Responding to the Buyers Purchase Path

A few weeks ago I was leading a workshop on Lead Nurturing, which included the concept of buyer personas and defining the buying path for each individual persona. One attendee asked, “Why would you need separate buying journeys? Don’t you need to define one buyer’s journey for the persona and just align the content to that?”  Before I could respond, another attendee chimed in and said, “That’s a great question and it’s something that we have been discussing internally.”

It is a great question! This is something that obviously was on the mind of at least two people in the room and judging by the head nods from the rest of the class, it occurred to me that this was probably on the mind of a good number of B2B marketers.

So if you are wondering my answer to the question… the short answer is No.  You can’t just have one buyer’s journey that applies to all the unique personas that you have defined.  Why?  Because these personas will each take a different approach to the buying process and be viewing this purchase differently.

A content architecture or blueprint is built upon buyer personas and their unique buying paths.  Assuming that all buyer personas approach the buying process the same way severely limits the results that will come from the demand generation strategy.  Marketing this way basically goes against what we are trying to achieve with unique personas in the first place.  Let’s use a real scenario to demonstrate why you cannot simply map to one buyer’s journey.  We had a sales prospect, now a customer, that we had been working with and we had identified two main personas, the main influencer and the decision maker.

In this particular instance, the sales process lasted approximately eight months and started when the influencer and I first spoke by phone. During this call he told me that he had been scanning our website, reading our blog and viewed some of my webinars during the last three months (his buying process began long before my sales process).   

Throughout the next six months while I continued to have conversations with my influencer, he also continued to engage with us via our nurturing campaigns, socially through our blog and website and face-to-face meetings.  If you contrast his interactions and behavior with that of the decision maker, they were quite different.

We learned the decision maker was involved in this process only to the extent in which he approved the influencer to begin researching vendors. He was in fact active at the beginning of the buying cycle.  Once the dialogue with the influencer commenced, the decision maker was no longer an active participant in this process, at least not for some time.  As a result, my avenue to that decision-maker, as he had requested, was only through the influencer.

However, the decision-maker re-joined the buying process at the end of the cycle.  The dynamics of the sale changed in the last 60-days and the active engagement and content delivery was focused on the decision-maker while the influencer gave way and transitioned into a  to a passive engagement.  As a result of these two different persona’s and their unique behaviors, our content delivery to each persona had to be tailored to their individual unique buying patterns.

Moral of the story?  Assuming a single buyer’s journey  is not marketing best-practice, and often may cost you a sale.

Another way to illustrate this  is to use the “Buying Cycle” as described by Robert Jolle, author of Customer Centered Selling.

Jolle’s eight stages of the Buying Cycle:

  • Satisfaction
  • Acknowledgement
  • Decision
  • Criteria
  • Measurement
  • Investigation
  • Selection
  • Reconsideration

If we map Jolle’s stages to those of our client’s buying cycle that I described above, it paints a clear picture as why you cannot have a single buyer’s journey. Simply compare the two personas and their buying patterns (the influencer had six buying stages while the decision maker had only two). This difference necessitates a different content plan as their content consumption was unique due to their buying roles and paths.

To hit the point home, let’s look at this visually.  I am a visual learner and I believe charts and pictures often tell a better story than words can.  The illustration below shows the two unique personas and their content consumption based upon Jolle’s buying stages.

Eight Stage Buying Path

As seen here, these are two very different engagements with two unique personas in the same account.  As the buyers move from passive to active, so must the content that is delivered and how it is delivered.

As marketers seek to improve on their demand generation and content strategies, it is vital they understand the buyers, their unique buying patterns and their passive and active content consumption.  While it takes more work up front, the results will be transformational and improve overall results.