There I said it.
I see the amount of content out there that maps a buyer’s journey into these complex funnels to acquire users in a staged approach. I read the blogs on how to write content to your customers in each stage to encourage them to move to the next. I’ve even given these meetings first hand to my own team. So let me tell you, it’s time for marketing to be smarter than this.
The reality is that the Buyer’s Journey is yesterday’s news – it’s an outdated approach that needs a major overhaul and rethinking. Why? The funnel no longer exists the way it once was. As opposed to a funnel, we need to start looking at the sphere of engagement on how a prospect bobs and weaves through your content that’s appropriate for them as an individual. Before I go into what’s wrong with the Buyer’s Journey, let me first tell you what I think is right:
What's right with the buyer journey
The funnel doesn’t accurately describe the progression of a buyer from Awareness to Conversion. The reality is that we’re all influenced in different ways from different sources.
Being Empathetic is Crucial
The Buyer’s Journey incites good customer-centric thinking that we should all by this point have embodied into the content we write, the conversations we have, and the value we provide. We must move beyond merely saying this to actually embodying these qualities so they are obvious from the outsider that this is something your organization embodies in spirit and mind. (It’s like in Kindergarten when we all learned to “Show and tell.”)
In direct marketing, customers consider twice as many sources of information before buying than just a few years ago. We’re all doing more research than ever prior to converting. In B2B, we’re reading expert posts on LinkedIn on relevant topics, we stalk products at trade shows in the distance trying avoid talking to the booth, we talk to colleagues about what they use, and so forth. In B2C the audience is looking at your content or products that follow them around through retargeting ads, shares from their network, and in search. The point is we, as buyers, have fewer conversations with real people that drive to a purchase and subscription.
Attributing a sale to a single event is incorrect
To the point above, rarely is there a single driver for a purchase decision. The Buyer’s Journey acknowledges that and aims to reveal the important touchpoints that a marketer can affect along the way. Understanding where the prospect is before a salesperson engages is more important than what you say. There’s nothing more annoying than sitting through a presentation about the “problem” if you’re way past that point and want to talk about solutions. “Yes, I understand that I have a problem, please catch up to me on how to solve it.”
What's wrong with the buyer journey
As I said before, the marketing funnel is inaccurate and misleading when taken literally as a step by step or stage by stage approach. Like any broad concept, the Buyer’s Journey can be stretched too far.
Prospects are Individuals, not Stages
Grouping your prospects into stages doesn’t necessarily make you understand them better. The amount of technology we have at our fingertips to understand every one of your audience members on an individual basis is here.
The act of mapping all these wonderful touch-points in the Buyer’s Journey and building a platform to coordinate them in a workflow is there. Mapping a Buyer’s Journey and instrumenting behavior on an individual level just can’t scale properly and in the time it take for you to build something custom, habits will have already changed.
Touchpoints vs. Psychology
Let’s talk this through – a prospect gets an email, goes to your website, and looks at that piece of content before bouncing. Days later they read a post on LinkedIn or Facebook and follow the link to your webpage before bouncing again. Weeks later they Google a business problem or topic they’re researching and browse four sites with credible expertise including yours, yet this time they look at some other suggested reading for them and bounce because it’s not relevant to them… and guess what? They bounce again. Understanding their behavior, learning about the psychology of the actions they’re taking, and mapping it to the appropriate content that they’d like read next will separate your brand from everything else they’re reading.
Without Proving ROI, You're Dead
If we cannot measure and understand the contribution to a purchase or sale for the dozen or so touchpoints along a journey and explain the lift in keeping the prospect engaged before conversion we lose our marketing budget. Period. Now matter how good the model seems, if it cannot be measured, eventually we will give up on it.
B2B Buying Decisions are Made by Committee, Not an Individual
That’s a lot of Buyer Journeys to map. How many people inside an organization influence a buying decision? Rarely is it one. For my sales team, if they are forecasting something they believe they can close, and they’ve only spoken one person about their business challenge, I tell them point blank it’s not going to close – at least not when they predict it will. Typically it takes 3-4 members in a committee when companies make a decision on buying a product. How do you manage to understand all those journeys and affect them?
“the reality is that the funnel isn’t accurate and neither is a step by step approach”
Time to Evolve
As I said from the start, there’s a lot of good things that come from the Buyer’s Journey, but the reality is that the funnel isn’t accurate and neither is a step by step approach from “Awareness to Engagement to Business Value to Purchase”. We just have to decide how we are going to change our marketing practices to align ourselves with a funnel that accounts for many erratic steps in non-linear ways from multiple sources and the only way to understand how to market is to understand our audiences as individuals.