Ismail Aly

Inbound Marketing:  What is the buyer journey?

Reading time: 6 minutes

Inbound Marketing:  What is the buyer journey?

Today’s digital marketing trends are highly competitive and challenging. Customers want unique market perspectives, they are highly segmented, and like to be educated and explore several alternatives before making a purchase. Sales and marketing teams need to understand the decision process that leads to a customer purchasing a product or service. 

A traditional marketing campaign is focused on the marketer instead of the customer. That way marketing products, messages and pitches are delivered is centered in a marketer’s assessment on what the product conveys, instead of understanding the needs of the customer.

Generally, they use interruptive techniques, from a generic, cold call to the “owner of this phone number”, print advertising, TV commercials and junk mail.

“Half the money spent on advertising is wasted, but no one knows which half,” they say.

People just turn down the phone when they look at an unknown number, change the channel or turn off the speakers when they get an advertisement on the television or streaming channels. Spam filters block mass e-mails.

Inbound marketing uses a different approach. But we’re not speaking about inbound yet. We’ll focus on the customer and how they approach a sale.

Hubspot defines a Buyer Journey as “the active research process someone goes through leading up to purchase.”

Instead of speaking about a Marketing or Sales funnel, the journey is made up of three stages:

  1. Awareness stage: a prospect experiences a problem or looks for an opportunity, and they’re researching online to understand and define the problem they´re having.
  2. Consideration stage: the potential customer has defined and delimited the problem or opportunity. Now they want to understand the available solutions or approaches to solving a problem or seize an opportunity.
  3. Decision stage: a prospect has decided on a solution or method. They compile a list of vendors and products in their strategy to solve the problem. They can also research along the list of making a purchase decision.

The stages of this journey are essential to understanding how to leverage a successful inbound marketing strategy.

Let’s say you work as a Software as a Service (SaaS) provider for Business to Business (B2B) consultant. Your job is to secure a streamlined, intelligent and insightful optimization system for different industry.  

A couple of years ago, you spent a significant amount of money developing a website, which has remained online without many updates. You pay a monthly fee for the site to be on top of the search engines and social media sites, randomly send product catalogs on an email listing that the company bought online, and outsource a group of salespeople to randomly calling members of the contact list with scripted offers.   

From time to time, you send a small sales team to deliver brochures and receive business cards at business events, and you paste the names and email addresses of your new leads on a spreadsheet. 

John works as a B2B Operations Manager, providing software solutions, automation, big data intelligence metrics and ERP systems. The prospects of his company have grown and considers beginning to work with more clients in different countries. However, the chances of getting new customers outside his comfort zone have kept him busy and worried. His team is an experienced group of people who like to keep a tight control on their services and are reluctant to hire third-party software companies to advise yet another software engineers. He gets phone calls twice a week from mobile phone companies to change his plan or add another number, and banking corporations to sign for a credit. He no longer answers the phone and sends everything unrelated to the business to his spam folder.

In other words, he’s fed up with marketing campaigns.

But still, he has a problem. His office can’t cope with the volume of work it’s receiving, as their services have reached an inflection. They can no longer just work with their current group of customers. Although they have an excellent relationship with his clients, the company needs to expand to other markets. That means they need to reach other people and find new customers outside the groups of people they usually work with. He’s considering hiring sales and marketing executives to handle this problem, but this requires a very thoughtful financial and strategic analysis.

In the meantime, he’s looking at some websites on how to network with potential B2B customers in the software industry. He is also considering changing his website and hiring a webmaster and a community manager part-time. He is even considering partnering with the competition, offering his services to the other company’s client portfolio in exchange for a fee. He looks at blogs, online forums, and search engines to review options and innovations.

The last thing he wants is to look at a paid online ad, or a third party services website. He doesn’t trust them.

John is in the awareness stage. He is experiencing symptoms of a problem or opportunity and is doing educational research to understand the problem.

He downloads an eBook about marketing and customer nurturing via database segmentation. He is not looking directly for Software as a Service solutions, but about the problems people engage in when expanding their business without prior expertise. He puts his information in an online form, where they ask about his current dilemma.

After all this work, John enters the consideration stage. He is seriously considering an option other than hiring more staff and giving up his expertise to his competitor. Perhaps his company can’t do all the work, but still wants to keep in charge.  He has committed to researching and understanding all the available approaches to solving this issue. Does he hire a software development team for a couple of months? Does he hire a consultant? Does he consider using an external software? What kind of software should he use? It’s ironic. He works for a software company and has problems looking for another software company.

He is considering this with his head of Human Resources  (HR) and his head of accounting. They both have conflicting views. HR is conflicted, either in hiring more people or letting people go if they subcontract an external team. Accounting says it’s not cost-friendly.

Therefore, John begins looking at white papers, running different calculations of the different between SaaS companies, ERP solutions, and SAP vendors, and how do they adapt to his specific needs.

After a while, he comes to a decision. He steps out of his comfort zone and decides to hire an external, specialized SaaS to help them expand his operation, and helping boost his current team’s capacities with automation, and big data analytics. The problem now, is who?

John entered the decision stage.  The prospect decided on a strategy, method or approach, and is compiling a list of available vendors and products, trying to filter it to a small list to make a final decision.

It turns out, one available decision comes from a company that gave him important advice about customer segmentation.  He decides to make a call and looks at some big data solutions they have available after he’s informed and calculated his risks. He wants to call Anna, a Software as a Service Advisor, who has been very patient in offering him advice, even if they are contrary to a possible sale.

He takes one of your salespeople’s business card –lost in the back of his drawer- and jots down the phone number and address of your competitor, who’s doing inbound marketing.

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John went through all the steps of the buyer's journey:

  • Awareness stage: looking to find alternative solutions to expand services to other markets.
  • Consideration stage: when he considers outsourcing an external service.
  • Decision stage: when he wants to find out about the best SaaS for his company.  

The leverage to his decision was informative content.  Rather than one person, John is a trend and a prospect of what the present and future of consumers looks like. He is part of a distrusting business management generation that considers that traditional marketing methods no longer works.

They go through a very long period of decision-making orientation and education and want to develop a personalized, insightful and informative customer relationship management, with companies he no longer sees as suppliers, but as business partners.

Do you want to know more about the buyer’s journey and how it can affect your own company or industry? Let me know your thoughts and comments below.

Ismail Aly

Ismail Aly

Inbound Marketing & Sales Enablement Consultant, HubSpot User Group Leader, HubSpot Platinum Partner

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