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I’m a big fan of the buyer journey. It’s one of the most powerful marketing tools available. I’m also a big funnel geek and spend a lot of time counting leads and tweaking conversion rates.
The buyer journey and the funnel are essentially the same idea – mapping the process a prospective buyer takes before becoming a customer. Understand how sales happen, and you can scale your business. Otherwise, you are merely hoping, which is not a strategy.
Despite the power (not to mention the stress relief) of understanding the buyer journey, I routinely run into marketers who merely pay this concept lip service. From my experience, nonbelievers fall into two camps: those who find it too daunting and those people don’t buy into the sequential, linear path of the journey.
Nonbelievers are usually daunted because the buyer journey can seem boundless, especially if there are multiple buyer personas who purchase multiple products. Having all those steps on the way toward a purchase is just too much to conceive of for some, and for others, too much work to create all the content.
To those who pooh-pooh linearity, I concede that many buyers purchase in a nonlinear fashion. These prospects hop all over the place, from an analyst report to your homepage, then perhaps to an ebook download, only to go to your news section and maybe only then to your key conversion form. It can be very difficult to visualize a buyer journey when prospects wander about. How can a marketer possibly plan a profitable route for buyers like these, the argument goes.
Because I feel so strongly about the value of the journey and wanted to find a way to convert these wayward marketers, I decided to create a simplified approach that I call “next-step marketing.” It’s a technique you can use to remove congestion in your buyer journey by focusing on a single desired next step for progressing the buyer.
For marketers who can’t grapple with or commit to a full buyer journey, next-step marketing greatly simplifies things. Rather than focusing on the entire journey, just focus on the next step at any given sales stage. Likewise, focusing on a single step takes the linearity argument off the table; you don’t need to think of a direct path from prospect to customer, but rather, just think of the one step to move a buyer along. Next-step marketing is really just a simple device that zooms in on one particular stage. You then simply need to ask yourself, What’s next for the prospect at that step?
The most effective way to apply next-step marketing is to start with the most crucial step in your conversion funnel. Perhaps it’s the step before a demo, or the step before somebody asks for a trial, or even the step after somebody asks for a trial. Only you will know. If you still can’t see it, look for where you are seeing blockage or congestion in your funnel, and think how might you improve that area. Zoom in on that step, and ask yourself what’s next.
Next-step marketing works because it focuses the marketing team on one situation – one problem. People find that one problem within their grasp to solve. It’s tractable. Once you have committed to next-step, you will probably find that it’s one or both of the following two issues that are causing congestion in your funnel.
The first is a gap. A prospect takes a step on their journey, but there’s no natural next step. What usually happens next is ugly. A sales development rep (SDR) calls the prospect to talk business, and the prospect is not even close to buying. The SDR has nothing to offer, the customer wonders why the rep is overzealous, and nothing gets bought. There’s a gap because no one in sales or marketing thought about what the natural next step for a buyer should be.
It’s like that classic S. Harris cartoon where there’s a professor writing an equation on the chalkboard, and in the middle of the equation it says, “And then a miracle happens.” You can’t rely on a miracle for a sale to happen. Said another way – a little less flippantly – Why are you asking your buyer to fill in the gap when you should figure out what the next step is?
For example, if you send the buyer an industry benchmark study, perhaps the natural next step to demonstrate value is to do a customized study just for that buyer. That’s a value-add phone call an SDR could easily make. Hopefully the learnings from the customized benchmark lead to a consultative sales call. Figure 1 illustrates the before and after.
Figure 1: Adding a new step 2 fills a gap and makes for a more natural progression to a consultative sales conversation.
There are lots of potential gaps in buyer journeys. Here are a few gap fillers I’ve seen work in my career, marketing software. Say a prospect has begun a trial of your product. Having your customer success rep send them tips and tricks can help lead them down the path toward being successful with your product, and then a sales rep can reach out to talk about a purchase. If the prospective buyer can’t get the software to work properly, no way do they want to talk to a sales rep. (At best, it makes for a testy conversation.) Or perhaps a prospect downloads a top-of-the-funnel white paper. The next thing you want them to do is take a look at a market study and then move on to a customized study, as we illustrated above. Each step is more specific than the last. Importantly, each step adds value, which makes outreach easier for your SDR or sales rep.
These are only examples, of course. Only you know where the gaps are. Most of the time, marketers have not thought of what that next step is, and they leave it up to the buyer, which is a big mistake and definitely brings down your conversion rate.
Sometimes it’s not a gap that’s causing the congestion, but rather, friction. You have a next step defined, but it’s asking too much of the buyer, making them cautious and reluctant to proceed. The next step you want the buyer to take is too big. The information you’re asking for is deemed to be intrusive or inappropriate, or the amount of information is simply too much for the buyer to provide. The give is not equal to the get.
To remove the friction from your buyer journey, first you need to find it. You can either look at your conversion rates, brainstorm in a room with a group, or pretend you are a buyer and try to observe potential points of friction. Is there are reason you ask for a business email address as opposed to a personal email address? What would compel somebody to give you their business email address? Or maybe the friction point is asking for a credit card number to start a product trial? Or it could simply be that your website is confusing.
In a talk from this year’s SaaStr conference, David Skok told the story of how the middleware company JBoss “unlocked their funnel” by offering technical documentation in exchange for a business email address on their software download page. Documentation was deemed to be of real value and convinced people to give their business email (The whole talk is good, but advance to 10:45 if you just want the JBoss case study.) Figure 2 illustrates the concept, which is pretty straightforward.
Figure 2: Adding more value to the software download offer removes the friction caused by asking for a business email address.
Another common point of friction is lengthy forms, where the prospect decides it’s not worth their time to fill out a form in exchange for what you are offering. A shorter form, with more information collected during a subsequent visit, is the answer. There are all kinds of examples. If you think this way, and think what you can offer in exchange for the details you want, you can remove the friction from the process and hopefully increase your conversions.
That’s it. Next-step marketing aims to simplify the buyer journey concept by thinking of the next step to optimize conversions. It will remove stalls or friction from your funnel.
Focus in on individual stages, and pick your most problematic. Set a goal and improve the conversion rate, and once you’re finished with that, move on to your second most problematic stage, and so on. If you don’t know where to start, take a closer look at your funnel conversions and look for the trouble spots – lower than expected conversion rates or aging leads. For those who don’t have a very mature or reliable funnel, talk to your SDRs or sales reps and ask them where deals are getting stuck.
Just as every long journey starts with a single step, every great buyer journey starts with an improved next step.