Welcome to the Jungle - What I Learned Walking a Mile in a Buyer’s Shoes
[This piece was originally published on LinkedIn.]
I recently had the opportunity to go on an interesting journey. The first part was like hacking through a dark and tangled jungle with nothing but a faded map. The second part was like sitting on the beach at a fancy resort with people coming by constantly to see if I needed food, drink, shade, fresh towels or any other little creature comfort.
The journey I’m talking about is the B2B software buyer’s journey. As a sales guy, it’s a journey I’ve read a lot about, and I’ve guided many people through the second part of it, but I hadn’t taken the full journey as a traveler. Since there’s no better way to understand someone’s journey than to walk a mile in their shoes, I was keen to finally experience it for myself.
The opportunity arose when we decided we needed better software to serve up relevant content to the sales team as they guided prospects along their journey. Our company is growing quickly, and we needed to improve the efficiency of our sales process, and ensure consistency in our stories and value proposition.
My experience was eye-opening, exhausting, and inspiring. I came away with new empathy for what buyers go through and many ideas for how my company, and yours, can make this journey easier.
The current buyer journey has two parts – what I’ll call the pre-sales phase, which is mostly conducted by the buyer alone on the internet, and then the actual sales cycle where the buyer is actively engaged with vendors.
In this post I’ll talk about what companies can do to help would be buyers navigate a path through the jungle that is the internet to their product. Marketing is the tour guide for this part of the journey.
Probably the biggest thing I learned is that the buyer’s journey is longer and more difficult than I expected. Because we were envisioning a simple repository or database solution, I thought the purchasing process would be pretty straightforward and take a couple of weeks. Wrong.
Like the majority of buyers, before I spoke to any sales people, my first step was to spend time online researching potential providers. I had no idea there were so many in this area, and I quickly became overwhelmed with the number of options. The most frustrating thing was that on the surface, they all seemed to solve our problem. That made it really difficult to even assemble a short list of vendors to talk to.
My team and I put together a color-coded, multi-tab, Excel document which grew to include detail on nearly 30 different companies. Obviously, we couldn’t talk to all 30, so we scoured their websites for clues, sifting through product information, customer reviews and any information we could find about pricing to qualify them. In hindsight, this level of detail seems like overkill, but at the time it was what we needed to wrap our heads around the space, and feel confident about our process.
As we made our way deeper into the research, and weeks became months, the path forward became less clear. The more we researched, the more options there seemed to be. Vendor differentiation was hazy, and few companies inspired confidence that they could completely solve our problem. We began to question our buying requirements. We were starting to feel lost.
It was a tiring experience: there was so much information available, and we still had our day jobs to do. After two months, we finally identified a shortlist of six vendors to speak with based on our initial buying requirements.
Here’s how vendors could have helped us better navigate a path to their offering:
Show the ROI impact of the solution
Budgets and resources are often a moving target, and many buyers can’t get budget approval for their project without showing the projected ROI. This is not easy to do, especially for complex systems that many people will use. Buyers are also competing with other internal projects, so even if a solution will return X value, if a different project will yield 2X, that one may take priority. Do whatever you can to help your buyer make a strong case for the ROI in your solution.
Differentiate the solution
“A confused prospect never buys” is a familiar maxim among sales people. Buyers need assurance that a solution will meet their requirements. They need clarity on the detail that’s important to them. They need to feel confident this will be a win for the company, their department, and for their own career. Hone in on what’s important to the ideal customer. Is the solution great for enterprises, or small businesses? What are the solution’s super powers? Security? Compliance? Ease of use? Integrations? In trying to generate the maximum number of leads, vendors use vague marketing language and they all end up sounding the same. Focus on generating the right kind of leads, or you may not make the short list at all.
Ensure brand consistency across all channels
Most folks still judge a book by its cover, especially buyers in the exploratory phase. I spent a lot of time not only on vendors’ websites, but on other sources that would provide detail on the quality of their organization and their services. This included reviewing a company’s Twitter feed, their LinkedIn profiles, user reviews on G2Crowd, blog posts, their YouTube Channel and even employee reviews on GlassDoor.
Untended social feeds created doubt about the company’s funding and viability. Use of multiple versions of their logos or messaging made it hard to tell if I was looking at the same company on each channel. It also made me wonder if anyone was home in marketing, which made me wonder if the company had their act together. When you see a house in disrepair on the outside, you don’t think, oh I bet it’s beautiful inside. You think it’s a wreck.
Utilize thought leadership to educate and influence
Most buyers understand their problem, but they don’t know exactly what the solution is. They’re not always up to date with technology trends and offerings. Nor do they see all the additional opportunities for growth they could exploit with new technology. In other words, they can’t see the forest for the trees. Thought leadership articles help them see the forest—the context around the problem, and they point the way to possible paths forward.
As a result of taking this journey myself, I now realize that by the time I speak to a buyer, they’ve probably already been on a long and challenging journey. They’ve been hacking their way through the jungle alone, just to get to my team and whoever else they’re talking to.
Marketing is mainly responsible for providing frequent, clear trail markers to shorten the path to the resort, but there needs to be a seamless handoff to sales who will then take a consultative position of recommending the most appropriate solution.
Once I made a short list of providers, it was time to reach out to their sales teams to learn what I couldn’t find online. That experience was much different from my lost and lonely journey online.