There are three big holes in the common development of a B-to-B buyer’s journey - and chances are that your buyer’s journey profile (or 'persona') has all of them
The three big holes are:
- Almost never are customer senior decision makers interviewed as to exactly how they made the actual purchase decision. If interviewing is done at all - it typically concerns itself with communications and channels - not the actual decision
- Sales process* is never mentioned. It is extremely curious that you will never see sales process mentioned in the discussion of the buyer’s journey - but that process is how you lead a prospect to become a customer - unless you are just selling light bulbs off the shelf.
- Sales and marketing alignment are never discussed. Hand in hand with the lack of discussion of sales process is the lack of consideration of how marketing aligns with sales. In order to have marketing support the buyers decision, one would think that it would have to align with how the sales force sells. But this is never mentioned.
The buyer’s journey is in the vogue these days, but the common discussion resolves around the ‘big data’ view of the buyer’s journey - not the actual buyer’s decision to become a customer.
We have utilized the diagnosis of the buyer’s decision making for years (our term for it is the Sales AutopsySM, which was developed many years before it became known as a buyer’s journey) and have found it invaluable for our clients in determining exactly how to obtain more ‘best’ customers just like the top 20% of the customers they now have.
Targeting your best customers is key - remember that not all customers are alike, and if you have a choice, you definitely want quality customers (the top 20%) - where profitability is typically higher.
In reviewing many commentaries on buyer’s journey (written by major research/analytics firms, major CRM vendors, social media analytics vendors, etc.) the absence of any mention of discussions with end-customer decision makers, review of the sales process and also the sales and marketing alignment is glaring.
However, there is an important caveat here: diagnostic interviews need to be performed by a senior-level professional who is looking for specific information and opinions, and has the ability to spot and follow a line of reasoning and extract insights from both the interviewee and the information. It also requires legitimacy with the interviewee - in the course of performing hundreds of these interviews, we have found that senior executives quickly key in to whether the interviewer knows the industry and the market - and is worth their time to talk to.
Another area of confusion tends to be the use of quantitative marketing data (that is, ‘big data’) versus qualitative marketing data (such as customer interviews.)
Much of this has to do with the ‘big data’ trend - that everything can somehow be deduced from a warehouse of data. To be sure, in consumer marketing certain trends and buyer behavior can be deduced (after the fact - such as the role of an advertising campaign) but the key to understanding the buyer’s journey is to know the thought process that leads up to the decision, and hence have a chance of influencing it in your direction. This is commonly called vision creation in sales processes that use this concept (typically those based on Solution Selling® concepts).
Big data is useful in mass-consumer behavior analysis, but definitely has limits when applied to B-to-B buyers where there are fewer decision makers, and often buying committees. Those are individual executive decisions, not just statistics.
The closer your information is obtained from the executive decision-making process the more accurate it will be both in reaching those decision makers and also in influencing them, especially for changing markets (and what market isn't changing?)
So what is the end benefit of this customer information? Simply stated - your buyer’s journey in terms of the information needed to make the decision, how they are (or can be) influenced, and the effectiveness of various channels and mediums are all disclosed. Your savvier buyers will also alert you to trends on the horizon - from their perspective. In short, it’s a gold mine. But you need to ask the decision makers in order to get access to this information.
If your buyer’s journey evolution does not include strategy development from diagnostic interviews with your customer decision makers, your own top sales people, and also an alignment cross-check on both your sales process and marketing - you've got some big holes in that profile. Chances are, you also have some big holes in your marketing as well.
* Note: Annual expenditures on sales skills training (in other words, sales process)is estimated at $9 billion. That's a little more than one-third of the estimated $20 billion spent on sales skills, sales tools and onboarding (e.g. product training), which in turn is a bit more than a third of the annual total corporate training budgets of $55 billion (US only.)'
Jeffrey Geibel is the principal of Geibel Marketing, a consultancy specializing in helping B-to-B clients reach and influence their best customers based on the buyer’s journey and concepts of the consultative selling process. He created the Sales AutopsySM diagnostic technique, and has employed it in the development of many marketing programs, including (but not limited to) reseller marketing, building products, marketing messaging for the complex sale and award-winning public relations programs. He is also an award-winning video director. A widely-published author, many of his articles on sales, marketing and other topics are posted on his website at www.GeibelMarketing.com
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