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How To Use a Buyer’s Journey to Increase Sales

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It pains me to see sales professionals doing the right thing, yet miss the mark when it comes to their monthly or quarterly sales goals.

I’ve watched as brands dump money into their sales and marketing budgets to expand their brand awareness, increase sales, and decrease the workload of these departments only to be met with disappointing results.

The problem is not the level of their effort, it is the efficiency of their effort.

This is often evident by the sales team wasting their time (and your business dollars) continually following up with leads that are unqualified or otherwise not ready to make a purchase.

How do you know? Answer the following:

  1. You have plenty of leads, and your sales team is talking to a number of prospects, but you are not closing sales.
  2. Your sales team is receiving too many leads that are not a good fit for you/your product
  3. You don’t know what, specifically, your customers are looking for
  4. You don’t know how to use your content to educate your prospects (Worse, you don’t have content to use to educate your prospects)
  5. You have no process to qualify your sales leads
  6. Your prospects end up purchasing from another company

Problems like these stem from two sources:

  1. A Lack of Buyer’s Personas
  2. A Lack of a Buyer’s Journey

These two elements are so critical to the overall success of your marketing efforts, that our consultation customers must complete these two assignments before we even start their marketing campaigns.

They are that important!

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Buyer’s Personas

At the very center of every marketing campaign is the Buyer’s Persona – an abstract representation of your ideal customer. I have written about this several times, here, here, and here.

Buyer’s Journey

The second, but nearly as important step, is to draft the buyer’s journey through your sales process.

Simply, a buyer’s journey is the route a prospective customer will take before purchasing from you.

What Is The Buyer’s Journey

The buyer’s persona and the buyer’s journey work both online and offline – meaning, the process your customers go through on your website is roughly the same process they will take if they walk into your store. For the purposes of the article, though, I will focus on how the customer walks through the path online.

It is important to realize and accept that not all people are your ideal customer. Not everyone is willing, interested, or able to purchase your product.

Identifying the Buyer’s Journey

Within the category of people who are willing/interested/able to buy from you, there exists a group of people to which we will target all of our marketing efforts. For your internal sales purposes, that group can be segmented into the following stages:

  1. Stranger
  2. Website Visitor
  3. Information Qualified Lead (IQL)
  4. Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)
  5. Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)
  6. Opportunity / Prospect / Prospective Customer
  7. Customer

This categorizes, from largest to smallest, buyer segments and provides a clearly defined process for your sales team. Your end goal is to move as many strangers through the journey, eventually reaching Step 7: where they buy from you.

From the customer’s perspective, their process is less defined, but it still exists. For the customer, they progress through only three stages:

  1. Awareness
  2. Consideration
  3. Decision

Most of our marketing efforts target the consideration and decision stages, because that is where serious buyers hang out and we want to have the highest return for our marketing dollars.

It costs a considerable about to time, money, and marketing resources to attempt to create awareness for a need in the eyes of the customer. Many established brands, such as Apple, have done this when introducing a new product (the iPad, for example). Apple was able to spend a huge amount of money — and take advantage of their brand equity — to push a product out to market. Consider consumers did not know they even “needed” an iPad, but Apple’s marketing created a need and suddenly consumers were aware of their pain point.

Our whole role in life is to give you something you didn’t know you wanted and then, once you get it, you can’t imagine your life without it.

Tim Cook, Apple CEO

For smaller brands, often this type of marketing spend is not an option, so we must prioritize where money and energy is spent for the best return.

Imagine a sales process so thoughtful that your clients are magnetically attracted to you. That’s what a buyer’s journey is about.

Applying The Buyer’s Journey to Your Process

To rid your sales team from wasting time on unqualified leads, their primary focus should be near the bottom of your sales funnel – Steps 5, 6, and 7.

Each of the proceeding steps should use thoughtfully-implimented automation and smart marketing to filter out those who do not meet your qualification.

This is where most salespeople and business owners struggle to let go of people who are not quite qualified to make a purchase. The reality is, though, these non-qualified prospects are draining your resources and making your sales team much less efficient.

Every brand has a “lookie-loo” crowd that will only ever kick the preverbal tires of your product. It is imperative that you shuttle these folks into their own category to either be ditched or educated (this is where automated marketing really works well) to convert them into paying customers. Don’t allow your sales team to be bogged down with tire-kickers.

Using Content In The Buyer’s Process

In the first stages of any buyer’s journey, they are looking for information to make their decision. By knowing the questions your prospective customer is asking, you can use your website and content to educate them.

This process is highly effective because so many brands are hesitant to “give away knowledge”. This hesitation has created a pocket for their forward-thinking competition to flourish.

Face the fact that your customers want to make an informed decision before committing to making contact with any brand. Buyers today are avoiding showroom floors, avoiding picking up the phone, and even avoid emailing sellers until they feel like they are equipped to ask the right questions. Today’s consumers want to have a sense of the product and want to know enough to not be taken advantage of.

This produces an opportunity for your brand to stand out from your competition by providing educational content with a low barrier of entry. Your “show of good faith” establishes you as an authority in the mind of the customer, a position that is nearly impossible to buy through traditional marketing.

One of the most difficult things to do as an inbound marketing agency is to get those who do not yet understand inbound marketing (your prospects) to believe in the process. An explanation of the buyer’s journey will help them understand that their website, and their content, needs to be structured in a way that caters to each of these three stages, and by doing so, they will actually attract buyers to their company organically. Here is what the buyer’s journey looks like when compared to the natural sales process, and the content assets that will lead a buyer through the sales process, delivering the information they want at the right time.

Max Traylor, Innovative Marketing Resources

The Content Marketing Process

Using your expert content is a simple way to attract strangers to your website, thus starting their journey with you.

By blogging regularly and consistently, you are adding valuable content to your website that attracts the attention of search engines like Google.

The Buyer's Journey
image credit: Content Marketer’s Blueprint

Strangers become Website Visitors

Once Google sees that you are constantly providing high-quality content about your industry or products; or answering questions that people commonly search for, Google starts listing your website higher in related search results.

Higher search results equal more clicks to your website.

Once Google sees you are constantly providing high-quality, original content, they start listing your website higher in related search results.

Visitors become Information Qualified Leads (IQL)

Now search engines like Google are sending visitors to your website who are actively looking for an answer that you are providing. Your website is educating visitors, making them information qualified leads and establishing your brand as an expert within the industry.

Your website should serve as your best sales person. A website never gets sick, never takes a vacation, can service more than one customer at a time, and can dynamically adjust to the needs (the questions being asked) by visitors.

Information Qualified Leads become Marketing Qualified Leads (MQL)

Once you have proven yourself to a website visitor through educational blog posts, they will want more information. Since you have already broken down a small barrier with them by providing all of these awesome and helpful resource, they are more likely to provide you with some basic contact information to learn even more.

This is where your downloadable content comes into play. Sometimes this is called “premium content”, “whitepapers”, “offers” and such. It is usually some sort of downloadable .pdf document that is free in exchange for the name and email address of your visitor. Once they submit their contact information to download the content, they become a Marketing Qualified Lead. They have also broadcast their buying stage. This is when your sales team should be taking notice.

Each of your free blog posts should contain a call to action that leads the visitor to one of your relevant downloadable resources. We put resources on their own landing page to capture the visitors name and email address in a simple form.

Marketing Qualified Leads become Sales Qualified Lead (SQL)

Using current marketing automation tools, along with the sales and industry experience of your sales team, this stage usually starts an email nurturing campaign. Again, this is a process that is designed to slowly lower the guard of the buyer. We are not trying to close the quick sale, we are providing the information they are looking for at this stage of their own buying cycle.

At this point, we can deduce the visitor is between their Consideration stage and Decision stage.

Through email, we can reach out to this person and provide them with some additional resources — usually more in-depth about the product they have shown interest in. This could be a fact sheet, the answers to questions previous customers have asked, or important considerations before making a purchase.

This stage is the first stage where your company can “sell” itself as the expert.

Sales Qualified Leads become Sales Leads

Now we are at or near the Bottom of the Funnel, your sales staff can reach out to the prospect to schedule a consultation call, a product demo, or a trial of your product. The folks who have made it to this stage have expressed interest multiple times and you have proven yourself to be the expert in understanding their needs.

Sales Leads become Customers

By now, your sales team has been able to make contact and build a human-to-human relationship with the customer. The customer has also been slow-pitched to the sales person, who is now equipped to close the deal.

This process results in a crop of highly-qualified sales prospects that have already established trust with your brand. The sales process reverses from the traditional, “Buy Our Product Now!” to the customer nearly begging to buy from you.

This is inbound marketing. It causes customers to be attracted to your brand.

Getting Started

Know Your Audience

Create helpful blog content that teaches your visitors what you know. Many brands are talking about what they do or what they sell, but few are sharing what they know and how it makes the customer’s life easier.

Share and Share Alike

Social media is made for sharing. Share your content in relevant networks and where your prospects are hanging out. Don’t forget to add some context about your blog content. Don’t be 100% promotional, either. Share content from related companies, about your industry, and other information that your Buyer Personas would be interested in.

Build a Great Awareness Stage Offer (Top of the Funnel)

Create a ‘How To’ guide for solving a common problem facing your ideal prospect. Wrap it up as an ebook and advertise it on your website, at the end of your blog posts, and on social media. This will attract folks to the top of your funnel to begin qualifying and nurturing them.

Nurture Them

It is not enough to just offer content available for download. Follow up with your prospects via email to stay on top of their mind, encourage them through the sales process, and continue to educate them on next steps. Your genuine interest in making their life easier will be rewarded.

Improving The Sales Team Efficiency

Earlier, I asked the following questions:

  1. You have plenty of leads, and your sales team is talking to a number of prospects, but you are not closing sales.
  2. Your sales team is receiving too many leads that are not a good fit for you/your product
  3. You don’t know what, specifically, your customers are looking for
  4. You don’t know how to use your content to educate your prospects (Worse, you don’t have content to use to educate your prospects)
  5. You have no process to qualify your sales leads
  6. Your prospects end up purchasing from another company

The buyer’s journey process I outlined addresses each of these questions:

1) You have plenty of leads, and your sales team is talking to a number of prospects, but you are not closing sales.

Having this buyer’s journey mapped out, you will quickly see where in the process the buyer is “opting-out” and will know when to stop wasting your sales staff’s time.

2) Your sales team is receiving too many leads that are not a good fit for you/your product

A well-thought-out buyer’s journey will help qualify your leads faster and more efficiently, thus reducing the time your sales team must spend with them to reach the same conclusion. Filter out tire-kickers and focus on those who are ready to buy.

3) You don’t know what, specifically, your customers are looking for

Having blog posts and downloadable content will give you these answers. Look at your most popular blog posts and most downloaded content pieces – those are the questions your visitors are asking. Publish more like those!

4) You don’t know how to use your content to educate your prospects

By knowing your customers through personas and identified pain-points, you can create content that solves their needs or reduces their pain-point.

5) You have no process to qualify your sales leads

A sales lead that progresses through each of these steps, from visiting your website to downloading your premium content to reach out for a product demo as qualified themselves. This is your process.

6) Your prospects end up purchasing from another company

Through expert advice, timely lead nurturing, and no-pressure sales, your prospects will fall into your lap. Your brand will outshine and out-sell competitors by following a sales process like this.

How to Setup A Content-based Buyer’s Journey

I offer customized marketing strategies for brands looking to reach their customers in more efficient and human ways.

We work with you to pair your industry experience with our sales and marketing experience.

If you would like help creating a marketing plan, or scheduling a consultation to review your existing strategy, please book a meeting here.

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