Well, we’ve reached the point where Marketing has ruined a good thing once again. We did it to social media, buyer personas, podcasting, marketing automation, Christmas, Easter, and Memorial Day. What have we ruined this time? We’ve managed to ruin the critical, powerful mapping of the buyer’s journey. Buyer’s journey mapping has grown in importance for professional services firms as more firm solutions have become productized. Today, marketing professional services is much like marketing a SaaS company and demands an effective understanding of how clients buy.
So, you ask, how did we ruin buying cycle mapping?
We ruined it in two ways:
- By believing that by answering “every” question a prospect could possibly have along the buying journey with “content,” we could eliminate both buying friction and salespeople from most of the buying cycle.
- By jumping on the content marketing bandwagon which resulted in a tsunami of “content” optimized for prospects to find and consume. Well-intentioned as it was, the result of all this “content” is confusion, indecision, exasperation, and, ironically, a slower sales cycle.
According to the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), the number of people involved in B2B solution purchases has climbed from an average of 5.4 two years ago to 6.8 today. What’s more, these stakeholders come from an array of roles, functions, and geographies. The result is more chefs, more opinions, and more competing priorities in the buying kitchen. A sub-optimal process just got even worse for buyers—and sellers!
The CEB asked thousands of senior executives at companies around the world to describe the process of buying a complex-solution in one word. Among their responses were “hard,” “awful,” “painful,” “frustrating,” and “minefield.” Executive respondents said that a typical solution purchase takes twice as long as they expected it would take AND, get this, that 65% of them said that they spent as much time as they’d expected to need for the entire purchase just to get ready to speak with a sales rep!!
As I said, our intentions were well-meaning. Most sales and marketing people believe that giving customers more information helps them make better decisions, but according to CEB’s survey, more information and options just makes things more difficult.
So how do we fix it?
We fix it the way we fix EVERY marketing problem. We take the focus off selling ourselves and putting it back on the client. We listen to what the client/prospect is telling us AND, more importantly, is not telling us he needs.
Buyers are telling us that they want someone to make buying easier—not by providing more “content,” but by helping them anticipate and eliminate obstacles that bog down the process or lead to bad buying decisions. What bogs down most B2B sales is not ignorance of any one firm’s solution; it’s navigating the internal complexities of the prospect’s own organization. In my blog, How to present to executives, I wrote that executives are resourced-constrained. They have too many fires burning and too many irons in their fires. Our job is to reduce their number of fires and irons. Executives need help making strategic decisions to allocate limited resources.
“Being easy to do business with” is one of the 3 key drivers of brand preference. CEB’s research reinforces this fact. The research found that suppliers that make buying easy are 62% likelier than other suppliers to win a high-quality sale (one in which the customer buys a premium offering). In fact, CEB found across three other large studies that purchase ease is by far the biggest driver of deal quality.
5 Steps to Get Buyer’s Journey Mapping Back On Track
Buyer Journey mapping is really nothing new. It’s just a good old-fashioned understanding of client needs, combined with intelligent segmentation, aligned with consultative selling, and assisted by technology. Blending some of the best thinking I’ve seen on the buyer’s cycle with my own thinking, I offer some suggestions on how professional services firms can get this critical marketing discipline back on track.
1. Understand Why Clients Choose to Buy Help
If you have not read it, read David Maister’s How Clients Choose. It has achieved the level of ancient wisdom in my mind and is empathetic knowledge that ALL professional services denizens should possess. If you don’t have this understanding, all that follows will be hollow process and manipulation.
RELATED: Buyer Persona Shortcomings
2. See the buyer’s journey through the lens of the buyer, not a reflection in the mirror of our own selling process.
Instead of “awareness,” “interest,” “selection,” “negotiation,” “close,” etc. step into the shoes of your client. CEB offers three simple, intuitive, and useable “timeframe” structure that Sales & Marketing can relate to:
- Early – the buyer’s goal is identifying, sizing, and prioritizing competing business challenges. Defining the problem correctly, assigning ownership for its resolution, and prioritizing vis a vis all the other organization’s problems.
- Middle – the buyer’s goal is assessing various approaches to address the highest-priority problems. (Explore build-versus-buy, technology-vs-people solutions, and the implications of integrating various solutions with existing systems). Determining how, if, and when we want to solve it.
- Late – having agreed on a suitable solution, the prospect considers suppliers and engages with Sales, often for the first time.
You can make up your own steps, but it’s hard to argue with these three.
3. Determine the buying “jobs” required for your solution.
Clayton Christiansen famously described the “job of a milkshake.” Gartner applies similar thinking with its “buying jobs,” six distinct sets of discrete tasks that prospects must satisfactorily complete in order to make a purchase. The terms are similar to the now trite buying “stages” but Gartner validated its job moniker twist with hundreds of B2B buyer interviews. The jobs are:
- Problem identification – “We need to do something.”
- Solution exploration – “What’s out there to solve our problem?”
- Requirements building – “What exactly do we need the purchase to do?”
- Supplier selection – “Does this do what we want it to do?”
- Validation – “We think we know the right answer, but we need to be sure.”
- Consensus creation – “We need to get everyone on board.”
Gartner is quick to point out that jobs are non-linear. Given the complexity of the B2B sale, buyers move forward and backward through the jobs and Validation and Consensus Creation occur throughout a healthy buying process. Sales and Marketing need to adjust accordingly.
4. Anticipate and eliminate obstacles
Blair Enns in his Win Without Pitching Manifesto provides some of the cleanest, simplest sales thinking for professional services firms (albeit focused on creative agencies). He outlines the proper mindset and goals that help us align Sales and Marketing efforts across the buyer’s cycle.
- In the Early stage, our goal is to “Help educate the unaware.” Our thought leadership and communication are not developed to “persuade”; its purpose is to educate. We do this by helping the prospect understand the problem and its costs, being unbiased and credible, and avoiding being promotional. We have a selling philosophy that says, “We are here to help you make the best decision for you, Mrs. Client.”
- In the Middle stage, we “Inspire the interested.” If you’ve read How Clients Choose, you’ll understand why buying decisions are so difficult and often appear irrational. Clients want to make smart buying decisions that advance their careers (or, at least, don’t end them) and allow them to get on with their day jobs. This is why buyers are telling us they want help anticipating and overcoming career-limiting obstacles. We accomplish this by “focusing clients on a manageable set of considerations and make concrete, evidence-based recommendations that reduce indecision and compel action.” We demonstrate this by sharing a clear, confident point of view on the issue and providing guidance that addresses future roadblocks and risk down the buying cycle.
- In the Late stage, we Reassure those who have formed intent. Enns says, “that our prescriptions should facilitate progress along a purchase path leading to a solution that we are uniquely able to provide but without explicitly promoting our solutions.” This is not slick salesmanship. This is the obvious result of pursuing your ideal client and delivering a client-centric solution that is both built in the buyer’s best interest and designed for how your ideal buyer can easily purchase it given buying authority and budget.
The strategy that will dominate B2B’s next decade is one that’s customer-driven and powered by technology, that focuses on the right accounts and buying groups, and that supports the organic and complex journeys our customers are on in real-time.
Megan Heuer, CMO, Engaio
5. Continue dissecting the buying cycle through the Implementation and Completion phases.
Believe it or not, most automobile advertising is NOT created to get you to buy a car. The advertising is done to alleviate the cognitive dissonance buyers feel after trading a pile of money for a depreciating asset. My Allen Edmond shoes make me feel sharp, getting them factory resoled and wearing a classic for years makes me look smart. A repeat purchase begins at the same time the original purchase decision ends. Firms neglect this truth at their peril because hell hath no fury like a client scorned. Your selling and delivery should build this in well before the deal is signed.
Differentiating a professional services firm is akin to professional sports. Every athlete who makes it to the NFL, PGA, NBA, NHL, Premier League or NASCAR is a phenomenal performer. A few superstars rise even higher. The winners and losers in these sports are separated by inches, milliseconds, and strokes. It is the players and teams that train smarter, sweat the details, tenaciously work to improve their skills, and “do their jobs” that end up with the trophy. Pretty uniforms and slick proposals do not compensate for doing the hard work. Firms have to prepare and execute accordingly.
Once again, I’ve overstated my case. Marketing doesn’t ruin everything and mapping the buyer’s journey has not been irreparably damaged. But, we marketers have allowed it to wander into the forest, and it’s time to get it back on track. Buyer journey mapping is one of the most misunderstood and under-utilized tools in a professional services growth toolbox. Understanding the buyer and why the journey follows its current course is the most powerful approach to differentiation, growth, and superstardom any firm could use.