Really Bad News about the Real Buyer's Journey

Across thousands of buyer interviews spanning dozens of industries, there is one aspect of almost every buyer’s journey that is pervasive and absolutely terrifying –

Almost no one can recall any marketing engagement that influenced their decision.

I don’t like to communicate bad news. But I cringe every time I see a graphic depicting an elaborate buyer’s journey that is utterly unrelated to anything a real buyer has ever told us.

Here are a few facts we’ve learned from studies of buyers who have recently engaged in a decision that required committee approval or considerable thought. When we ask them to walk us through their actual buyer’s journey, we hear:

  • Buyers describing major investments where the only providers they even considered were current vendors or those recommended by their peers.
  • While some buyers visit vendor websites, most are well along in their buyer’s journey by that time.
  • Although we occasionally hear mentions of touchpoints such as webinars, whitepapers or case studies, most buyers tell us that vendor content can’t be trusted.

As a career sales and marketing professional, I feel like we’re living in an echo chamber that continually reinforces our own ideas and methods. We’re reading content and listening to our peers, all of whom are invested in defining, clarifying and increasing the importance of marketing.

Sadly, popular myths about buyer personas have contributed to the problem. Directed to build personas through surveys, a few customer interviews or conversations with sales people, marketers have started to believe that this rudimentary approach is good enough.

Additionally, marketing automation feeds our delusion, counting every point of engagement and assigning meaning to the buyer’s progress. If you’ve fallen into this trap, imagine with me the hubris if Google Maps, tracking your path through a city, purported to know why you embarked on this journey and how you determined which destination to target. Data can’t tell us a thing about buyer motivations.

To clarify, we don’t work with extremely short/low consideration buying journeys, such as CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) companies. Based on my own experience buying consumer products online, I expect that buyers of those products could readily describe positive interactions with marketing. And I know that buyers who shop online reveal much about their intention and persona. But once these same buyer personas arrive at the office, or when they must make a high stakes personal buying decision, their engagement online and with sales teams represents a miniscule aspect of their journey.

If this article sounds all doom and gloom, consider what you could do to become the company that makes it easy for your buyers. What if you could align your sales and marketing efforts with the actual needs of your buyers? Could you divert some portion of your time and attention to hearing what buyers really think as they navigate the journey you want to influence? Is it time to understand which part of your company (or solution, product or service) story resonates with your buyers? Hint: If your story is based exclusively on what’s unique, new or made up in a conference room, I’ll lay you odds that it isn’t what your buyers want to hear.

Buyer Persona Masterclass

Topics: Buyer Personas, Buying Criteria, Content Marketing, Good Use of Personas


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