First, let’s begin with a definition so that we’re all speaking the same language. A buyer’s journey is the path a prospect takes to make a purchase (not to be confused with a customer journey, which is the path to building or maintaining a lifetime relationship with your existing customers).
Buyer’s journeys come in a variety of flavors. Depending on the business, a prospect might make 10 stops on their journey; for others, the prospect may be ready to purchase in only three. While different marketing teams may have a different taxonomy for the stages of their buyer’s journey, they typically consist of the following overarching categories:
- Top of Funnel
- Middle of Funnel
- Bottom of Funnel
Some marketing teams may use different nomenclature, and that’s perfectly fine. Here at DemandGen, we break out the Top of Funnel into Awareness & Education, the Middle of the Funnel into Evaluation & Justification, and the Bottom of the Funnel into Purchase & Adoption. How you structure your buyer’s journey will be unique to your company.
First, create your buyer persona(s)
It is essential to define who your prospect is and what their needs are in order to develop an effective buyer’s journey. Once you uncover your buyer persona’s needs, you can then map a path to purchase based on what they are searching for and what language they are using.
I get asked this same question almost every day:
“Why is building a persona so important to defining the buyers’ journey? Can’t we can just send them some emails and call they until they convert? “
Let me answer this question with another question:
“How will you know what to email them or speak to them about if you don’t understand what they need?”
Companies that use buyer personas in their marketing efforts:
- Increased total marketing-generated revenue by 171%
- Created targeted ads that performed twice as well as general ads
- Increased revenue by a factor of 18 with persona-based emails
- Reduced lead conversion time by 72%
If that doesn’t convince you, 71 percent of companies that exceeded their lead generation and revenue targets have documented buyer personas. Ninety-three percent of companies that segment their database by buyer persona perform better than their competitors.
If you don’t take the time to define the needs of the buyer persona, you won’t know which content to develop to engage your prospect at each stage of the buyer’s journey. Those needs may look different to different buyers, which is why it’s paramount to invest the time upfront to build your buyer persona profiles, so you can uncover their needs and pain points before building your buyer’s journey.
So, my question would be: “Why wouldn’t you want to understand the needs of your buyers?”
Develop the right types of content for each stage of the buyer’s journey
Pardot’s State of Demand Generation Study discovered that 77% of prospects want different content for each stage of the buyer’s journey. That content needs to align with the buying stage they’re in, which isn’t necessarily the content you currently have available.
As I mentioned earlier, the buyer’s journey typically follows the path of an organization’s demand funnel. So, let’s take a look at the buyer’s journey through the lens of the demand funnel as we explore the types of content that are most appropriate for each stage:
- Top of Funnel
At this early stage of the buyer’s journey, your prospect is just becoming aware of a problem they might need to solve — not your product. This is why you should not spend advertising dollars to drive people to your product page. At the very top of the funnel, you should only develop content that helps your prospects become more aware of and educated about the problem they want to solve (which you uncovered, of course, during your buyer persona research).
Awareness and education are the name of the game. In the digital age, human behavior entails identifying a problem, or symptoms of a problem we’re experiencing (hello, WebMD). We then type our problem — not a company’s product or service — in a search engine and scroll through the results until something really grabs our attention.
Think about the last thing you searched for online. Whatever it was, you were looking for a solution to your specific problem. That solution may end up being a company’s product or service, but if they haven’t framed their product or service within the context of your needs, how will you know to even consider them? One of the last things I searched for is “how to lose weight without working out.” Who has the time, am I right? Marketers that publish ads about their weight-loss program or gym membership won’t get my attention because they don’t address my specific pain point: time. My problem isn’t just that I want to lose weight; it’s that I don’t have enough time to dedicate to the commonly accepted standards of practice for fitness.
If you’re a marketer for a gym or weight-loss company and you’re writing a piece of content for my pain point, a perfect subject line might be, “Need to lose weight with no time?” If your content starts off with my specific need, my search results will immediately pull you up closer to the top so that I can find you organically.
Marketers need to set the tone of the relationship by showing they understand their prospect’s problem. Then, and only then, can they logically and organically guide them to the right solution (which, yes, is your product or service).
Best Content Formats for Top of Funnel:
- Assessment Tool
- Blog Post
- Thought Leadership White Paper
PRO TIP: Online courses are one of my favorite types of top-of-funnel content. If you’re trying to guide a prospect through your buyer’s journey, it’s really easy to gauge someone’s interest based on how far they make it through a particular course — instead of developing multiple pieces of content.
- Middle of Funnel
The middle of the funnel is all about evaluation. Your prospect has identified a problem and found some potential solutions. Now it’s time for them to figure out which solution is best for them — and persuade their organization’s buying committee that they need it. It now makes sense to start offering product content for them to consider using to solve their problem.
Take the example of a marketer who wants to migrate or replace their Marketing Automation platform. They already know what problem they want to solve. In fact, they’ve already solved it once before. They are jumping right into the comparison stage in the middle of the funnel.
Typically, when people are asking for information comparing different products, they need to share that information with a buying committee. Forwarding an article to their boss isn’t going to close the deal. Forwarding a comparison guide or PPT presentation that they can adapt to their own specific needs can help them make their case much more effectively.
Best Content Formats for Middle of Funnel:
- Cost Comparison/ ROI Tool
- Customer Testimonial
- Free Trial
- Press Release
- Product/Company Awards
- Product Demo
- Product Fact Sheet
PRO TIP: Many marketers make the mistake of offering a product demo at the top of the funnel. At this point, however, your prospect won’t understand why your product is the best solution for them. They may not even fully understand their problem yet. On top of that, they certainly won’t have enough buy-in to actually use your product after the demo. The sweet spot for product demos is smack in the middle of the buyer’s journey, when they know your product is a solution for their problem and they’ve already gotten the go-ahead to research different solutions.
- Bottom of Funnel
Your prospect has identified a problem, researched potential solutions, and is ready to make a purchase decision. Bring on the sales promotion!
Just don’t bring it on too soon. You’ve seen the ads: 50 percent off! Sign up for 2 months free! Or, maybe a salesperson calls you directly and asks if you want to buy their product — immediately after you downloaded your first piece of content for their website.
Imagine casually walking into your favorite department store (if you can remember what that feels like). If I’ve just walked in and a salesperson asks me if I’d like to buy a new Louis Vuitton handbag that’s on sale, I would look at them as if they were crazy. First of all, I’m not even in the handbag section. Second of all, I haven’t raised my hand for help. I haven’t asked any questions about handbags in general, let alone a Louis Vuitton bag in particular. Even though I love this store, this approach would put me off.
It’s like someone knocking on your front door and asking if you want to upgrade your cable (true story, by the way.) It’s the same thing digitally. Someone’s digital front door is their email inbox. Don’t be a Stranger Danger to someone’s digital front door. It’s critical to take into consideration the signals your prospect has given you to ensure they’re ready to have that next conversation.
Best Content Formats for Bottom of Funnel:
- Direct Sales
- Customer Portal
- Training and Support Information
- Cross-Sell and Upsell
PRO TIP: A lot of marketers make a big investment in the bottom of the funnel. Don’t lose prospective customers by initiating conversations they’re not ready to have. Wait for your prospective customer to provide behavioral cues that they’re both open and ready to receive an offer.
Meet your prospects where they are — not where you want them to be
The buyer’s journey is about meeting your buyer at the right place at the right time for them — not for you. It’s not about what you want from them. It’s about what they want, when they want it, and how you can help them get it.
Have the right conversation at the right place at the right time for the right buyer, from the top of the funnel to the bottom. This won’t look the same for every company, or even for each buyer persona.
Some companies may have three stages in their buyer’s journey, while others may have six. This can depend on several factors, including your business, your industry, your buyer(s), your regional markets, how long your sales cycle is, and how much sales support is required to help someone make a buying decision.
Gartner provides a great example of a non-linear B2B buyer’s journey that includes multiple stakeholders, as well as some common setbacks that sometimes occur during the buying process:
An illustration of a non-linear B2B buyer’s journey. (Source: Gartner)
Don’t forget that multiple buyers influence the purchase path. Make sure you keep the big picture in mind when building out your buyer’s journey by asking questions such as who your prospects need to include in the buying decision and what they need to do to get your product or service in-house. Taking as many of these relevant variables into account as you can will help ensure you create the right content for each stage of the journey.
Ready to rethink how you pull prospects down the funnel? Download DemandGen’s buyer’s journey template to help you map out your organization’s unique buyer’s journey, along with which types of content to offer at each buying stage.
Patti Heath is a Consultant dedicated to partnering with clients to achieve their business goals. She focuses on developing demand generation strategy, including lead generation, lead scoring, lead nurturing, and lead management. She enjoys staying on top of the ever-changing digital industry and identifying the best new technological advances.