Prospects are looking and reading online regardless of where they are in their buying process, from just starting to think about it to deep in the throes of their final decision. You have an opportunity to help them--and to be seen as a thought leader and preferred supplier--at every stage of the buyer's journey.
The buyer's journey is simply defined as the research and decision-making process that people go through leading up to making a purchase.
Your content can serve different purposes for different prospects. It depends on where they are along their buyer's journey. If you have properly identified your target personas, you can utilize inbound marketing to plan, produce, and distribute your content to specific prospects at different points along their journey.
As part of the inbound marketing process, we break the buyer's journey into three distinct stages in order to identify the type of content that will best serve prospects at each stage.
This is where the buyer's journey starts. The buyer has realized that they have a problem and they’ve begun seeking information to help solve it. The research they’re doing at this stage is to better understand and define their problem, and to put a name on exactly what it is they are looking for.
A sales manager in a business-software firm is experiencing high staff turnover. He knows it is driving up his costs and driving down his revenue. In the awareness stage, he enters search terms such as high sales staff turnover to begin his research. He finds information on salesperson compensation, on workplace practices that delight employees and encourage them to stay as well as ones that alienate employees and chase them, and he finds material about making better hires so as to reduce turnover. Thinking about his own situation, it strikes him that his turnover problem is likely to be caused by not selecting the right people in the first place. He may bookmark a couple of sites that focus on how to hire better salespeople, and he may subscribe to some blogs on the topic.
Your prospects have done their basic research and have clearly defined their problem or opportunity. Now, in the consideration stage, they’re drilling down. Here’s where the inbound marketer can and should offer premium content, to gather the prospect’s name, contact info, and to provide them with the detailed consideration-stage content they need to move themselves into the next stage of their buyer’s journey.
The more this sales manager reads about talent, the more interested he gets about hiring highly talented salespeople instead of relying so heavily on experience and an impressive resume. He reads more and more, along the way eliminating some potential providers. He is especially interested in one particular company and decides to download their eBook, Recruit Your Next Great Salesperson. Having revealed his identity to that company, a couple of days later they email him an offer to download an intriguing document titled Talent Is Only a Strength When the Fit Is Right.
In this third stage the prospect has narrowed his focus and has more of a due-diligence mentality as he continues to do his research. Here, the inbound marketer offers information that would be irrelevant to a prospect in the awareness stage or perhaps even in the consideration stage of his journey. Looking at our example of that sales manager with the staff turnover problem, now that he is nearing his final decision he downloads a special report, The Sales Talent Interview 2014 Validity Study, that would have been meaningless to him had he studied it earlier.
The buyer’s journey hasn’t changed--but where it takes place has! Before technology turned everything upside down, salespeople were there to answer the prospect’s questions, even to anticipate some of their questions. But now, the buyer is taking much of the journey, 60% or more of it, without a salesperson even being aware of the prospect! So now it’s up to the inbound marketer to put the questions and answers out there for the prospect to find.
But not just any kind of information. Make certain you have information tailored to each of the three stages of the buyer’s journey, so that you’re offering the kind of content that can turn visitors into leads and leads into buyers.