Making Assumptions About The Buyer’s Journey

B2B marketing expert Ardath Albee takes marketers to task on the way they’re using the term “buyer’s journey,” and explains why truly understanding their customers’ decision processes requires hard work, research, and tightly targeted content.

buyer's journey

I’d like to take pause to question how marketers are using the term “buyer’s journey.” This also applies to buying process, buying cycle, sales cycle, etc.

If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you know I’ve been on a bit of a quest to get marketers to stop and think about what the terms we use every day actually mean. We’re moving so fast and trying to expand our skill sets in real time and I think we adopt terms and apply them to what we’re doing without really analyzing the underlying meaning.

So, let’s take on the buyer’s journey.

I write a lot about the buyer’s journey/process. In fact, I took a very hard look at it when I was writing my book. Since I work with B2B companies with complex sales that have very long periods of prospect gestation, I came to the conclusion that the usual definition was just too broad to be meaningful.

I’m talking about the usual nod to: Awareness, Consideration, Purchase.

If the cycle takes 9 months, that’s a lot of gray area for each stage. And all stages are not created equally in length of time or objectives that must be met for the continuation of forward motion. Plus, it occurs to me that the construct above is for us more than it is representative of our buyers.

I chose to break the buyer’s journey into 7 stages based on how I’ve seen prospects navigate problem solving:

  • Status quo – Their situation today before they are actively trying to resolve a problem
  • Priority – Their realization that a problem exists that’s worth solving
  • Research – Actively seeking education, best practices and whatever they need to know to determine a viable course of action
  • Options – Determining who has the expertise to help them solve the problem with the least risk
  • Step Backs – Handling the doubt that occurs to restore confidence that all their questions have been answered and they’re on the right path. Answering the “What if…?” questions
  • Validation – Verifying that they’re making the right choice in solution and vendor
  • Choice – Making the purchase

However you choose to define the buyers’ journey is fine. There are many roads to Oz. But what’s important is that we consider this process from the buyers’ perspective, not ours.

For example – let’s say you use Awareness as your first stage. For some reason, marketers assume that if prospects are just “aware” of their company and solution that they will move on to the consideration stage.

Why?

I’m aware of a lot of companies that I never buy a thing from. So are you. What creates that defining moment that speaks to your prospect and motivates them to take an action to learn more about you or from you in relation to a problem they are trying to solve?

If they do learn more, do you assume they’re now in the consideration stage? Or are they just becoming more aware? What is the catalyst that creates a stage transition? And how do you evaluate that?

With buyers taking control of their “journey,” what makes you think you have the inside track?

These are not easy questions to answer. Developing a strategy to engage buyers by answering their needs as they look for solutions to problems requires hard work, research, and continuous testing as markets evolve and priorities shift.

The starting point (in my opinion) is buyer personas. You’ve got to compile insights across the entirety of the process to determine what to provide, when. And how to provide it in a way that works for them.This includes uncovering the questions they need to answer to open up a path of discovery with the intention to solve a problem.

buyer's journeyI think that in order to do this well we need to forget about format and think about information. For some reason, marketers always want to assign formats to stages before they think about the information that prospects need. I see this a lot.

Should we use a case study here or a blog post there? Who cares? If the information isn’t what the prospect is looking for, it doesn’t matter what format you put it in.

I took a road trip this summer and it occurs to me that turn-by-turn navigation from my GPS is pretty much definitive of the buyers journey. In other words, you can’t turn right on Main Street until you take exit 12 off the freeway.

The same is true from an informational perspective. For example, until I know what my problem is costing me or what I’m giving up by letting it persist, I may not be motivated to seek change. So if your information is about why your solution is the right choice for solving my problem, I’m not interested because I haven’t decided it’s worth doing…yet.

If you want to know where your buyers are in their decision process, you’ve got to create tightly targeted content that will tell you based on their interaction with it.

And that’s where marketers tend to miss the point. One interaction with your content doesn’t prove a thing. How do you know it was really what they were looking for? Did it resonate or did they walk away after viewing it unimpressed?

Only by observing patterns of behavior over time can we ascertain how interested someone is and if we’re truly seeing the display of intention.

There’s much more to be said about the buyer’s journey, but I’m stopping here. I’d like to know what you think. Where can we improve how we address problem solving for our prospects?

In fact, maybe it shouldn’t be called a Buyer’s Journey at all. Maybe it should just be called Problem Solving. For without problems, there would be no need for solutions, right?

And for those of you who look at the other end of the stick, an opportunity that isn’t realized is due to a problem that is limiting potential. Just saying…

Editor’s note: This guest post from Ardath Albee, CEO of Marketing Interactions, Inc., originally appeared on her blog.

Share Your Thoughts

  • Mike Vizard

    I hear a lot these days about how the purchasing cycle is actually collapsing thanks to social media; but I’m not finding much actual evidence of that in B2B scenarios. Your post would seem to suggest the purchasing cycle is actually expanding?

    • Ardath Albee

      Hi Mike,

      I am suggesting that the purchasing cycle is expanding. I see it in my project work with clients, but also in the latest research. Take for example, this report based on a survey of B2B buyers that finds they spend more time researching, involve more team members and are increasingly dissatisfied with their buying experience.

      You can find the report here: http://www.demandgenreport.com/industry-resources/research/1782-the-2012-b2b-buyer-behavior-survey.html#.ULUsfYYvP9o

      Also consider that the increase in research is likely conducted anonymously so that a big part of their process is no longer visible. By the time they “opt-in” and we begin measuring, they could be anywhere from 50% to 70% through the process. So it only appears shorter.

      Thanks!
      Ardath

  • http://twitter.com/jvfaulks Vance Faulks

    Hi Ardeth, I find there is much confusion between buyer journey and the typical funnel especially when we’re doing content audits and attempting to fill gaps in the buyer journey. Seems this complicates the already complex change management to shift our thinking around content. Are you saying simply that buyer journey does not equal traditional conversion funnels? I’ve seen the eloqua content grid which implies that buyer journey is different than biz objective (i.e. conversion funnel). Do you agree? Also, I really appreciate your reco to forget about format and focus on the actual content.

    • http://twitter.com/ardath421 Ardath Albee

      Hi Vance,

      Thanks for your comment and questions. I think there are distinct differences between the buying journey and the traditional conversion funnel. The first is focused on the buyer experience based on needs, preferences and expectations and the 2nd is focused on what we want as a company/salesperson/marketer. Two constructs with totally different foundations.

      Does that help to clarify?
      Thanks!
      Ardath