Improving the Buyer’s Journey (and winning the deal)

The Buyer’s Journey is a great model to use for matching content to a prospective buyer’s interests and their ability to absorb it. The model is also a looking glass view of the sales stages model that describes progress through the deal pipeline. However, with the Internet now acting as the content broker for at least the first half of today’s buying process, that older sales rep-based selling model has gaps. This article looks at new technologies to bring the buyer’s journey and the B2B sales process into sync again. Doing so helps both customers and vendors be more efficient, since the sales team gets an earlier and more solid understanding of the customer needs.

Aligning Buyers and Sellers

The conventional view of the Internet-enabled buyer’s journey is one of well-defined and ever-increasing focus, from search to content to gated content to engagement and sales. That certainly may work for online retail, but not so much when you deal with enterprise sales valued at $50k and up. Let’s look at the gaps in the process and some firms that can help to bridge it. It is still early days for these solutions, but I see great potential.

First, let’s look at how the buyers’ journey maps to the sales stages and also to vendor marketing and sales investments.

The most important thing to note is how the options for vendor engagement multiply as the prospect moves through Awareness and Consideration. There is a “cat and mouse” mixture of tactics that seek to draw out prospect details by delivering multiple types of content and engagement strategies in parallel. Each vendor will have their own mix, and the vendors that can engage establish direct contact is likely to make the best impression and take the deal forward to negotiate and close. This is a critical time to add value, especially in the enterprise sale.

Engaging on enterprise deals

Enterprise “buying” is complex:

  • It takes a team to make a decision — and maybe another one to fund it.
  • There is almost always an entrenched incumbent.
  • The timeline can be elastic — typical enterprise buy cycles for major new investments can be 3–9 months.
  • The decision makers don’t necessarily do the research.

For going after new business, this diagram simplifies the enterprise evaluation and decision process. Content and engagement have two purposes:

· Build advocacy across the team evaluating options

· Address installed solutions or vendors that have existing supporters (blockers)

What are the implications for Internet and social media marketing? The news is not good.

  • The people that matter the most don’t read much, so content doesn’t reach them.
  • Having inside sales follow up with the content reader generally meets limited success.
  • Automated follow-up on a “nibble” on content generally means retargeting. Aggressive retargeting comes very close to online stalking and often annoys the receivers. Search “retargeting stalking” for more on this.

To summarize, nurture can generate awareness but does not get you close to the decision part of the buying process or give your sales team a solid opening. However, it is critical to get solid information to the Influencer that can make them an advocate for you. That information must include information of value to the Problem Owner and Decision Maker which can be used by the Influencer.

Well, what about email? Email is the tried and true entry point for inside sales. Email gives you two options:

  • Direct phone follow-up on an offer. This is chancy, since the odds are whatever you are promoting as an offer is not top of mind with the suspect on your list. And it is just a list since you have no context for a conversation. It is all a big guess — where some reps are better at starting from zero than others. Conversation methodologies, such as SPIN, can really help engagement conversations but are not the whole answer.
  • Invitation to a gated asset. This can get a bit more information out of a prospect, at least moving from email to phone number, role and employer profile. But as we saw above, it is unlikely to connect you with a decision maker.

Rethinking first contact

By first contact, I mean a conversation between your sales team and the prospect, typically starting with the Influencer. To be useful to the customer, it needs to have context and relevance specifically to them. You need to know something useful already! Things that matter:

  • Really understanding who they are and what they do.
  • Having insight to a problem you know they have.

Engaging via content

Gated content, such as videos and whitepapers can build confidence with the prospect that the vendor understands the issues and has relevant solutions. For more detail on creating useful whitepapers, here is the deck from a webcast I did recently with Porter Consulting on the value of whitepapers in the buyers journey. Gating canned content does have limitations because it lacks a hook to gather more detailed information from the visitor. Beyond an email address and role info, the gated asset “download form” doesn’t provide much insight into the mindset of the prospect.

The next level of engagement is custom content based on the prospect’s interests and needs. In some cases, data collection comes in the guise of a survey. The prospect fills it out, and eventually gets a summary of the survey based on responses from a large peer group. Useful, but not immediate or tactically a “must have” for the prospect.

A more intriguing solution comes from Coservit.com with their LeadSeed service. This combines a sell-assessment with a responses-based custom report. I have been working with Coservit on one project so far, and it provides great value to prospects and vendors. Also, it integrates with marketing automation such as Marketo, Oracle Eloqua and CRM such as Salesforce.

  1. For the prospect, some useful next steps, and a personalized report that can be passed around internally to support decision-making. Depending on the campaign goals, prospects can get advice, positioning, a readiness audit, recommendations, market information from industry analysts or peer quote testimonials.
  2. For the vendor, a solidly documented lead with concrete information that sales can follow up on. This can include leads scoring based on the self-assessment. Leadseed clients can then follow up with telemarketing or Inside sales.

Lastly, a couple of links if you are interested in LeadSeed: an overview video and examples of campaigns run for Daisy and Microsoft.

Engaging via role

The other critical aspect of first contact is locating the optimal prospect pool, typically via email. Open rates for demand-gen email are usually dismal. This is true of direct email and also “social email” such as Linked-In InMail. The reasons are simple:

  • The email message — and the offer — are generally not tuned for each individual and their role, or company, or business problem. For example, as an independent consultant, I get many emails like “I love your website — we can make it better”. As custom as it is sincere — not!. Developing custom emails is hard work, but it is critical to a warm reception.
  • The timing is random and the prospect may not have a matching urgent fire to douse.

There are tools for this as well. One interesting company is GetDisruptive. Their approach combines the two elements necessary for strong open rates:

  • An understanding of individuals by role and interests, based on their LinkedIn profile. Their proprietary analysis model synthesizes attributes to provide a more specific profile than simple filters can.
  • Strong, customized emails based on the intersection of those roles and interests and the value prop of the subject of the campaign. There is no magic here, just taking the time to visualize value from the customer’s perspective and account for multiple personas. However, it takes time to get good at it, and the team at GetDisruptive seems competent to me.

Putting it together

In combination, these types of solutions have the potential to increase prospect engagement earlier in the buyers journey. The sooner you can have a person-to-person engagement with the prospect, the higher chance you will win the deal. This diagram shows how these tools can fit into a standard campaign to pipeline framework.

Tools and services such as GetDisruptiv and Coservit LeadSeed provide a way for vendors to be more useful, at earlier stages, to potential customers. Adding value from the beginning will improve results and improve your connection to customers.