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While every one of your customers is unique, there is a predictable journey that they all take when looking for a technology solution. This is called the customer buying journey – or the customer buyer’s journey. Each step, stage, and interaction that a customer takes in pursuit of understanding and evaluating a product – and ultimately purchasing it – is diagrammed to understand why customers make certain choices and how to better influence them.
How does marketing content fit in? Simple. It’s important to understand that approximately 67% of the customer buying journey is now completed digitally. That means, customers are investigating your website, downloading your whitepapers and brochures, and watching your videos to become more informed about your technology, product, and company. To be successful, your company needs to match the stages of the customer buying journey with appropriate marketing content that delivers what the buyer needs in order for them to move from one stage to the next.
While mapping your content to the buying journey is always a good practice, it’s especially necessary in business-to-business (B2B) technology purchases. Companies have much at stake when investing in new technology so B2B purchases are often complicated, costly, and require long-term commitments. This is why B2B technology buying behavior is most often a team effort centered on research findings. It’s also why B2B technology buyers are increasingly self-reliant, depending less on direct interaction with technology vendors and more on their own investigations.
Let’s take a peek at this journey and what content makes the most sense at each stage. While there are numerous possible paths of a buying journey, they almost always pass through the following three stages.
Buying journey stage 1: Awareness
The first part of the journey starts when a company identifies a need. This can be prompted by a lost opportunity, a growing trend in the market, a response to customer demands, or a competitor’s latest feature set. Unless your company already has a market-leading presence, it’s likely this company is unaware of your existence.
In this first stage, companies will almost certainly start by using a search engine. According to LeadsBridge: 72 percent of buyers turn to Google to start their buying journey. These prospects are at the very top of the funnel.
Stage 1 content
To get customers aware of your solution to their problem, you need to create content that shows up in their searches and captures their initial interest. This is where search-engine marketing is important and where a search-engine optimized site will have its benefits. Bylined articles on other people’s blogs or in online magazines are also excellent for creating brand awareness. Thought leadership eBooks and whitepapers are hugely effective too; they tell prospects you are a serious and knowledgeable player in their market.
Stage 1 content summary
- Search engine marketing – Google AdWords, Bing Ads, etc
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Contributed articles and blogs on reputable sites
- Company blogs and podcasts
- Thought leadership eBooks and whitepapers
- Social media ads
The main thing you should not be doing at this stage is trying to sell your product. There are very few companies who will buy a product they have never heard of, from a brand they don’t know, after the very first touch-point. Think of the awareness stage of the customer journey as a first impression. Putting decision-stage content in front of people that aren’t ready for it is a mistake that many technology vendors make.
Buying journey stage 2: Consideration
Once the company starts to have a better grasp of what they need from their earlier research, they start to look at vendors that meet their requirements, eliminating those that do not. At this stage, potential customers will refer to information on vendor websites to determine whether or not to engage. They will also make comparisons between a company’s solution and those of its competitors, learning about the details.
Once a prospect reaches the second stage of their journey, they are ready to hear about your solutions, products, and technology – in fact, they want to hear about them. This puts prospects squarely in the middle of the funnel. The best thing you can do at this point is ensure your prospective buyers have all the information they need.
Stage 2 content
This is when prospects go directly to your website – which is why it plays such a big role. (And hence why marketers say it’s your best marketing asset.) Without a professional-looking site and access to informative content, your prospect may cross you off their list.
Stage 2 content summary
- Web content
- Solution whitepapers
- Product datasheets
- Product demos and free trials
- Email newsletters
- Rate cards
- Product comparison guides
Generating leads and creating an environment for a two-way dialog is what content in the consideration stage is all about. The worst thing you can do at this stage is to leave a prospect hanging. If your prospective customers fill out a form, request a demo, or contact your company through social media or email, make sure that your salespeople follow up. You don’t want to let the customer’s interest wither or to miss a valuable window of opportunity.
Buying journey stage 3: Decision
The last stage of the customer buyer’s journey is when enough research has been completed. A prospective company regards one company as the winner, but they still need reassurance that their choice is right. They are especially close to the bottom of the funnel.
At this stage, you’re no longer dealing with the research teams that started the process but with the executives. So, this stage is all about reducing risk. A vendor’s credibility is extremely important. Can they do what they say they can do? Will they be around to honor their commitments in 5-10 years? Will they continue to support their product? Establishing technology and cultural fit are also important.
Before signing a contract, your prospect needs to know that their investment is secure. They want to know what other customers have to say about your company. They want to know if you are true to your word and that they can trust you.
Stage 3 content
To seal the deal at the decision stage of the customer’s buying journey, a professional and polished outward appearance will pay off. These days a brochure is often a “nice-to-have”. But in this stage of the journey it can be very important to communicate your commitment to success. Big established companies have brochures while small companies trying to get off the ground typically do not. Or so the thinking goes.
Stage 3 content summary
- Customer testimonials
- Customer reviews
- Case studies
- Corporate brochure
This stage is when you really need to have materials that back-up your claims – testimonials and case studies are powerful tools that can seal the deal. A whopping 97% of people say they rely on peer recommendations and reviews during this stage of the buying cycle.
In the high-risk world of high tech, numerous stakeholders are involved in the decision process and they all require many pieces of information to transform from prospect to customer. Ultimately, your job is to make the journey as customer centric as possible. This involves understanding the customer buying journey and getting the right information in front of the right people at the right time.
At the end of this journey – if you’ve done your homework and accommodated your buyer’s various needs – there will be one last stage: purchase.