For the past few years, we've belabored the point that marketers need to map the customer buying journey. It’s true, but in many cases the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Instead of not knowing anything about our audience, what they want and how they make decisions, we’ve tried to document the decision-making process to the Nth degree. That’s not much help either. There’s no need to detail every pebble in the road if you don’t have the time or resources to do something with it -- you’re putting undue stress on teams and creating paralysis by analysis.
Just because we have the tools and technology to see every digital body language movement doesn’t mean that we’re able to develop something valuable from that information. Are we really able to create enough high-quality, persona-specific content throughout 10 different stages of a buying journey? Think about the B2B time frames, anywhere from six months to two years for some brands to make a decision, and they may involve seven to 10 people. Can you consistently maintain relevant, engaging content for that length of time for that many people for that many stages? Probably not.
We have a deluge of proof that buyers make decisions differently and SiriusDecisions points out that 67 percent of the process is now done digitally. Insisting that we document that process at a granular level puts shackles on the possibilities of how we engage with people. It’s not a waterfall process and we have to quit trying to force people into a linear system. A digital process doesn’t equate to a linear process.
We have to move away from developing content for buying stages and move into building purpose-driven content that creates distinguishing experiences. How do we design relevant experiences for audiences so they want to move toward engaging with our brand? What decisions they make, and the order in which they make them, simply can’t be templatized.
Think Customer Problems, Not Marketing Processes
I recently spent two days with sales and marketing teams that sell into the oil and gas industry. It was delightful to watch both groups truly understand what the other does, and how they can better work together. While there were eye-opening moments at many times, what everyone came away with was a common understanding that it was the experiences they create for buyers that made their company stand out from the crowd. It was understanding that the experiences they brought to life through purpose-driven content, and how people consumed it, changed how their audiences engaged and opened doors for unique buying processes -- none of which were linear.
For example, many of their buyers reach out to a sales person during a critical moment -- they needed a component to keep their operations up and running because there’s millions of dollars on the line. If the buyer calls this company, will the company drop them into a linear buying process? Nope, that’s common sense. But the purpose-driven experiences that marketing created with content up to this point were crucial in establishing trust and credibility -- rather than trying to make a sale at every turn. And, in the pivotal moment when the buyer reached out, sales was able to respond and connect them with other purpose-driven content that built deeper trust and engagement. The buyer went from awareness to customer to validation and then education because of the need to solve an immediate problem. That’s certainly not a linear process.
What kind of distinguishing experiences are you creating for your buyers?
There’s no shortage of technology tools from which marketers can draw to facility decision making for their buyers -- that’s not the point. What we need to focus on is creating distinguishing experiences for our audiences that inspire them to want more from our brands -- and then have the framework in place that lets us respond in real time to keep them engaged and delighted, rather than trying to force them into a process that’s easier for marketers to manage.