A few years ago, a big story in B2B suggested the buyer’s journey was nearly complete by the time a prospective customer engaged a vendor.
More precisely the statistic read something like this:
“Today’s buyers might be anywhere from two-thirds to 90% of the way through their journey before they reach out to the vendor.”
We can credit Forrester Research as the source of that specific number, but several reputable research organizations had similar findings.
The hypothesis behind these findings suggested that there’s so much information on the web, a buyer could research their decision, feel pretty confident in narrowing down the list, and only talk to sales when they were on the verge of purchasing.
Whether you’re in sales or marketing, that’s a scary idea, because it means your opportunities to influence the decision process is reduced to content. The consulting community seized on this and published white papers, and reports, and diagrams all attempting to visualize the complexity of the buyer’s journey.
It’s was interesting for a while…until it became too much and wasn’t. I think business became fatigued with it all. Many businesses struggle to produce good content on a consistent basis – they don’t have a chance of ever mapping content to a journey.
How the Buyer’s Journey Fell from Grace
I’ve observed an increasing number of industry discussions bashing the buyer’s journey as an exercise in uselessness. There is some survey data supporting this backlash, if it is a backlash, too.
For example, a study reviewed by Marketing Charts, suggests most buyers do want to hear from sellers at various stages of consideration:
“The report surveyed 488 buyers across regions, industries and job titles, responsible for a combined $4.2 billion in purchases. Fully 71% said they want to hear from vendors when they’re looking for new ideas and possibilities to drive stronger results to improve their business.
Likewise, a majority (62%) said they want to hear from vendors when they’re actively looking for a solution to fix what’s broken or solve a problem.
Buyers were more intent on hearing from vendors in both of those cases than when they’re identifying and evaluating possible providers (54%).
And few (30%) wanted to wait until after an RFP has been completed to initially hear from a vendor.”
That sure seems like a slam dunk.
The Buyer’s Journey: Back to Basics
Is this the end of the buyer’s journey as a guide to marketing and sales? No, I don’t think so.
It’s just an example of how the pendulum swings a bit too far in one direction, and then back the other way, where the important truth really rests somewhere near the middle. This survey ought to be a guide to improving the understanding of a buyer’s journey — not the elimination of the idea.
There is value in keeping things simple in marketing and communications – and I suggest the buyer’s journey remains an important aspect of business for four good reasons:
1) You should study how prospects find you;
2) You should study what factors they evaluate in buying;
3) You should study what compels customers to choose you or not; and
4) You should study why customers renew or not.
It’s important to remember that factors influencing these four points will vary based on role and experience. In other words, the way a CEO finds your company is likely to vary widely from that of an intern.
Most importantly, the buyer’s journey has got to be executable. Even if your fancy model of the is a work of sheer brilliance, most people won’t use if it’s too complicated.
Passé and impractical are two different things and it’s hasty to confuse them.
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