My obsession with the importance of understanding the customer buying process or “buyer’s journey” began in early 2012 at a networking event during a heated group discussion about how easy it is for sales teams to lose touch with buyer behaviors. I began to research the concept and I would bring it up as a topic of discussion every chance I got. Truth is, I still do.
I’ve worked with various B2B clients helping them to understand how their customers’ buying process and behaviors have changed and how those changes need to be accounted for by their organizations. Namely, how sales and marketing teams must gain an intimate knowledge of their buyers’ journey and, subsequently, shape their own selling behaviors to align with the buyers’ needs.
It seems that the majority of information on the buyer’s journey (just Google “B2B Buyer’s Journey,” if that’s not how you got here in the first place!) comes from the perspective of its value to marketing. Specifically, most of the research, articles, blogs, etc. focus heavily on mapping content to the buyer’s journey ensuring they have the right information for where they are in their process. I agree this exercise is invaluable and, at this point, it should be a requirement for all marketing organizations to have completed the mapping and have a process in place to refine it over time. What troubles me, though, is that I don’t see the sense of urgency and, I’ll say it, hype, around the buyer’s journey as it relates to sales execution.
I recently had coffee with a Sales SVP with whom I had worked in the past. I asked his thoughts on his organization’s buyer behaviors and buyer journey. He explained to me that the Buyer’s Journey was “marketing’s baby” and that he, and his team, didn’t get involved in “all that content marketing” stuff. I was floored.
Staying in tune with the buyer’s/customer’s journey is EVERYONE’S baby. This type of thinking highlights and, I believe, increases the disconnect between sales and marketing that often debilitates growth. I think it’s irresponsible for a sales team to allow something as crucial as establishing the definition and the documentation of their buyers’ behaviors to be “owned” by another group without their involvement. How can you let yourself be excluded from conversations centered on the needs of the prospects/customers you interact with each and every day?
After that disheartening conversation, I conducted an informal poll of various sales and marketing leaders in my network. Sadly, I found this thought process that the buyer’s journey should be used primarily to drive content marketing strategy as the predominant one. While disappointing, I encourage a 2015 initiative to define and document the buyer’s journey as a great opportunity to begin aligning sales and marketing. What better activity could there be to start a collaborative effort between sales and marketing teams?
So, how do you go about making this happen? Interestingly, for as much hype and general consensus there is around the importance of understanding a buyer’s journey, I don’t see a whole lot of “how to” related information out there to help organizations handle it in a formal manner. Sure, nearly every marketer can talk about the buyer’s journey, but very (very) few seem to have gone through a formal exercise that brings together business stakeholders to collaboratively define and document it. This isn’t surprising, though, because it’s definitely not easy to do. It takes a lot of internal buy in and alignment to make such an initiative happen. It can be done, though, and the results can be astounding.
You can review my previous post for more background on how to get the initiative started. The most effective way to go about this exercise is via a 1-2 day workshop. I’ve had the opportunity to facilitate such workshops and will share with you some of the things that I have learned. Specifically, let’s look at the goals of the workshop and some suggestions for the agenda and flow of the session.
Assuming you have buy in and alignment for your workshop, secure 1 or 2 days for the session itself. It’s most effective to conduct the workshop as such instead of trying to have 12 weeks of one hour “meetings.” This method allows for the focus and continuity needed to ensure the best results. Also, as I mentioned in my previous post, it is ideal to have an outside resource facilitate the session. Preferably, this should be someone with experience in sales and marketing for your specific industry. This will help keep the politics to a minimum and allow for objectivity, insight from the consultant’s experiences, and a more comprehensive, polished final product.
The high level goal of the workshop is to share knowledge of your buyer’s behaviors and, collaboratively, create consensus around a formal schematic or documentation of their journey/buying process. This will then be used by each organization in the context of their day-to-day objectives. For example, once the stakeholders involved agree upon the steps that a buyer goes through, the sales team would leverage that schematic to shape the conversations they need to have at each step. Marketing would then map content to the documented journey. The real magic, though, is in the learning that comes from the exchange between the different stakeholders. The various perspectives about the customers’ needs and process are all incorporated in the final product, creating a more realistic and holistic view of the buyers’ journey. This exchange can mark the beginning of the sales and marketing alignment process, which should also be considered an organizational strategic objective.
As a first step, an outside consultant will likely develop an agenda that is tailored to your organization and based on their knowledge and past successes with this type of exercise. If you aren’t going to have your workshop facilitated by a third party, you can click here for some some suggestions on how to structure the workshop You should use the suggestions to guide you, but do ensure that you tailor/customize each concept to suit your company’s unique goals and objectives.
For additional tips and ideas, as well as an agenda, to a successful buyer’s journey development workshop, download the pdf.
If you have already gone through a process where you have created a formal document of your buyers’ journey and developed content to correlate with it, we’d love to hear about how you did so! Please share your ideas in the comments so that others can benefit from your experience and expertise with the Buyer’s Journey documentation process.
Anita Nielsen is a sales enablement and transformation consultant, thought leader and freelance blogger. Her company, LDK Advisory Services, provides sales optimization and transformation advisory services for B2B sales leaders. You can find her on LinkedIn, follower her on Twitter via @AnielsenLDK or reach her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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