What's Wrong with the Old B2B Buyer Journey and Why it's High Time to Rethink it
Does this mythical “buyer journey” thing even exist?
Watch it here: What’s Wrong with the Old Buyer Journey. Or read below.
Does this “buyer journey” thing even exist? I wondered this for a long time myself. It’s like this mythical thing but no one can really define what it is, why it exists or if (or how) it can be helpful to sales and marketers.
If you ask a marketer what the buyer journey is…
They’ll say “awareness-consideration-purchase”. This thing, you’ve probably seen it.
Every stage assumes that buyers are moving down the funnel in a tidy sequence towards purchasing.
My beef with this approach is told from the vendor’s perspective. Realistically our leads don’t know or care that they are being generated and nurtured and flipped over the wall to sales as an SQL. And neither would you if you were the buyer.
From the marketing standpoint, all we think about is that WE start with lots of prospects, and narrow down to fewer leads and then fewer opportunities before converting a small number of them. But on their end, buyers are also starting with a number of different vendors and narrowing it down to a shortlist, then a finalist to buy from. Hopefully us.
But what we often fail to stop and consider is that while buyer is going through THEIR journey, it’s actually US who is getting disqualified, rather than them!
Brent Adamson and a few other smart B2B researchers call this the “customer buy-from-us journey” because it focuses on the supplier’s process and offering. “In this model, if we were to ask, ‘Awareness of whom?’ the answer would be ‘Of us, the supplier.’ ‘Consideration of whom?’ ‘Of us, the supplier.’ And so on.”
Problem is, marketing is oversimplifying it and thinking about it from a somewhat narcissistic brand perspective, ie the “buy from us” journey.
Now, if you ask a salesperson what the buyer journey is...
Well, I didn’t know because I’m a marketer. So I asked a few VPs of Sales and CROs, and here’s what they said:
Again, does this “buyer journey” thing even exist???
On one hand, we have sales who are too close to the day-to-day of the buyer journey to see the trends. And we have marketing who is usually too far removed to see the nuances beyond the awareness-consideration-purchase framework they’ve been taught.
So, the first problem is that we can’t agree on what the buyer journey actually is. And because of that, no one owns it internally.
This made me wonder if maybe we are looking for the wrong thing.
What happens if you ask a B2B buyer what the buyer journey is?
Well, according to Gartner, 77% of B2B buyers state that their latest purchase was very complex or difficult. Ouch!
But what does this experience involve from the buyer’s standpoint?
A big mucky mess of online, offline research, meetings with peers, trolling around LinkedIn groups, downloading buyer’s guides, demystifying pricing models, doing demos, talking to the salesperson (again!), getting input from end-users, getting buy-in from their boss, getting flagged by procurement and then going back and doing another demo with everyone (sigh).
B2B buying is not easy. And why is this?
Well, think about it. Every year, there are more regulations, around data and privacy, more risk aversion, and as a result, there are more stakeholders involved in every buying decision. There are also more vendors and thus, more competitive noise in the marketplace.
And to be honest, now that everyone is on board with content marketing, there’s more information for our prospects to wade through and to be honest, this tsunami of mediocre content we’ve unleashed isn’t necessarily making it easier for our buyers to buy.
So where are we?
B2B buying is really difficult. Sales sees it as really complicated (not wrong!) and some resist the notion that this journey could be mapped in a repeatable way. On the other hand, marketing has a tendency to oversimplify it to the point that we miss the fact that the buyer journey is NOT a sequential marketing funnel, but a fundamentally different concept.
If you’re still with me this far, you might be ready to agree that it’s time for a different model that is aligned with the buyer’s actual experience.
It’s time for a new B2B buyer journey
And I’ve got a framework for you to consider. I didn’t invent it (some very sharp minds over at Gartner did) but I’ve been testing it in my content strategy and buyer research work over the past few years and it has shed a lot of light on the real B2B buyer journey.
What the research says
A few years back, Gartner surveyed 750 B2B buyers involved in complex purchases and found that buyers are spending two-thirds of their time researching, learning and meeting with peers independently. They spend just 17% of their time meeting with suppliers — so if there are three potential suppliers, each gets only about five percent of a customer’s time.
With this insight—that sales has very limited time to interact with buyers—it is crucial to have a clear picture of how buyers are spending their time in the buying process.
So, in order to understand what buyers are trying to accomplish, the researchers layered the “Job to be Done” framework on top of their data and wound up with 6 jobs that a buyer must complete before finalizing a complex B2B purchase decision.
When you look at them, you probably think… “no duh”. If you’re the buyer, all you need to know is that you’ve identified a problem in your business, you need to build some requirements, explore solutions and select a supplier.
Oh, and throughout the process, you’ll be validating all the information you’ve collected by cross-checking what the website says with your salesperson and vice versa. And you need to make sure that everyone internally is on board.
The Goal: To Uncover Buying Struggles, Friction or Obstacles that Customers Would Encounter with any Supplier
For sales and marketing, the main goal in mapping out this new buyer journey is to uncover buying struggles, friction or obstacles that customers would have with any supplier.
For sales, this opens up opportunities to understand and anticipate challenges and help coach buyers through the jobs in which you are not directly involved but may be able to help them navigate. And for marketing, this means opening up opportunities to enable buyers to navigate these jobs, through high-quality, helpful content on your website or in your resource centre.
Here’s an example of a common source of “buying friction”: A deal stalling out because someone was brought in too late and requested a security audit for validation.
Here’s an example of a common “buying obstacle”: The sales cycle has gotten long and clunky due to a lack of consensus when building requirements.
B2B buying is not linear, but it is a journey
Another thing to keep in mind about these jobs...although these 6 jobs occur in each buyer journey, the way in which customers progress from identifying a need to making a purchase can be unpredictable, inconsistent and sometimes repetitive.
Often, this means that buyers will flip back and forth looking for information from both digital sources and in-person sources, and in some cases, at the same time!
Now this opens another can of worms because we have built marketing and sales processes to progress a lead through a funnel linearly, from digital to in-person channels, from prospect to MQL to SAL to SQL and over the fence to customer. But, I digress.
For now, you just need to focus on making it easier for buyers to buy from you. And you can start by mapping your buying process.
The Questions You Should Ask
Ok, winding it up with a few questions that both marketing and sales should ask of your buyers (and/or your internal teams) to help you build a shared understanding of the real buyer journey. Or, you can pull in a buyer researcher like me to help you.
Before you’re even on the scene as a vendor, how are your prospects detecting, quantifying and articulating the business need/challenge in their organization?
What questions are they asking as they build requirements?
What other solutions are they considering (hint: They may not all be competitors)?
Who do they need to involve in the buying decision? And at what point?
And what questions/agenda items/concerns can we anticipate from these stakeholders?
What are the most common ways in which the velocity or completion of the buying process is derailed? Who derails it and why?
And how is your buyer planning to measure the ROI of this investment? Are different stakeholders measuring different things?