After writing New Research Defines the Buyer’s Journey to 3 Steps, I received a lot of comments asking for further clarification on my research of the buyer’s journey. I’ve decided to further the conversation on the buyer’s journey by exploring those stages.
As pointed out by Hugh McFarlane (@funnelguy) in his book The Leaky Funnel, the buyer’s journey is a process that must be understood by marketers in order to improve marketing effectiveness and increase revenue. This journey involves many steps on both the marketing and sales sides.
While the buyer’s journey is going to vary somewhat from company to company, there are some similarities across the board. For instance, every journey starts out in the same way: a buyer has a pain point and sets out to figure out how to solve it. In most cases, the beginning of the buyer’s journey is going to belong to marketing, who will help the buyer educate themselves to a sales-ready state. Once a buyer has a general understanding of the product or service, sales will take over to help finish the journey.
In my research on this topic, I chose to focus on the stages of the buyer’s journey that are within the marketing team’s direct control. A few points to clarify before we move on:
- I’m writing this article to better define the “buyer’s journey” within the marketing life cycle. This refers to the stages of the journey before a lead is passed over to a sales rep for a product demo. Modern research conducted by Consumer Executive Board suggests that a buyer is 2/3 of the way through their entire buying process before they want to talk to a sales rep, so it is highly important that marketers understand and optimize for those early stages of the buyer’s cycle. The more you know about how people engage with your content and messaging during these stages, the more relevant your marketing can be.
- I’m advocating for three stages while in the marketing life cycle. This number is an average. My research also shows that, for 91 percent of B2B buyers, the amount of product research they do depends on the price of the purchase; as the price increases on a purchase, their amount of research will increase as well. This means that there will be more stages in the buyer’s journey if the buyer believes they need more information to make a decision.
- Buyers may not move linearly through the stages. Not all buyers act the same, nor should you think they do. Not everyone starts at stage one, moves to two, then three. They can start in three, two, or one. They also can skip steps if they choose to. These are their choices, not results of your marketing.
- I’m not suggesting a time frame. This research does not attempt to suggest how long the buyer’s journey will take, but rather focuses on the existence of these separate stages. Each buyer will move through the three stages at their own chosen pace.
Daily Content Consumption vs. Researching Habits
Look at the graph below. The blue line is a constant flat line. This line represents the average amount of content a person will engage with on a daily basis over the course of their buyer’s journey. This content might be a daily blog they read, a Twitter persona they follow, or an email newsletter they read once a month. The key takeaway is that these engagements are not implications of buying habits, but of personal interest. They are habits people exude, and are a constant average over time.
Now notice the red lines. These spikes on the graph depict when a person researches a topic, and represent the increased engagement with content outside of their average content consumption. Notice that the spikes go up very quickly, before dropping off drastically. They are spaced out, and there are three of them. These are the three stage of the buyers journey within the marketing life cycle, where your content can have the greatest impact.
Think of these three stages just like opportunity stages your sales team may use to keep up with prospects in the sales process. You’ll need to be able to identify where one stage ends and another begins so you can cater your content and messaging to be more relevant to buyers’ needs. In fact, my research found that 77 percent of B2B buyers want different content in each stage. By understanding how people engage with content during their research cycle, understanding the stage they are in, and being able to provide them with relevant content, you will greatly increase your odds of engagement.
How Prospects Engage with Content During the Buying Cycle
The spikes of engagement are due to an increase in content consumption outside of their daily habits. These spikes, once understood, can easily help you determine how to increase engagement with your content during these research phases. A few points to consider:
- These spikes show a “batch” of research done at one time. The power of the internet has sped up a consumer’s access to information, allowing them to gain a lot of information in one browser session. This batch of content is consumed from many different sources, but done over a very short period of time.
- They peak. You’ll notice the spikes hit a point and then drop off sharply. This is because we all have a threshold of information we require to make an informed decision. We stop researching when we have reached a point where we feel we have enough information to sift through.
Defining the Three Stages of the Buyer’s Journey
Stage one is defined as unidentified need. During this stage, a buyer is starting to define their pain point. They will progress from realizing a pain, to being able to define their pain, to understanding the basics of how to solve it. They’re trying to educate themselves and are not interested in sales pitches. Your content should be about the person and how they can do their job better – not about your company or product.
Stage two is when a buyer has defined their pain, but does not have the Budget, Authority, Need, or Timeline (B.A.N.T) to move forward to the next stage. In this stage, the buyer may understand that they have a pain point, but they are faced with the challenge of proving the need for your product or service to others in their company. Content in this stage is all about helping them achieve B.A.N.T. in order to aid them in making an internal case for your solution.
Stage three is defined by the gaining of B.A.N.T, and the evaluation of individual vendors. This is where a person now has the buy-in of the teamand is ready to move the idea forward. This is right before demos are set up and the buyer’s journey moves into the realm of your sales team . This is when your content should talk about the benefits of your solution over your vendors’. Your buyer is ready to make a short list, so let them know why you should be on it.
People engage more with content when they are looking to make a purchase than they do with content they read a daily basis. If you can first understand these differences in behavior, and specifically how they engage with content in the buyer’s journey, then you can help them move through that journey more efficiently.