In The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a line that's inspired millions in the years since: "Not all who wander are lost." That's something useful for marketers to keep in mind because what we traditionally think of as a sales "funnel," with a logical and linear progression from the first contact to final sale, is often anything but. Understanding your B2B customers' wandering paths can help you better understand what they're looking for and develop a B2B marketing strategy that better guides them on their way and gives them confidence in the solutions you offer.
What are the stages a customer goes through when considering a purchase? There are actually multiple touchpoints, and the process won't always be linear; it's common for customers to skip ahead or circle back to different points in the process.
Here, awareness may be as simple as, "I need a product or service." Maybe they need earth moving equipment because a big project is in the works. Maybe they're on the verge of a critical production run and a worn mold needs to be re-tooled. In this phase, the customer knows little about the available solutions and is getting a handle on their choices.
Unfortunately, too many marketers treat the purchasing process as a destination. It's better visualized as a way station and should be considered the midpoint on the journey. With that in mind, the purchase phase should already be laying a solid foundation for all that follows.
By this point, both you and your customer are coming to a realization. For the customer, there's the question of whether the expectation lived up to the reality, as well as the realization that their purchase will need long-term support. For you, on the other hand, there's the dawning realization that a lot of time, effort, and probably expense went into cultivating just that one sale. So, your efforts to support and retain the customer using every tool at your disposal—from marketing automation to good old-fashioned customer service—is a way of ensuring a good return on investment for everyone involved.
A loyal customer is a good thing to have. Advocate, on the other hand, are priceless because they're people who are so happy with your product or service and your customer support that they won't just return to your brand—they'll evangelize for you and influence others to take the plunge.
Once you have a better understanding of the customer journey, you're much closer to meeting your customers where they are, giving you an opportunity to provide the information they need to make an informed decision. But how do you tailor that information to the different steps in the process?
Before you decide where and how to guide your customers, the key question to ask is, "Where are we going?" Identify and quantify the goals you want your campaign to meet.
The next step is to create a buyer persona, sometimes known as an avatar. You may have a particular customer in mind already, someone who's purchased from you repeatedly in the past and couldn't be happier with your company. How do you find more like them? Market research will help you better understand and address your prospective customers' needs and desires.
Like you, your customer solves problems. What are they solving? What keeps them going in good times and in bad? And what can you offer that will aid them toward that goal? Earlier we talked about awareness; knowing needs and motivations is key to raising awareness, but you'll be especially impressive to a prospect if you can identify a problem or pain point that they've never quite been able to pinpoint.
Now we return to the stages of the customer journey we discussed earlier. Think the process through from your avatar's point of view, then identify the touchpoints they'll encounter—from humans to marketing automation—as well as the kinds of information they'll need at each step along the way. At this stage, you're likely to find that you're missing out on key content marketing collateral, whether it's a brochure that you never got around to printing, a spec sheet that needs updating, a social media campaign you've neglected, or employees who could use a bit more training. Shore up your pain points to help your customers alleviate theirs.
Remember, the sale is only the midpoint of the journey. Your follow-up on the sale, the support you give later, and how the customer experiences your company will all influence what they think of your product, how they feel about you, and how likely they are to recommend you to others. Make sure each step in the journey is as well thought out as possible, creating memorable experiences with customers that they will want to share.
Don't be surprised if you need to revisit one or more of these steps. Just like your customer's journey isn't always a linear one, the way you serve them isn't necessarily a straight line either. Test, solicit feedback, revisit, and revise. Your process will be stronger, and your conversions higher, because of it.
Any journey is better when you have a guide. For your customers—past, present, and future—you are that guide. But who is your guide?
Cain & Company has helped countless companies in the Rockford area address their biggest manufacturing marketing challenges, and we can help illuminate the road ahead for you, too. Get in touch today!