Is Your Buyer on the Journey You Think They Are?

Written by: Johnny Anderson on 2/19/16 11:27 AM


Marketers talk a lot about the buyer’s journey. Google yields over a million results for the term. The quest to understand the process a customer goes through to come to a purchasing decision is one of marketing’s most popular subjects.

The buyer’s journey isn’t merely a popular subject for conversation though. The stakes are much higher than that. Businesses create marketing plans and decide how to allocate budgets based on assumptions of what the buyer’s journey looks like. Unfortunately, assumptions always come with risk and many marketers don’t truly understand what journey their buyers are actually on.

The Traditional Buyer’s Journey

Most of the time when marketers talk about the buyer’s journey, they have in mind a number of tactics and actions divided into three stages:

  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Decision

76% of consumers say they want different content at different points in their research. The goal of the traditional buyer’s journey is to make sure you’re providing content to your prospects that’s appropriate to the stage they’re in.

Awareness Stage

Any marketing campaigns or tactics that are focused on making your audience aware of your products to begin with fall into the awareness stage. Awareness-focused marketing activities typically include SEO, pay-per-click, and much of the broad educational content produced. Most marketing departments devote a significant portion of their efforts to activities in the awareness stage of the buyer’s journey, since getting onto your buyer’s radar is often the hardest part. You’ll never make a sale to someone who doesn’t know you exist, and you have a lot of competition when it comes to getting a consumer’s attention.

Consideration Stage

The consideration stage is for prospects that have already recognized that they have a problem your products or services will solve. They’re in the research stage of finding a solution, seeking out more information in order to make an informed decision. If they’ve already encountered your brand during the awareness stage, you’ve got a head start, but it’s possible for businesses to come across a company for the first time once they’ve already entered the consideration stage.

The marketing activities that define this stage tend to include long-form content like guides and whitepapers and informative webinars and demos. This stage is about helping the buyer better understand what they need, what their options are, and how your products or services fit into the mix.

Decision Stage

The decision phase is when they’ve already decided to buy and they just need to settle on which company to go with. The marketing tactics at this stage are brand specific and make the case for why your products or services are the best choice. They include things like product demos, case studies, and vendor comparisons.

Different Ideas of the Buyer’s Journey

Recent research from Sirius Decisions found three distinct buyer’s journeys that B2B prospects commonly take. Taking their findings into account, navigating the three stages of the traditional buyer’s journey starts to look a lot more complicated.

The Individual Buyer’s Journey

This is the simplest of the three buyer’s journeys they found and the one that hews closest to the traditional buyer’s journey that so many marketers are familiar with. In this scenario, there’s only one prospect for your business to be concerned about, or at most two. If you can capture the attention of that one person and make your case through educational content, then you’re set.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that landing a customer on the individual buyer’s journey is easy, but it’s a much less complicated process than the other two journeys Sirius discovered. The individual buyer’s journey typically takes less than eight weeks and involves approximately twelve touch points.

The Buyer’s Journey by Consensus

The buyer’s journey by consensus was the most common model that Sirius Decisions found in their research. This type of journey most often comes into play for larger purchases falling into the range of $50-$500 million. Instead of the decision falling on the shoulders of one person, it involves a number of different people in varying professional positions and departments at the organization.

In this scenario, you need to consider which contacts are likely to need which information at which stage. You need to develop personas for all the regular contacts likely to be involved in a consensus decision for your product and figure out the journey for each. You can expect to need distinct content at different stages for each persona that addresses their particular concerns. Obviously this makes for a much more complicated process than the individual buyer’s journey. The buyer’s journey by consensus typically involves three to five contacts, takes three to six months to complete, and involves around fourteen touch points.

The Buyer’s Journey by Committee

Finally, we have the most complicated of the buyer’s journeys on the list. Whereas the buyer’s journey by consensus involves multiple professional contacts, it tends to be horizontal – the different contacts each have about the same buying power. The buyer’s journey by committee involves even more people, all of them in different hierarchal roles. In other words, some of your contacts may not have much purchasing power on their own, but are crucial to the process due to their role in convincing other contacts of the value of your product.

This journey isn’t as common as the consensus one, but it’s potentially worth more. It occurs most often with businesses that typically net over $1 billion in revenue. The buying process often lasts around six months, but can last up to a year in some cases. Six to ten people are usually involved in the decision and the process involves an average of eighteen touch points.

For the buyer’s journey by committee you’ll want to develop a number of different personas for all of the regular positions involved in the decision, and also likely add some content and resources committed to helping those on the lower end of the hierarchy make a case to the high-level decision makers.

The Data-Driven Buyer’s Journey

After reading to this point, do you think you have a clear picture of the journey your buyers are on? If anything, learning more about how varied the different buyer’s journeys can be inspires more questions and confusion rather than a clear picture of the process.

While the three journey types outlined by Sirius Decisions can help provide some extra information for what different companies with different types of products can expect, there’s still a lot of room for variation in the particular journeys customers of different companies are likely to take, as well as those that different buyers of the same company will.

Right now, most companies are basing their journey models on interviews, focus groups, and conjecture. But many marketers have access to the data that can conclusively show them the journeys their buyers take, they merely need to start putting it to use.

It requires some work. You and your team have to commit to undertaking a big data exercise – aggregating all your data across stages, departments, brand assets, and touch centers in your organization. Only after that step’s completed will you be able to overlay the data you have for each new lead on your audience segmentation data. Seeing how the actions of new leads compares to your data on similar past leads will allow you to finally gain a clear picture of what journey each new buyer is likely on.

Over time as you collect more data on what the typical buyer’s journeys for your customers are, you’ll be able to see trends that help you make better marketing decisions. Your data can help you pinpoint not only the most common journeys your buyers take, but also the ones that consistently lead to the highest amount of revenue.

When your marketing reaches that point, you’ll recognize your most valuable leads early on and know the right steps to take to lead them to the point of sale. The companies that have taken the steps to begin developing data-driven buyer’s journeys are still rare, which means those that get on board soon will be ahead of the game.

You can keep guessing at which journeys your prospects are on, or you can start tracking their actual buyer’s journey in real time, equipped with a clear idea of where they’re likely to go next based on past data. If you’re ready to take the next step to get there, Hive9 can make the process easier. We’ll show you how.

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Topics: Buyer's journey, Hive9