What Every Marketer Should Know About The Customer Journey

by Robin Tinker, on Sep, 24, 2015

The customer journey is not what it used to be. Fundamental changes in the way we live and communicate have contributed to the emergence of self-educating buyers who do all of the preliminary research themselves.


A 2015 B2B Web Usability Report found that B2B buyers visit a vendor website multiple times during this research phase. Not a surprise considering that in a 2014 survey, 37 percent of respondents indicated that they would visit a website 3-5 times, and 33 percent reported they do so to research third-party references. This begs the question:

How far do buyers get on their own?

A study from the Corporate Executive Board illustrates that B2B buyers are 57 percent of the way through a buying decision prior to engaging with a sales rep. They consult with sales as a last resort when they become overwhelmed or need to get answers about how the product or service can be tailored to meet the unique needs of their organization. Sales consultants are stepping in to address these questions at later stages in the purchasing decision.

More than ever before, the pressure is on marketers to develop and present content that educates the prospect at each stage of the journey, helping them to self-qualify and move to the next stage of inquiry or purchase. It's time to update your skill set, work with closely with sales, and tailor your approach to the self-educating consumer.

Sometimes They Just Want to Do It Themselves

Make the path easy. The customer journey has changed, and people are making their purchasing decisions faster than ever before. Forrester’s Shar VanBoskirk believes that the leading factors in a routine purchasing decision are habit, price, and convenience. VanBoskirk states, “You need to make it easy for people to pick you.” The fewer the barriers, the more likely prospects are to buy. Marketing needs to be flexible with content and respond quickly to prospects across multiple channels.

How should communications be tailored?

  • Content needs to speak to the audience. To be relevant, rich, educational and inspiring, aligned with the interests and aspirations of the marketplace. It is a different perspective that addresses the buyer’s concerns but offers strategies to achieve the reward they desire. Sales can step in to offer what they find their buyers to be interested in and hope to accomplish.
  • Identify opportunities to influence the buyer’s decision. Analyze your customer’s path and look for places to offer value to decision-makers. Make it easy for them to read and receive the information they want.
  • Review your marketing models. With a relationship-driven marketplace or those relying on a sales force, content must be updated quickly and be easily accessed by users. Marketing can enable better communications by providing informed content to sales and the ability to reach people in their stage of the customer journey.

Prospects don't want to be frustrated in their search for a solution. Your content, communications from account teams and sales are all there to make the decision easy for them. You are there to show how your solution can be tailored to fit their needs. Remove the barriers.

The Quest for More Knowledge

As customers self-educate and self-qualify, the approach of marketing and sales changes accordingly to address different needs. It is imperative that marketing and sales learn how best to communicate with their intended audience. Work together to deliver a customer experience that exceeds expectations.

“If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful.” - Jeff Bezos, Founder & CEO, Amazon.

The work that you put into the process and communications will pay off in speeding up the sales cycle and gaining referrals from buyers. Your teams should strive to continue learning and refining your processes.

Sales Holds the Key to Self-educating Buyer Expectations

Sales wants pertinent content; customers want it more. Marketing wants to help. Prospective buyers and sales consultations can provide invaluable feedback to inform you about the problems and concerns that inquiring prospects have when deciding to purchase a specific product or service. This insight can provide additional relevant social outreach, blog posts, and the opportunity to update content on a website that speaks directly to the prospect. Sujan Patel calls it letting the customer write your marketing copy.

Tap into the prospects’ network by creating content that resonates on such a level that the natural reaction is to share it. Your potential customers likely have others in their network looking for similar solutions.

Here are some concrete strategies for enabling your sales force to better serve prospects:

  • Develop and execute a sales process that addresses each stage of the customer journey for each buyer persona. Highly relevant marketing content will assist sales in providing answers to potential buyers. Sales findings from interactions should be documented/tracked and return to marketing to influence the creation of additional content.
  • Educate the sales force to listen and inquire. The information gathered will help to inform an evolving sales process based on the needs of buyers as they consume information. Real-time best practices for sales and marketing should reflect the information gathered from probing discussions.
  • The prospect can self-forecast and take sales along their thought process. Prospects can offer information pertinent to them and insightful to the industry such as, what happens during the account’s next purchasing stage? Prospects can unveil the purpose, process, involved parties and the general length of time required to a trusted sales consultant. Sales can assist the buyer in forming solutions with info that pertains to their timeline and implementation of a purchase.

[Tweet "When you truly listen and respond, you develop trust"]

When sales teams take the time to listen and respond to the underlying questions and develop solutions for buyers, they develop trust with that account. The depth of interaction and conversation provides insightful information to inform marketing. Use it to tailor messages and develop strategy to answer the different questions occurring at various stages of the customer journey.

Sales to Enter the Buyer’s Cycle Earlier

Sales puts in a great deal of time and energy to contact, qualify and close a sale. Many leads are not ready to meet with a sales representative. According to MarketingSherpa, only 25% of the marketing generated leads are “Sales-ready”, and over 80% of the marketing generated leads never convert to sales at all. Sales spends a significant amount time with individuals that are not ready to speak with them or that have no intention of converting. Marketing needs to enable sales to get into the buyer’s cycle earlier with the right prospects.

  • Content needs to be crafted for each customer persona. The content answers specific questions within a particular stage from developing awareness to identifying opportunities to determining the best approach and more. Identify the customer personas and use the same vocabulary throughout sales and marketing.
  • Track real consumption of content. Did the prospect open the pdf that sales sent them? Integrations between your sales enablement, CRM, and marketing automation platforms allow you to track the consumption of content that indicates movement along their journey.
  • Get those buyers to self-qualify. As potential buyers consume additional information, more specific questions are raised that require sales intervention. Alert sales to step in during those buyer-questioning periods.

Remember what your customer wants. They want to understand their problem, look at the solutions that others have found, create their own shortlist of plausible solutions and research the options. It is during the later stages of research that they evaluate the solution that can work for their individual situation.

Look at buyer behavior and not just the stage in which they rather arbitrarily land. Bring sales to them during those times when buyers are integrating information and need to get more clarification as it applies to their unique situation. Sales then becomes instrumental to the decision-making process and no longer an unwanted interloper.

Improve Your Marketing Message with Feedback

Sales and marketing can work together to better serve buyer and prospect needs. Enable sales to gather the feedback and provide prospects with opportunities to tell you what they think. Marketing can supercharge messaging with info that comes from the sales person's experience with actual prospects/customers in the field.

When sales and marketing departments are aligned, people feel the difference and experience a pleasurable customer journey. Get the tools and resources to create real value for the customer while improving your marketing ability.

Now it's your turn. What successes and challenges do you face while implementing new marketing strategies with the self-educating buyer? Comment below or tweet us @modusengagement.

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