives believe in this strategy but are unsure about what direction to offer their marketing team. How do you implement a content marketing strategy? The buyer journey model combined with the three buyer questions offer specific questions to address with your marketing content. Start by creating content that provides answers to these customer questions and then make sure it is distributed to the prospects based on their buyer journey stage. This is what is meant by nurturing prospective buyers. You are helping them grow into becoming your customer by feeding them the appropriate nourishment for their stage of development.
So, start with a quick audit of your marketing content and figure out where you have gaps based on buyer stage driven customer questions. Then go about filling those gaps and providing more depth where you face the most buyer resistance. This can become the foundation of a content marketing strategy that is a growth engine for your business.