All marketing springs from your knowledge of your customers.
For modern digital marketers – especially those who embrace the inbound way – that starts by gathering all your knowledge about your customers-to-be.
The buyer persona is your tool for figuring out who the customer is and what is important to him or her. This is a great start, but it only tells part of the story.
To grasp how prospects act in the real world, you’ve got to find a way to put that prospective buyer in motion. The buying process never stands still: There’s always something happening, even if some of it is "behind the scenes."
The buyer's journey is where that movement happens.
What Is the Buyer's Journey?
In theory, the buyer's journey includes everything from the moment the prospect knows there’s a problem that needs to be solved until shortly after they complete a purchase.
To turn the buyer's journey into a practical tool for planning marketing campaigns, you need to see it in terms of three stages.
What Are the Buyer's Journey Stages? Questions for Each
The three stages of the buyer's journey break down to awareness, consideration, and decision.
No matter how complicated the buying process gets—what websites they check, how many options they compare, or whether they ask for advice from random people that they know—all prospects will reach these three milestones.
Let’s look at the steps and some core questions to ask for each one.
Awareness starts when the prospect realizes there’s a problem he or she should address.
It could be a big, complex business problem – like ensuring end-to-end tracking for components throughout the supply chain. Or, it could be a simple and personal problem: Not being able to fall asleep at night despite being tired.
When awareness strikes, most modern consumers go online right away.
Everyone knows that when they want to solve a problem or answer a question, the web provides them with unparalleled resources. In fact, the vast majority of purchases start with a generic search stating the problem as the prospect understands it.
At this stage, they’re a lot more interested in figuring out what’s going wrong than they are in looking at their specific options for fixing it. They’re likely to click on whatever content seems to be relevant, only evaluating the quality of the source after reading.
Awareness lasts for about as long as it takes the person to define the problem in specific terms. Once they have better words for describing what they’re dealing with, they’ll move on to the next phase. Luckily, this is usually obvious from a marketer’s perspective.
Why? Their search queries start to use more domain-specific language. That is, they start to apply the jargon that goes with their problem.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- How do people first discover they have a problem we can help with?
- What terms are they likely to use when they first notice the problem?
- What sources—online or offline—will they go to for reliable input?
- What misunderstandings are they likely to have on the subject?
- What knowledge gaps will they have that need to be filled?
- What kinds of content are prospects most likely to pay attention to?
The consideration phase begins when the problem has been defined.
Imagine you come from an alternate universe where the common cold is, well, uncommon. You could have all the regular symptoms—coughing, sneezing, congestion, and more—and not know exactly what the problem is. What’s more, you’d be bound to encounter many alternative explanations of your symptoms that wouldn’t help you at all.
Once you have the weird, specialized word "cold," you can drill deeper. And that’s exactly what people in the consideration phase are doing.
They know they have a problem, and now they want to know how they can solve it. This usually means starting to gather a list of potential actions they could take, which, in any situation more complicated than scratching an itch, usually means learning about vendors who can help.
But they’re not just learning about the different companies that offer solutions to their challenge.
They’re also establishing buying criteria, ways of knowing what kind of outcomes they should expect, and what features they need in a solution. If you’re buying a certain category of goods or services for the first time, this information is absolutely essential.
Smart marketers can help prospects go straight from awareness to consideration without ever leaving their own website. They do it with helpful, informative inbound marketing content that guides the user through the buyer's journey stages seamlessly.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- What solutions are prospective buyers likely to gravitate towards first?
- What are the major advantages or benefits compelling to buyers?
- What are the major concerns or disadvantages that put buyers off?
- What factors persuade a buyer that a solution is right for them?
- Who do buyers trust when it comes to the topic the solution is related to?
In the decision phase, prospects know what type of solution they need. They’re clear about their buying criteria.
They even have a list of potential vendors. However, that list isn’t likely to be exhaustive. It consists mostly of companies that have helped in the journey so far.
Now, they apply the buying criteria to make a final decision on what to buy.
This can be the shortest and easiest step, or it could drag on seemingly forever. In large, complex decisions affecting a whole enterprise, stakeholders might revisit the inputs to the decision stage many times – and even retreat into the other two steps temporarily.
Content at this stage should show buyers not just why your solution works, but why it will work for them. That means social proof like testimonials and case studies, thought leadership content, on-site demonstrations, and discovery sessions.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- What helps one solution stand out from another?
- What kind of “proof” are prospects looking for?
- Who needs to be involved in the final decision?
- What pre-implementation preparation is needed?
- Why should buyers choose my solution?
- Is there a next step after the sale is completed?
- How can I delight my buyers?
Remember, any buyer behavior fits within the three-step buyer's journey. Keep your process simple and streamlined by laser-focusing on them and you’ll see how they consistently clear things up. That leads to repeatable planning processes for new products and new personas in the future.
How to Define Your Company's Buyer's Journey
Defining this journey for your company requires some reflection and critical thinking. You need to break your journey up into three stages and describe exactly what your prospects go through.
Follow along with these simple steps.
1. Dig Into What Your Buyers Do During the Awareness Stage.
The end goal for your prospects at this point in their journey is to research the symptoms they're having and actually attribute a name to their problem. You should brainstorm the following points:
How buyers describe goals and challenges
How buyers educate themselves
Consequences of inaction
Common misconceptions buyers have
How buyers decide on priorities
This exercise will help you lay out all the information you need to know when you're building a targeted marketing strategy.
2. Step Into Their Shoes for the Consideration Stage.
Next, you want to step into your prospects' perspectives while they're assessing different solutions they want to pursue. Fill out the following points:
Categories of solutions that buyers research
How buyers learn about each category
How buyers assess advantages
How buyers evaluate disadvantages
Deciding factors for finding the right category
By filling out this table, you're gaining a good perspective on how they narrow down their options. When your prospects narrow it down to categories of solutions, they're ready to move onto the decision stage.
3. Hone In On How Buyers Decide to Purchase From You.
Finally, you're ready to learn how your prospects think as they advance toward making a purchase.
Buying criteria buyers apply to all solutions
Aspects buyers like and dislike about your solutions, as compared to your competitors
Expectations for engaging with your solutions before they make a final decision
People involved in the buyer's decision-making process and how each of their perspectives may differ
Additional preparations buyers need to make after purchasing from you.
When you're at the finish line with prospects, you can really feel the pressure of delivering the right messaging at the right time and in the right way. These details you fill out can help you guide them toward making the right decision for themselves and for you.
4. Put It All Together.
After filling out the buyer's journey details, you need to look at it in its entirety.
This way, you can trace their steps from when they first started expressing symptoms to finally deciding on a solution. And hopefully, that solution comes from you.
When you put all this information together, you gain a strong understanding of how they move through each stage. By learning how they progress, you can identify marketing tactics that help guide them through each stage in an efficient way.
By bringing this information together, you're able to distribute it to your marketing and sales teams and get everyone on the same page. They can learn how to provide value at each stage and nurture them along the journey.
The best way to put it all together is by adding all your information to a buyer's journey template.
Buyer's Journey Template
Download the Bluleadz Buyer's Journey Template to put all your information together in one place. Get your marketing, sales, and customer service teams involved with filling this out.
Every team has great insights on how your current customers find you and make purchases from you. Once you finalize this document, distribute it throughout your company.
This is a great resource for everyone because it gives you opportunities to identify new touchpoints where you can deliver impactful content.
Download your Buyer's Journey Template here ➡️➡️➡️➡️
One of the best ways to use your buyer's journey is planning your content marketing strategy.
How the Buyer's Journey Plays Into Your Content Marketing
A big part of content marketing is determining what kinds of content your target audience needs and when they need it. This comes down to context.
You can plan your content marketing and deliver contextual educational content at the right touchpoints. You need to develop a content map.
With content mapping, your aim is to deliver the right content to the right people at the right time. You know the right people by targeting your buyer personas.
Then, based off of your persona, you can develop content ideas that address their specific needs at the awareness, consideration, and decision stages of their buyer's journey.
The buyer's journey stages align with the concept of the marketing funnel – top of the funnel (TOFU), middle of the funnel (MOFU), and bottom of the funnel (BOFU).
Source: Single Grain
As you can see, there is a lot of opportunity for developing awesome content ideas for each buyer's journey stage.
Your awareness level content (the TOFU stage) is generating awareness for your brand. With consideration content (MOFU), you help your audience with research and comparisons of potential solutions.
Finally, the decision stage content (BOFU) highlights what you have to offer, trying to show them how your solution best fits them.
Ultimately, this process of guiding prospects through the buyer's journey stages requires a lot of time and resources. Once you build a targeted strategy, you're well-equipped to turn curious prospects into happy customers.