The Buyer's Journey or Hide and Seek?

By Dan Sixsmith

Once upon a time a few decades ago, selling was simpler. Picture the NYC garment district in its heyday, the late 80s. My colleagues and I would stand outside the buildings where our clients and prospects worked. When they came out for lunch or a meeting, “Bingo!” It was Showtime. We'd pitch them as they walked, or nabbed them for a productive lunch presentation.

We were in control of the supply and the sales cycle. The Buyer’s Journey back then was from 37th and 6th to 40th and 5th (or as many blocks as it took to make our pitch and gain a commitment). Suffice it to say that things have changed a bit since then, for the garment industry and certainly how we sell.

Technology has certainly made it easier to market and sell your products, but at the same time the process for gaining and maintaining buyer interest and commitment has become increasingly difficult. 

But today’s Buyer’s Journey is more of a game of hide-and-seek than a linear process. Your prospects are appearing, consuming content, engaging and then disappearing. 

And this is not a one-on-one game. The average deal has over 8 decision makers, a 43% increase from 3 years ago (IDC). Each stakeholder has a different spot at which they join the decision making process, so while some may be well on their way to selecting a solution, others are just making up their minds that there is a problem really worth addressing.

This new game is a tough one, with:
  • A whopping 58% of B2B deals stall as the buyer goes dark leaving sales scratching their heads as to what happened (SBI).
  • Deals that do close are taking 24% longer to do so compared to 2 years ago (SiriusDecisions)
  • Only 59% of sales reps achieved their quota in 2014, down sharply from 67% last year (Accenture)
But maybe your deal is not stalling and the prospect didn’t go dark after all. Perhaps one of the many decision makers is just getting started, heavily researching the opportunity and potential solutions. Maybe you just missed your prospect on another channel. While they disappeared off of email, they may be very much in play on social or mobile. 

Business buyers who might appear to be hiding may actually be quite active, conducting further research on you and your competitors websites, actively seeking advice in social communities, and conversing with analysts and peers about their plans. 

Marketers need to be everywhere, engaging with personalized content to continue the facilitation process long after the initial interest is generated. And sales needs to be ready to quickly pick up the conversation with these different decision makers – each with a unique perspective on value and what your solution can do for them, and each at different stages in the journey.

So how do you succeed in this rapidly changing playing field? Here is a start:

Engage early and often -The Holy Grail of engagement today is delivering the right content to the right prospect at the right time in the right channel. Easier said than done. Connect all of the dots, leverage technology and be ready to engage at every touch point. Focus on the challenges your product solves and not on features and functions. Hire a Chief Content Officer or equivalent, and build out a wealth of meaningful content, provided not just to clients, but to arm sales reps with content to fuel provocative and effective 3-foot conversations. Use data to inform your team about prospect behavior and adjust your messaging accordingly to their role in the organization and stage in the journey. There is a good deal of trial and error here. Rinse and repeat. 

Content needs to be value focused and personalized - If you provide the wrong content, your buyers will go dark for good. A recent study in the Economist indicates that 71% of buyers disengaged with a vendor because their content and sales meetings were all about pitching products and not about facilitating the buyer journey and value-focused. Since each opportunity is unique, and each buyer involved in the decision has a different value perspective, what value means to each opportunity and stakeholder is quite different. As a result, a one size fits all approach is over. Content must be interactive, visual, and personal. At Alinean, we have addressed this issue through the creation of a platform which can intelligently deliver content tailored (either self service by the prospect and/or by sales in a pitch meeting) to the industry, role, size of company, challenges, and prospect business goals and KPI's. The result: higher value leads to sales, greater engagement and more provocative conversions, less stalls and more closed deals. Some takeaways from our experience: 
1.  Serve up content in an entertaining fashion to emotionally connect with buyers and stimulate the decision making process - Telling a story about your value and painting a clear picture to contrast “business as usual” versus your improvement plan
2.   Deliver insights and financial justification – helping buyers diagnose and uncover priority issues, quantify benefits and proving ROI. Capture discovery data, value plans and realized results to capture / leverage new insights and get smarter from each engagement.
3.  Gain credibility and provide proof of value via success stories and “voice of customer” videos, with concrete value.

Sales As Marketers -Sales reps can no longer just sell. The huge spike in inbox-cluttering marketing messages and unwanted sales pitches has further strained the trust factor between prospective buyers and salespeople. Therefore, sales reps are now being called upon to establish greater credibility with clients. And they need to do so by leveraging insights, storytelling, justification and content to become subject matter experts and thought leaders—a role typically handled by marketing. 

Marketers as Sales - Similarly the role of marketing is evolving. The complexity of the Buyer’s “Decision Space”, as adeptly put by Epsilon’s CEO Andy Frawley in his excellent book, Igniting Customer Connections, now requires organizations to effectively connect both virtually and directly through impactful and personalized content in an effort to meet a prospect wherever they turn up-and then guide them to the eventual finish line. Therefore, marketers are now responsible for nurturing not just the top of funnel (TOFU), but engaging throughout the decision making process, revenue growth and in increasing numbers are carrying quotas. Sounds like selling to me.

Employees as Publishers- Everyone needs a personal brand and a point of view. The more ‘feet on the street’ to find and engage your buyers, the better. Buyers want to know what (Edelman refers to as) ‘regular’ employees (not just the CEO, and not just salespeople) think about your company and its products. Encourage blogging and let the culture and true face of your organization come forward as buyers in their self-created “decision space" evaluate what it will be like to do business with your organization.

With revenue growth at the core of all challenges in 2015 and beyond, the elusive buyer can be found in any number of channels available. 

The question is, are you ready to facilitate the Buyer’s Journey and for the new game of hide and seek? Tag, you're it!


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