You’ve been doing customer journeys all wrong – damnit
If like moi you follow (with squinty-eyed, suspicious interest) all the chatter on things #modernmarketing you would have noticed the near-hysterical levels of excitement around content and buyers journeys of late.
Myths being exploded and debunked. People accidentally peeing their pants at the revelation that 67% of buyers don’t always self-educate entirely before they speak to sales, blah blah.
Truth be told, I was one of the people who merrily jumped on the band wagon no doubt perpetuating the various myths surrounding it. My bad. Soz. No more espresso for me.
Things were a changing
The reality was that we kinda knew things were fundamentally changing in B2B Marketing but we didn’t necessarily have all the data points needed to back up our collective hunch. And, we were been given stats and information from various industry sources that we were accepting on face value – sometimes revealed at big events with dry ice, thumping music and charismatic presenters – borderline evangelical in stage production.
The worry was that that whilst we were producing new frameworks, visions and data points (to satisfy our urge to be innovative and cutting edge), in the long term it might not hold water and do more harm than good. It was marketers trying to get ahead of other marketers, and companies will of course convince us of revolutionary approaches to sell their wares, licences, whitepapers or software.
In short we felt that the new modern marketing vision didn’t quite reflect what we were seeing in the real world, outside of our naval-gazing self made marketing adminisphere.
So what is the truth Then?
About 18 months ago we set out on a mission to uncover the real truth of the B2B buyer’s journey. Invariably the buyer’s journey ‘gravity well’ pulls in other factors too, content strategy, personas, the use of marketing automation etc but we wanted to focus on this one fundamental modern marketing concept.
Our analysis showed the buyer journey ‘vision’ was basically flawed in conceptual design.
B2B buyers didn’t neatly progress along linear decision paths as previously defined by us, in fact they took seemingly illogical paths. Sometimes they started at the end and weaved backwards (which defies any existing marketing protocols), or missed some steps out entirely.
So – we have to be careful on how we interpret and act on people’s behaviours because they might not mean what we think they mean. Just because a woman winks at you on the Tube doesn’t mean she wants a date, she might just have an itchy eye 😉
Downloading a whitepaper doesn’t necessarily mean that they are ‘sales ready’ and just need justification content. It doesn’t necessarily mean we should MQL them because they downloaded a comparison guide. We have to be more dynamic and fluid with programme design. More human. Less automaton.
What is true then?
It is clear that buyers just see an ‘experience’. For example many buyers would see click to chat as a ‘digital thing’ rather than a human thing despite a human being on the other end. Fair point, you do click on something after all. Much of the time ‘click to chat’ wasn’t used as a ‘I want to buy something now please’ interaction, often it was information gathering or sometimes customer support. There is no digital/offline – there is just the customer experience.
Digital content however is still crucial
Of course it is, but not in the way many marketers perceive it. There was an interesting disparity between the influence of digital content on actual purchases between what the marketers think, and what the actual data shows:
In the real world, 85% of confirmed ‘wins’ had one or more digital interactions in the six months leading up to the sale. The vast majority registered between two and five engagements with digital content. 38% had only one interaction. Marketers however believed the numbers to be much higher despite what the data showed. Wishful thinking maybe?
So digital content is key, but not huge amounts of it. Less is more, punters have a short attention span and don’t engage with nearly as much of our lovely content as we think – or maybe would like. Is that an argument for or against content marketing? Neither really, just produce better stuff.
Interestingly, according to our analysis almost a third (32%) of the consumed content (that influenced an actual sale) was third party created or hosted – so think review sites, industry reports, external thought leaders and influencers, customer reviews – and yes, social.
reboot: B2B Buyer’s Journey v2
So back to our Buyer’s Journey. How does it really look? How do we articulate it as a pretty diagram? And explain it to our colleagues in a fancy Powerpoint?
Or maybe we stick to the linear chart and just recognise there is movement back and forth:
Start with These Three Basic Stages
Awareness, or being made aware of a problem, need or challenge (or opportunity)
Exploring and understanding options, features/benefits, see it in action or context and comparing to other solutions
Validation, proof points, reviews and recommendations
This is manageable – you can easily craft and identify content for each stage and when you have to scale the programme (e.g. across Europe) it can be operationalised.
Of course our buyer’s journey doesn’t end there. We have the crucial actual act of Purchase, a step in its own right (especially selling SaaS type stuff to SMBs). Get the content and experience wrong and you can blow the sale. This all then leads to the customer piece with additional important steps:
Taking ownership of the product and the customer experience surrounding it, are they using it? Are they making the most of it and seeing the value?
The act of giving feedback often in a community forum via social media, this can be positive (advocacy) but also negative and harmful to the brand
Sometimes people go. Walk out the door, don’t turn around now…But we need to leave the door open and maintain a good experience.
And finally..and we have the whole Repeat/Cross/Up-Sell bit. This can often be the most crucial part of the buyer’s journey with greatest revenue potential.
What this all means for you
So what have we learnt. What does it all mean, how do we operationalise these learnings? Start with these pointers:
- The journey is actually non-linear in nature much of the time. People are emotional, and unpredictable. You must allow people to navigate between your content stages (moving up, down, left and right). This affects UX/CX design, MAP implementation, inbound, messaging and more.
- People have totally different psychologies when researching and buying something (which can’t necessarily be predicted with persona or profile mapping), and start from completely different perspectives, some more left brain than right brain. You need to keep all options open to punters.
- Third party content is key – and shared customer/community content really is very important. This links to the adoption and sharing piece which needs to be fully baked into your strategy. Make sure your company is making good friends with the thought leaders and industry experts. Maybe those air-kissing PR types were right all along?
There is no Spoon
Ultimately our message here is to take all frameworks, external data points and opinions with a pinch of salt (including ours). Work with your data, your content, trust your unique experience and knowledge.
Sure it’s good to take inspiration from articles such as this just don’t be seduced down paths or strategies which may contradict your own evidence and thinking.
Who says they’re right and you’re wrong?