In the world of inbound marketing, we try to avoid talking about driving or creating leads; we recognize that in a buyer-driven world, the marketer's role is to make their products or services perfectly visible and attractive at the different moments of truth experienced by potential buyers. Instead of "generating" leads, we attract leads at key points in the buyer's journey, and help them by providing insights that build trust and grow our credibility in their eyes.
That's why understanding the buyer's journey is so important. Since, as inbound marketers, we're trying to anticipate the stages leads go through, we map out the buyer's journey to provide help, answers, advice, insights and support each step of the way.
The general stages of the journey are well-established:
The buyer realizes a need or pain point, and he or she begins to become aware of the potential solutions.
Why am I experiencing a problem, and what exactly is the problem? What are the possible solutions?
The buyer has identified the relevant possible solutions and begins to compare the different options — evaluating the pros and cons of various solutions.
Why is one solution better than another? What's the best way to solve my problem?
The buyer closely evaluates the best potential solutions that will lead to the best purchase decision.
Why is your company the right choice for producing the solution?
But knowing generalities about the journey isn't much help if your goal is to create content that truly connects with buyers and compels them to action. No, to create content that really works for each stage of the journey, you need to work hard to turn a theoretical journey into something much more human. That requires understanding your target persona as a living, breathing person who is pursuing solutions that are ripe with the nuances of his or her unique situation. Your challenge is to ask the right questions for each phase of the buyer’s journey and be inspired by your target's unique situation, and to create beautifully relevant content.
The Steps of Their Journey
Each company will have its own rules, processes and established protocols in place for the decision-making process, as well as informal practices that could be driven by corporate culture or individuals in positions of influence. The faster you can replace uninformed guesses with solid judgments, the better prepared you'll be to anticipate the journey with appropriate content.
Mapping out your buyer’s journey will take some work and involve interviews, one-on-one conversations with internal associates and existing customers, and even holding buyer journey workshops to glean insights and information. But the effort is well worth it for the rewards.
When you map out your best understanding of what your target goes through to get to a purchase decision — especially potential roadblocks — you can start to clarify content forms and tone, as well as consider the depth and seriousness of the content you should be producing. You’ll also realize where potential gaps may be in each phase of the buyer’s journey.
Is it a formal involved process with complicated milestones and board of directors’ reviews and approvals, like large capital purchases at major corporations?
Will a cross-functional team be required and actively involved?
Is permitting or pre-permitting required, involving state or federal agencies?
Will a purchase need to be certified by a third party?
Can the buyer proceed on his or her own authority, unilaterally, without fear of second-guessing?
Can facilities act independently of corporate, or does corporate set ground rules and provide vendor vetting?
The Problem Being Solved
Before you start developing any content, you need to understand the problem and the context in which your target is tasked to solve it. Are they looking for equipment or technology that will deliver the cost savings to keep them competitive, or are they replacing equipment at the end of its productive life with no need for dramatic cost improvements? Are they trying to find a cost-effective accounting firm to replace a partner that didn't have the capacity to serve them well, or is this their first need for outside accounting services?
Understanding the potential meaning a purchase decision can have on people or an organization is a great cue for the different directions content can take.
Is it an isolated transaction, like an analytic device purchased by an R&D team?
Does it expose the organization to risk, like a new sales compensation plan?
Will it take time, effort and organizational will to implement, like a CRM implementation?
Is it a non-event unless it causes problems, like a new commercial cleaning service?
As you understand the potential impact — or lack thereof — your solution holds for your target customer, your eyes will be opened to the kind of content that's likely to be most helpful to them.
By the time prospects enter the decision phase, they have a more complete understanding of the kind of help they need, and they start to worry about price, quality and trust. Most businesses, large or small, have different purchasing rules for different categories depending on whether it’s a capital expense versus line item expense, its impact on the organization, whether it’s new versus a replacement, how it fits with existing technology and more.
If you can anticipate where your products or services fall within the different customer segments you serve, you'll be able to tailor content that speaks to each distinct decision situation.
Are your products viewed as capital goods that will be logged as balance sheet assets?
How much spending authority does your target persona enjoy, and who else would have to sign off?
Does the purchasing department need to bless the purchase?
Will a cross-functional team be involved, either as a review board or to provide purchase oversight?
If you understand the obstacle course your target has in front of them, you can be a better guide to get them through it.
Creating Authentic Content
One of your essential goals as an inbound marketer is to create content that authentically attracts and compels your best targets to take positive action in your direction. Bringing an intimate understanding of the nuances of their individual buyer’s journey to the forefront of your content planning is the best way to make it happen, and make it happen in a way that creates a powerfully relevant position for your business.
It all starts, however, with identifying your ideal customer’s buyer’s journey. It’s a critical, foundational step. Use our complimentary worksheet below to make sure you stay on target. Just click the button.
Posted by Greg Linnemanstons With 18+ years in senior management roles at Fortune 500® and medium-sized companies, Greg has deep marketing and sales experience with CPGs and manufacturing. He leads strategic initiatives with clients and is involved in developing client inbound marketing plans. Greg holds an M.B.A. from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management and a B.A. in Economics from Lawrence University.