How to Use Content to Transform the Buyer Journey and Build Your Unfair Advantage
Business-to-business marketing is bare knuckles, brutal, and high stakes.
You’re in a position where you’re dealing with so many players, some of them whose roles are not defined, any of them who may be able to shut you out.
Most businesses put the burden on their sales representatives to push through the fog and get to the All Powerful Wizard of Oz, the decision maker.
And anyone who is in business knows that one of the most critical people within a client organization is the internal champion.
If the internal champion is so important to getting to the table and closing the deal, why do few firms spend time equipping them up front, before they even talk to a sales person?
We think it’s because most business owners and marketers don’t understand the power that content has to giving sales a powerful leg up.
Strategically created content with an emphasis on value can provide a devastating advantage for your business.
But before you go out and start pumping out more content, let’s take a trip together.
It All Starts With a Journey
A new buzzword in the marketing world is that of the buyer journey.
The core of the buyer journey is the recognition that the buying process is not a discrete event where a company can expect to swoop in when the buyer is ready to find someone.
Crowded markets demand business get in front of key influencers and decision makers earlier and earlier to have any strategic advantage over the competition.
When it comes to the buyer journey, the tool helps businesses understand the typical process their audience may follow to go from awareness to acquiring a solution.
Let’s evaluate a hypothetical scenario to illustrate the point:
Todd is an IT manager at XYZ Corporation, reporting to the VP of IT under the Chief Information Office. Todd learns that his company may be vulnerable to the Heartbreak database flaw, which creates significant risk for the company security infrastructure. He knows he’ll need to research it, figure out how to solve it, and present to his boss a solution.
Todd begins performing research. After an exhaustive search he finds that it definitely creates substantial risk for his firm and there are solutions out there. Todd struggles with the fact that the problem and the solution are difficult to explain.
Todd spends more time building a case and performing more research before finally sitting down with his boss to review it. After many discussions, Todd gets his boss to sign-off on contacting vendors.
By this point Todd is an active target for sales people, all of whom want to build a relationship with Todd and turn him into their internal champion.
As demonstrated in the simplified workflow above, Todd has taken at least 5 steps before he’s even reached out to vendors. But, Todd’s journey was more complicated than that because he passed many points along the way in his research and was exposed to so many messages.
By the time Todd is ready to contact vendors, he’s seen a lot of names, some of who have been more useful to him than others. There may even be a clear winner in his mind.
Create Your Internal Champion
There is no way to guarantee that you will be able to create your own internal champion.
Marketing is a game of probabilities and improving your odds.
Managing your role in the buyer journey, does more than stack the deck in your favor – it transforms you from a vendor into a trusted advisor.
How do you become a trusted advisor before you’ve even talked to the prospective client?
By guiding the buyer journey.
Before you can do that, you need to understand what their journey means to you.
Understanding the Buyer Journey
Guiding the buyer’s journey means understanding the paths they will take to find a solution.
The key here is understanding the buyer’s journey. And how do you do that?
Get sales and marketing together, lock them in a room (48 hours straight usually works), and force them to have a real, open, and honest dialogue about the buyer’s journey.
This is the most critical step in the whole workflow. If missed, it creates an incomplete picture of the buyer’s journey for you and a poor outcome for the customer.
When talking about the buyer journey, sales and marketing need to understand that while customers may take many winding roads, the journey breaks into four broad based buckets – awareness, evaluate, choose, and implement.
- Awareness – In this broad bucket your buyer is aware they are in pain. Pains usually fall into two buckets – acute and chronic. An acute pain is an issue that is sharp and distracting, requiring an immediate solution. A chronic pain is an issue that has often persisted over time and in theory could continue to persist. Either way, in this step your potential buyer is looking for the source of their pain.
- Evaluate – Once they transition into this broad bucket, they’ve determined that the problem is bad enough that it merits looking for a solution. In this stage they’re looking at whether they can solve the problem and how to fix it.
- Choose – After they’ve spent time evaluating the options that are out there, they have to choose an approach and start looking for a solution. This is the step where you and your competition get your first real shot at a new customer.
- Implement – At this point, it’s all active buying questions. The customer wants to buy and they’re figuring out how everything will tie together.
Let’s look at the other side of the hypothetical scenario from earlier.
John owns a company called CompSolutions, specializing in server infrastructure consulting, design, and implementation. His business provides a wide range of solutions to IT managers. The announcement of the new Heartbreak flaw has resulted in a trickle of new (and profitable) business.
Since the problem is still new and poorly understood, John recognizes that there is an opportunity to educate his prospective customers and position his company as a solution.
But how does he do it?
In this case, CompSolutions break down the problem into the following pieces (from the perspective of Todd):
- Awareness – Do you have the Heartbreak flaw? How can you tell? What are the signs/symptoms? How can you tell how bad it is for your business? What is the risk? What are the costs to not fixing it or not fixing it soon enough?
- Evaluate – What are the solutions? How do they compare? How do they vary in their efficacy? In their cost? In their time to implement? Which are DIY vs. which require an outside professional?
- Choose – What is your budget? Which solution can you accept? What is important to you in a provider? How do you manage the solution?
- Implement – How do you get started? What can you expect for your solution? What problems can arise in implementing your new workflow? What kind of support can you expect?
Now is the fun part, turning understanding into action.
Before you’re allowed to take the next steps, you have to understand an important concept – guiding the buyer journey is not for all businesses.
You have to commit to the following:
- Paying attention to what your potential customers need – What is being searched for? What are they worried about – really, deeply worried about? What are they afraid of?
- Providing real value – If you want to be a trusted adviser, you have to do both – be trustworthy and provide advice. You cannot phone this in with some garbage.
- Stick around for the whole journey – You need to let your future internal champion know that you’re going to be there for the whole process. That you’ve thought through their needs and will guide them step-by-step. This means you can’t just put together a one pager. You need to be there for the whole process.
- Learn, adapt, and grow – Collect feedback on your content, respond to the ideas, and evolve. Keep your content current. Update your offers. Dated material means you just don’t care.
- Sales & marketing partnership – Last but not least, sales and marketing must continually work together to refine this process.
Have you committed yet? If not, are you at least willing to consider it?
OK, carry on.
Tying it All Together
Now that you’ve had your sales and marketing team locked up with each other for 48 uninterrupted hours, they’ve emerged from the conference room with three things – a tremendous sense of respect for each other’s contributions to the company’s success, a solid understanding of the buyer’s journey, and a mutual loathing for sleeping on the floor.
Now all it takes is figuring out where to tie your company into the buyer’s journey in a meaningful way that positions you to become a trusted adviser and builds your internal champion.
Easy, right? Sorry…
In many ways this is the hardest step because it requires finesse. You need to balance providing enough information to create real value but not enough to hurt your potential customer (by creating a false sense of competency) or your business (by giving away your expertise so completely that they don’t need you anymore).
How do you balance it? By mirroring your sales process.
One of the easiest ways to protect yourself (and your client) is to use as a rule of thumb that if your sales rep won’t say it or do it, your content shouldn’t.
Let’s revisit our scenario one last time to see how CompSolutions ties it all together:
Awareness content – They start with a “Heartbreak Diagnostic Guide” document which breaks out the workflow steps to understand whether your systems are at risk for Heartbreak. Then it’s followed up with a “Heartbreak Risk Assessment Tool”, an interactive tool where an IT manager can evaluate how much risk they have based on a series of questions and data points.
Evaluation content – In this section they create the following content – “Heartbreak Fixes – Replace or Patch?” which is an interactive tool they provide to help IT managers figure out the benefits of replacing the whole system or upgrading the existing one to solve the problem. It even gives a recommendation based on the numbers input to the system. “Heartbreak by Numbers” is a PowerPoint companion piece where the IT director can pull talking points or even use it when presenting the problem to their manager.
Choose content – Here CompSolutions wants to help push the IT directors towards contacting them for a quote and assistance. Here they create the following: “Complete Guide to Fixing Heartbreak” that highlights the solutions available, broad sketches on how they’re implemented, and provides mini case studies using CompSolutions clients, showing the savings, risk reduction, quality of service, and other unique selling propositions.
By the time Todd is ready to pick a vendor, chances are now excellent that he will be a big fan of Compsolutions since they’ve provided an ecosystem of content that has made his life easier every step of the way.
If you want a real chance to improve your results with prospective customers before they start hunting for a specific solution provider, you need to provide valuable content at the right times.
Doing this involves:
- Understanding the buyer journey for your customers – talk to your marketers, your sales people, and your customers.
- Creating an ecosystem of content that provides real value while not giving away the farm.
- Measure the effectiveness of your content and make changes over time.
- Commit to doing it!
Start building your champion building strategy today and get a lead on your competition before they even know the race has started.