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Understanding the Buyer Journey

What is the Buyer Journey?

A buyer journey is a sequence of events that unfolds as a person becomes a buyer of a product or service. The journey that the buyer takes includes a series of steps that include becoming aware of a product or service, a phase of exploration, learning and evaluation and the eventual decision to purchase a new product or service. 

In this article we will explore the buyer journey in detail, and articulate how companies are applying digital transformation strategies to the buyer journey as a way to improve customer experience. 

Some of the main questions we will answer include:

  • What is the Buyer Journey? And What is a Customer Journey?
  • How to build a buyer journey?
  • How can a quality buyer journey improve sales?
  • Applying personas to the buyer journey.
  • Building a content strategy around the buyer journey.

To understand the buyer journey and why it is important we must first understand the motivations that define why a customer chooses to begin the buyer journey.

Buyers are in control of their buying process, and as buyers become more intelligent the majority of the buyer journey must be set up in a way that allows for flexibility in the delivery of information. To appeal to as many different types of buying personalities, an organization must be able to offer both self-service education and information as well as a guided (personal touch) buyer journey.  High quality and buyer-centric content is the primary way buyers become aware of, learn about, and purchase solutions. As you build your organization’s buyer journey you must be prepared to build a variety of types of high quality content to appeal to as many types of buyer personas as possible.

A buyer’s journey begins with a pain point – a frustration, inefficiency, missed opportunity, or excessive cost. When this pain point is realized they begin conducting research to educate themselves (by gathering information from industry analysts, influencers, bloggers, trade shows, social networks, peers, and vendor websites) in order to determine if this pain point is worth addressing. In this research they identify different vendors to find one that aligns with their business challenges. For example, if a senior management leader calls a meeting that outlines the organization’s new focus on digital transformation and knowledge sharing, a set of new challenges has just been presented that require exploration and discovery. This is just one example of how someone can become a buyer and choose to begin the buyer journey.

IdeaFORGE plays an instrumental role in the ability for an organization to build a Content Encyclopedia® of information that can connect to each step of the buyer journey process by providing valuable content and engaging content to the right people at the right time in order to best serve their needs and influence their decision-making. By enabling your employees to build personalized and high quality content we can inspire buyers into action, and in order to do this we will have to overcome any concerns they may have. Compelling content must be delivered to the audience and this is the primary differentiator driving conversations and evaluation of solutions. To do this an organization must understand, at an in-depth level, our buyers and how they buy.

Comprehensive buyer personas and journey maps are necessary so that we can continuously create the high-quality content that the buyer expects in order to fuel buyer engagement.

Buyer Personas

What is a buyer persona? 

A buyer persona is an abstract idea of an ideal customer or buyer of your product or service. A buyer persona is based on real market data and industry research and is designed to act as a guide for how to engage with a specific type of person. A detailed buyer persona provides your team useful insight as to where to focus their efforts, how to tailor product development to that buyer, and how to develop messaging around the value proposition that will resonate with that particular buyer. By going through a buyer persona exercise, you will be able to have more developed and valuable engagements with leads, prospects, and customers of your business. 

When creating your buyer personas, you should define the demographics, challenges, pain points, behavior patterns, motivations, concerns, goals and compelling events related to each buyer. A good measure for your buyer persona completeness is if a person new to joining your team can read through the buyer persona you have created and confidently be able to articulate the business’ value proposition through the lens of that buyer persona.

The information in your buyer persona should not be guess-work. Your buyer persona should be based on real people, data, insights, and experiences. Each buyer persona has its defining attributes, these attributes are what makes them unique, and capturing them is the first critical step in being able to market differently to one persona versus another.

Buyer Journey Map Framework

What is a buyer journey? 

A buyer journey describes the steps, in great detail, that your buyer executes from initial consideration of a solution to purchase decision and finally to implementation and use. Buyer’s journey maps are not vendor checklists detailing what a Sales team has to say to the buyer or what documents they are expected to provide. In today’s buyer centric B2B environment, vendors can no longer view the buying journey from their own perspective. A great buyer journey is built around customers. The buyer journey map details the collective path – from the buyer’s point of view -that each buyer persona, as well as all personas together as a group, go through to solve business challenges. 

Buyer Journey maps give your organization a rich understanding of how your buyer personas discover, learn about, and choose solutions. A buyer journey map also articulates how a customer uses these solutions to overcome challenges and improve their business.

Understanding the Buyer Journey Map Framework

The buyer’s journey is complex. Many considerations must be made on both the customer side and the business side. In the B2B sales space, a 2019 Gartner study found that there is on average between six and ten people involved in a B2B buying decision. And each one of those people are armed with “four or five pieces of information they’ve gathered independently and must deconflict with the group.” 

Developing a sales strategy and buyer journey framework to ensure all decision makers have the information they need as well as a clear understanding of the benefits of the solution is critical for success. These dynamics make it increasingly difficult for customers to make purchases. In fact, more than three-quarters (77%) of B2B customers surveyed by Gartner described their B2B purchase as very complex or difficult.

An example Buyer Journey Map Framework is composed of nine steps, including: Awareness, Discovery, Learning, Selection, Purchasing, Implementation, Validation, Adoption, and Enjoyment. 

Each of these steps is made up of five core dimensions for each buyer persona that must be defined by your organization – Persona, Persona Participation Level, Persona Needs, Persona Activities, and Persona Content Preferences. These core dimensions are broken down by buyer persona because not all personas will want or require the same level of involvement in each phase of the buyer journey.

Regardless of level of involvement, the information provided across the buyer journey is critical for improving the ease of the sales process. Gartner also found that customers who received information that was helpful in the buying process were 280% more likely to experience a high degree of purchase ease, and 300% more likely to buy a bigger order and experience less regret.

Stage 0 – Awareness

Before the buyer can consider your organization’s product or service for a solution to a challenge they are experience, the buyer must first become aware of the problem they are experiencing and that there exists a solution to that problem. In this stage the buy is experiencing a pain point that they are aware of, yet they are not sure if they should, or can, do anything about it. In this state the buyer does not know much about the pain point aside from the fact it exists. The buyer may not even know what is causing the pain point, what the consequences of the pain point are (or how significant these consequences are), how the pain point can be solved (or if it can even be solved), or how to even define the paint point. 

If one person is experiencing the problem, there are more than likely other buyers in this same or similar situation that may not even realize they are experiencing the pain point, or have yet to experience the pain point, but will in the future.

Potential buyers in the awareness state are not looking for solutions or conducting research, although eventually there is a catalyst that sparks their interest in learning more.  The catalyst may be a pain point that is growing too strong and cannot be overlooked, or could be the buyer recognizing that something they read or heard is related to their pain point, thus sparking curiosity that pushes investigation.

By thoroughly understanding potential buyer’s pain points and business challenges, marketers can create high quality messaging and content that will act as a catalyst, thus initiating buyers into the organization’s buying journey. This content should be targeted towards building awareness of these pain points and challenges, promoting the brand as thought-leaders, and maintaining the brand at the top of the buyer’s mind.

It would be productive to work with the Product or Service Development team in order to build features and capabilities that solve the pain points customers care about.Alignment is important so that the marketing team and the solution team can address the buyer’s initial pain points with specific product use cases.

Stage 1 – Discovery

In this stage the buyer will be seeking education regarding their pain point. The buyer has realized that they have a pain point and need to learn more about it in order to find a solution. The buyer will conduct research to identify the pain point, understand the potential causes of the pain point, identify how others have went about tackling similar pain points, and explore the best practices to solve the pain point.

In this stage marketers have a chance to establish their company as the go-to thought-leader by offering content that defines the pain point, explains the causes and consequences of the pain point, creates an urgency to tackle the pain point, and describes how to successfully cure the pain point.

Stage 2 – Learning

The Learning stage of the buyer journey is where the buyer learns about the various solutions available to address their pain point. Some solutions to pain points do not require a buyer to purchase a product or service and can instead be completed internally, in other cases a purchase is required. The learning phase is one of the defining moments of the buyer journey because it will determine whether the buyer will truly become a potential buyer of your product of service, of if they will be able to solve the pain point in a way that does not require a purchase. If a purchase is required, the buyer will identify specific providers that offer solutions that address their pain point and create a list of available solutions that align with their business needs.

In this stage marketers can influence the buyer through high quality content and messaging that establishes a buying criterion, helping the buyer identify business and technical needs, and aligning the organization’s solution to the buyer’s needs.

There may be some sales engagement involved in this stage.

Stage 3 – Selection

The Selection phase of the buyer journey narrows down the buyer’s broad list of available solution options through a process of trials and evaluations. 

Once the buyer identifies a selection of solutions that are worth implementing, the buyer compares and contrasts available solutions before making a final decision.

In this stage the seller must prove that they are the best vendor through high quality content and messaging that matches the capabilities of the solution to the buyer’s criteria. Along with matching solution capabilities to the buyer’s criteria, the high-quality content and messaging must validate trust and expertise while providing ROI and successful results.

In this stage the buyer needs to prove to internal stakeholders that a solution is worth implementing to address the paint point. Typically some form of cost / benefit analysis or business case will be created to aid in the communication of the solution’s value add.

Customer references, past results, and other types of validating information is incredibly valuable in this phase of the buyer journey.

This stage requires active sales engagement supported by high quality content and messaging.

At the end of the selection phase the buyer decides on which solution is best for them.

Stage 4 – Purchasing

In the Purchasing stage the buyer is actively procuring a selected solution and preparing for Implementation, Validation, and Adoption of the solution. This involves planning, internal alignment, resourcing, approvals, and anything else the buyer needs to do to complete a purchase.

In this stage, it is important that a sales team is enabling and influencing buyers through high quality content and interactions. The primary focus of the sales team in this stage is to ensure that they can address buyer concerns and business objectives as effectively as possible.

Stage 5 – Implementation

Implementation is the phase where the buyer and seller partner together to deploy the solution. For a software product this would include setting up the software, provisioning the users, receiving training, and beginning an awareness campaign to drive adoption. This process typically involves educating and incorporating a new wave of people to the solution and the process, potentially from diverse departments across the buyer’s organization.

Stage 6 – Validation

Validation of the solution occurs soon after Implementation is completed. The speed of technology around us today causes buyers to expect results fast. Your organization should be prepared to tell the buyer what success looks like, and how to measure success. If achieving success with your solution is a longer process, your organization should have clearly defined milestones that can capture the progress being made towards success. 

Accomplishing the Validation phase of the buyer journey is critical as it represents the key moment where your buyer will expect the promises made during the previous steps of the buyer journey are delivered on.

Stage 7 – Adoption

After Validation of the solution has been achieved, and there is a clear solution to the pain point the buyer initially set out to solve, Adoption can begin. Adoption is the phase of the buyer journey where a solution expands within the buyer’s organization. Most new implementations of solutions start small during the validation phase. These small scale implementations are typically called Pilots, and are designed to limit losses the may occur if a trial is unsuccessful. Once a solution has been proved out, a Pilot program can expand to be established organization wide. Adoption is the process of rolling out the solution to the broader organization. 

This phase of the buyer journey is typically combined with an internal advocacy plan put into place by the seller’s customer success team. The internal advocacy plan should be set up in a way that clearly articulates the value proposition and solution to the pain points. 

You can think of the Adoption phase as a condensed buyer journey Stage 0 to Stage 4 where your new buyers are all of the people in the organization who weren’t part of the original buyer journey.

Stage 8 – Enjoyment

Enjoyment is the goal. If you have reached this phase of the buyer journey then it means you have successfully helped the buyer achieve their goal and deliver a solution to their pain point. 

Once your solution is setup and fully implemented and rolled out, your buyer can begin to benefit and enjoy the results.

Only the beginning of the Customer Journey

The enjoyment phase is the final phase of the buyer journey, but it is not the final phase of the customer journey. The Customer Journey is only half way through at this point. We will explore the customer success portion of the customer journey in a different article.

 

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