- How to evaluate the strategic priority of the solution as well as the technical and business benefits
- How to build consensus across line of business, corporate IT and other key players in the decision making process.
- Marketers: lobby your top executives to make regular sales process training for marketing a priority.
- Sales executives: demand that marketing know how the different parts of your sales force work so they can more effectively develop prospects and serve customers.
- CEOs: get smart about your customer supply chain by applying the same level of due diligence and process discipline to it that you have to your product and services units. As a result, you will make much more effective use of marketing investment and be able to hold your whole customer facing team accountable for its contribution to your strategic objectives.
IDC’s CMO Advisory has conducted an annual IT Buyer Experience survey for the past six years. We have tracked many changes and interesting trends, but one thing stands out as a consistent inefficiency in the market: every year IT Buyers report the purchase processes can be approximately 40% shorter. Over the course of a 10-month average process that means the potential is to accelerate revenue by an entire quarter. This is a huge opportunity for both buyers and sellers with tremendous financial incentives for both and yet no improvement in six years. Why not and what to do about it?
Buyers put about 2/3 of the blame for this inefficiency on themselves. There are scheduling issues, conflicting agendas, changing budgets, changes in personnel, immature purchase processes, etc. The challenge for vendors therefore is two-fold:
- Reduce the inefficiencies that are inherent in their own marketing and sales processes, and
- Better facilitate the buyer’s process(es)
To do this, vendors need to intimately understand the Buyer’s Journey. It starts with Exploration, moves to Evaluation, and ends with a Purchase. Buyers spend the most amount of time in the Exploration stage, largely independent of direct vendor interaction. As they move through each stage, their agendas change dramatically and the process accelerates. Buyers spend less time in each subsequent stage and have higher expectations of vendor response times. By carefully defining and monitoring buyers’ journeys, marketing and sales can better serve customer needs, keep pace with buyer expectations, and cut out big chucks of inefficiency.
For example, in the Exploration stage, the buyer’s main objective is to establish fit between their business challenges and a solution. The main resources they use are related to trends in their industry. The primary internal influencers are business buyers (functional leaders, business unit mangers, and executives.) Once they enter the evaluation stage, however, their objective and trusted sources change completely.
In our report, IDC CMO Advisory 2013 IT BuyerExperience Survey: Create and Close Customers up to 40% Faster, we outline specific steps IT marketers should take at each stage in order to get the right messages to the right decision makers. For more information, please contact me at gmurray (at) idc (dot) com.
Data analytics was the big winner in the 2012 US Presidential race. In fact, 11:17 PM (US ET) November 6th was the moment data analytics went mainstream. This was when Ohio was officially projected to go to Obama. It was the ultimate validation for Nate Silver and his data analytics approach to election forecasting. To much fanfare he accurately predicted the results of the election in all 50 states without doing any of his own polling. He used sophisticated analytic models based on data from as many third party polls he could find. To this he added the secret sauce of data analytics – a keen understanding of how different types of data from different sources relate to one another in context.
- Standardizing records: Unifying the customer (voter) database
- Widening perspective: Combining diverse data types: demographics; buying/voting history; response by media; donation/activity by trigger (celebrity dinner), model (contest) and method (mobile); group/church membership, social networking activity (Reddit), etc.
- Judicious targeting: Carefully identifying the potential for influencing voters that could influence the election. Not worth targeting easily influenced voters if they don’t live in a county that can help swing a state. Not worth targeting difficult to influence voters even if they live in a critical county. This is essential for achieving impact and ROI.
- Media mix modeling: which media channels have the greatest impact on which kinds of voters?
- Action oriented outreach: Understanding the specifics of why and how certain people act and designing multiple outreach experiments (progressive offers, channel mix, social references, etc.) based on that.
- Openness to innovation: data driven models may point to approaches that are counter intuitive for some decision makers. They can seem risky and mysterious. They will not be right all the time. Controlled risk is part of the evolutionary process to effectiveness. Without a tolerance for experimentation however, you will not develop a data driven culture, you will in fact kill it.
- $200M EU lift based on a sophisticated solutions recommendation engine
- 45% more subscription revenue with no increase in a multi-million dollar marketing budget
- Tens of millions of dollars in revenue uplift from simple web behavioral changes
I was surprised to hear so much talk about the ‘buyer’s journey’ at a recent Sales 2.0 conference. More talk than I often hear at marketing conferences! Having said this, it was clear that many people who talked about buyer’s journeys did not know what the term meant.
A hesitant raise of hands at one sales enablement panel showed that a little more than half the room thought that their company used a buyer’s journey framework. The panelists didn’t buy that answer. Sniffed one, “Most companies lift the sales stages right out of their CRM system and call that a buyer’s journey.”
What isn’t a buyer’s journey? It isn’t a sales methodology. It isn’t build rapport, uncover needs, identify options, propose solutions, and close the deal. It isn’t a product life-cycle. It isn’t development, launch, grow, mature, decline. It isn’t marketing stages. It isn’t build awareness, create interest, engage, and persuade. All of these processes can be useful to guide an important function. However, they all describe vendor’s journeys – not buyer’s journeys.
So, what is a buyer’s journey? A buyer’s journey is a framework that describes the cognitive process each buyer must personally traverse leading from Apathy (Do I care?) to Commitment (How can I buy this?). IDC’s Customer Creation Framework highlights three simple stages of this journey: Exploration, Evaluation, and Purchase. You can break these stages into sub-steps if you like.
In the simplest terms, a buyer’s journey is really nothing more than a list of questions. Buyers have different questions at different steps of their journey. If buyers get their questions answered clearly, positively, credibly, and with relevance, they will take another step. If they do not, they stall or abandon their quest.
Let’s take the example of some questions on a buyer’s journey towards a new car:
- Exploration: Is my current car headed for a problem – how do I know? Are there new cars that I would like better? What cars are new this year? What do I really need?
- Evaluation: Which cars offer the best value? Which do I find most attractive? Is this supplier trust-worthy? What do the experts say? What do my friends think? How can I test drive?
- Purchase: How much can I afford? Should I buy this now? Do I find terms acceptable?
Where do you get these questions? Ask your buyers! Ask the people in your company who talk to buyers – sales people, customer support, systems engineers, etc. Listen to social media chatter. My experience has been that you can collect 95% of the questions you need after you have talked to about 30 people who have a broad range of roles and backgrounds.
2) Answer the questions.
Do not avoid the thorny and evil questions! I like this quote from Robert Frost, “The best way out is always through.” Every unanswered question is a place where prospects can get frustrated and where leads will stall or fall out of your pipeline.
You can collect both the questions and the answers in a spreadsheet or an FAQ document.
3) Put the answers on your website and give them to your sales team.
But these are secondary issues. If you don’t first have the answers that your buyer needs, all these secondary questions are a total waste of time.