The Buyer’s Journey is a concept used by inbound marketers to better address the needs of customers before they ever become customers. It’s a construct designed to understand the requirements of the people you serve in a personal way, and delivers real results.
But why is it a necessary construct? We already have the Inbound Marketing Methodology and the Sales Funnel. Surely it’s just saying the same thing; there’s no way it could add anything new or interesting or helpful to how we do marketing, right?
It completely changes how we approach marketing. It changes how we approach and interact with customers, it changes what we market to customers, and it works with, rather than against, the shift in control that birthed Inbound Marketing in the first place.
An Important Construct
In the days when a billboard ad and a spot in the newspaper was enough to get your business by, the sales funnel was developed, and it worked. It was a formula designed to predict sales, taking into account that you begin a campaign with a bunch of slightly-interested leads, and a smaller amount of those leads would come out the end as full-fare customers. It was a pipeline predictor and a tracking mechanism, but throughout the whole process it was assumed that the power to say ‘yes’ to the product offered lay in the hands of the sales team. It took a processing outlook on its customer base, but didn’t consider the needs of said customers.
In a similar-but-different fashion, the Inbound methodology looks at converting visitors into customers; which is a useful and proven strategy, but at the same time, assumes the selling power is in the hands of the business.
The Buyer’s Journey is different from both in that it is designed to appeal to and understand the customer’s perspective. It acknowledges and runs with what we’re reluctant to admit - the buyer is now in control of the buying process. The pace and progress of a customer’s decision-making process is no longer something we can manage. We can, however, help guide prospective customers through the thought process using responsive and appealing content. The Buyer’s Journey identifies and meets the needs of the client as they progress through the decision making process that ends in them purchasing the product or service. This customer-centric journey is applicable for B2B and B2C business models, and complements rather than replaces the Inbound methodology.
Understanding The Journey
So, we now understand why The Buyer’s Journey is important - let’s delve into what it is. The journey is rendered as a three-stage process: Awareness, Consideration, and Decision stages.
The Awareness stage of the Buyer’s Journey predates the customer picking up your product. Before they decide to purchase from you, your ideal customer will have a need. It’s a need you’ll eventually fill, but for now it’s an inkling, a tip-of-the-tongue problem for the customer. They might have something that needs a solution, but haven’t yet worked out what the problem is yet. A business sensitive to the Buyer’s Journey responds to the Awareness stage by helping the customer realise what their problem is.
At the Consideration stage of the Buyer’s Journey, a customer will have identified the problem that needs solving. They’ll be casting about, seeking different ways to solve the problem - they’ll look at different methods and be researching solution strategies. If your business is catering for customers at this stage of the journey, you’ll have a variety of clear solutions visible and available for perusal. You want your solutions to be palatable but that doesn’t mean it’s a guaranteed sale. That call is made in the third phase of the Buyer’s Journey.
Aptly named, the Decision stage of the Buyer’s Journey covers the endgame of your customer’s Journey. By the time a potential customer has reached this stage, they know what the problem is, and how they want the problem fixed. During the Consideration stage, the customer was shopping around different providers, researching different methods available and seeking a solution. They’ve built up a list of names, and in the Decision stage, they’re whittling that list down. You want to be on the top of that list, and can do that by proving to the customer that you’re the very best for the job. This is the stage a customer will most likely be at when they contact you for a consultation. Your business can appeal to Decision-making customers by offering facts and comparisons, reviews and demos of your product or service.
Staying Appealing During The Journey
Given that a prospective customer is likely to only contact your business at the end point of this process, it can seem a difficult task to secure their patronage. It is important to realise, though, that just because a customer will only contact you at a late stage, doesn’t mean you can’t invest and appeal to them at the earlier points in the process. A business that produces content relevant to all stages of the decision-making process is far more likely to appeal to a prospective customer. If your business is investing in a prospective customer and meeting their needs with valuable content, then it’s a logical step for the customer to choose you. The whole point of understanding the Buyer’s Journey as a marketing construct is to understand what the customer is after at different points in their interaction with you. The construct will assist your business because it anticipates what any given contact will need, and aims to connect the right content with the right leads at the right time.
This makes the Buyer’s Journey sound a lot like a Buyer Persona, and although the two are about anticipating the ideal customer, the Journey allows and expects change in the individual It's also known as the Marketing Buyer Cycle. In order to keep up with the changing requirements of your buyers as they mature, offer a variety of specific content that can appeal to different customers in different stages of the Journey. It’s often more helpful to be specific to any given single stage with your content offers than it is to try and cover multiple stages.
In understanding the desires of the customer at different stages of the Buyer’s Journey, you’ll want to match the tone of different content offers with that stage. You can do this with keywords and content types, and by understanding the kind of research that different stage customers do.
Implementing the Buyer’s Journey in your marketing scheme can be a big shift. It won’t involve major infrastructure changes, but it can be considered a solid investment on the part of your team to tag your content offers. Make sure you have a variety of offers that can appeal to customers at all different points in the Buyer’s Journey, and ensure the offers maintain their appeal to those stages through clear naming and labelling.
The use of this marketing construct involves a sizeable paradigm shift, but the payoff is tangible - more than half of the time, a prospect’s buying decision has been made by the time they contact a supplier. It’s important therefore to anticipate what mindsets the customer will travel through before this contact, and appeal to those mindsets. A business that understands the Buyer’s Journey will help prospective customers understand their problems, offer palatable solutions, and do so competitively. They’ll offer specific content that appeals to each stage, and will be able to maintain leads by understanding that their needs change over time, and accommodating for those needs. By understanding and anticipating the mindset of your customers, your business will better serve your client base, and build more sure investments with leads who trust that you’re the best for their needs.