What Does the Buyer Journey REALLY Look Like?
If you’re a B2B marketer, you already know the Buyer Journey is anything but linear. We have purchasing committees instead of single buyers, and each person in that committee moves between different stages of the buying cycle.
“Human beings love structure and models,” said John. “We just do. We want to organize things. So a linear model is a beautiful idea. Executives and even marketers embrace that viewpoint because it’s clean and simple. And, of course, the only problem with it is that it isn’t actually real. That doesn’t mean it’s not a useful model and a useful concept, but people don’t move through the funnel in a straight line. Companies don’t move through buyer journeys in a straight line. They go back and forth and sideways and do all kinds of different things.“
Linear demand generation funnels are still popular because they are an easier way to think about the buyer journey. They do have some uses, but not at the expense of developing a clear big picture of our buyer ecosystem.
“The problem is you lose a lot of buyers if you’re trying to push them along a linear journey. If you’re trying to advance them down a straight line, that’s not necessarily what they need or what they want. Our typical target account is a billion-dollar-plus revenue account and there are multiple people on the finance team involved in the purchase. So we’re actually not even looking at a buyer journey. We’re looking at a group of buyer journeys that may be going in different directions. I think all of the traditional demand generation funnel was a really good attempt at understanding our buyers, but we need to do something better.”
Today, marketers should be listening to various signals to figure out an account’s momentum. Multi-touch attribution is one way to do this if your system is listening to all of the relevant information. Sometimes it’s not useful to capture every click on your website, but if there are more meaningful actions being taken, you’ll want to incorporate them into your account scoring and multi-touch attribution models.
“I heard an interview on a podcast with a chef who had this specialty of fried chicken. She doesn’t have a recipe with cooking times. She knows how it’s doing by listening to the sound. On the podcast, they actually got sounds of fried chicken at different points of cooking and played them for her, and she knew how close to done each recording was. And I thought, what a perfect analogy for how you need to think about the buyer journey. Yes. The account will start at the top of the funnel. It will get to the bottom eventually.
“This chef gave her daughters the recipes, but didn’t give them any cooking times. She said they have to learn to listen for themselves. I think that’s what a lot of us have to do. Are we recording all the signals and then figuring out what they mean? If the account that has one champion that’s moving forward and the buyers on the committee aren’t, we need to market to them correctly and do the right things to try to drive engagement. We need to listen and interpret signals if we want to deliver the next best action.”
How Should We Think About the Buyer Journey?
We all have plenty of data available to us. Being able to merge it and make sense of it is a skill in and of itself. Instead of researching every action, John’s team focuses on understanding the inflection points.
“Where does the level of engagement really rise and what’s happening in terms of content and digital consumption? We have a tendency to want to say, ‘Oh, look, we had a webinar before that inflection point so that’s what pushed them to that meaningful action. Well, maybe not.”
A buyer journey can’t be mapped in a spreadsheet. There are too many systems involved to crunch data in Excel. Marketing intelligence has veered into the complexity that requires business intelligence level analytics capabilities. When you have the ability to see a full range of actions taken by prospects, that’s when things get interesting.
“One of the interesting discoveries you make as a marketer when you start using advanced analytics happens when some of your assumptions are blown out of the water. I have a good example. We were under the assumption that a certain form fill activity was definitely a buying signal. According to our conversion data, the accounts filling out that form were clearly more in an awareness stage. It led to a discussion with my team about why people are taking this action. It turns out it’s because they’re trying to learn something. Let’s start testing and figure out if we need to be offering some clearer steps to lead them to intent.
John discussed the tendency to lock onto a journey because of a gut feel.
“Everyone thinks the thing they liked the best is the most important. For example, events are such a big investment. They must be more important even though they’re not showing a return. Having the right data helps dispel the rumors and be able to see how things actually are. We can see how activities are correlating to create true motion forward. Identify the high activity generators that don’t lead to revenue, and invest less in them.”
When it comes to investing in a marketing analytics infrastructure, John argued that the infrastructure should be prioritized in front of some activities marketers view as revenue generating. After all, how do you know what’s really working if you can’t measure progress against revenue contribution?
“I’d put multi-touch attribution, intent scoring, and a tool to organize our source data before thinking about chatbots and personalizing our website with a content experience platform. Those customer-facing tools are all awesome, but it’s critical to build a foundation that enables you to get the most out of them first.”
The Drunkard’s Search
“A cop is coming down the street. He sees a guy crawling under a streetlight, on the ground looking for something. The cop asks, ‘Hey, what’s wrong? Do you need some help?’ The guy on the ground says, ‘I’m looking for my keys.’
“The guy is obviously drunk, so the cop asks, “Were you walking by here when you dropped them?’ The guy on the ground answers, ‘No. I dropped them two blocks up the street.’ Confused, the cop asks, ‘Well then why are you looking here?
“‘The lighting is much better here.’
“We like to look at things that we can see. It’s a great metaphor for how people approach data.”
In Salesforce, we have First Touch and Last Touch campaign data. These metrics can be very arbitrary and are dependent on the salesperson creating the opportunity against the person that started the conversation, the right data being integrated with campaigns, and the campaign member being synced with Salesforce before the salesperson has the chance to create an opportunity.
If you try to report on marketing contribution and campaign sources, everyone will admit single-touch campaign reporting is wrong.
“Ultimately, what executives (outside of the CMO) want to know is if what we’re investing in marketing is working. Are we able to make it better and improve? It’s really that simple. Obviously marketers have to know which marketing channels and campaigns are doing well or not doing as well, and regularly dig into the data. But ultimately, as a marketing leader you have to communicate high-level insights credibly and be able to dig in to problem areas at the right level of detail.”
John had many other great pieces of advice and observations to share such as tips for people starting their marketing career in 2021, getting sales buy-off on your data, and how to think about marketer compensation. We highly recommend you check out the full podcast at the top of the page.