The past few years, and most notably the COVID-19 pandemic, have brought significant change to the buyer’s journey and customer experience. People now expect more from brands: a more seamless bridge between digital and in-person interactions and deeper, more authentic brand-customer relationships.
As businesses realign their operations for a post-pandemic world, they must revisit their buyer’s journeys to reassess how the sales and marketing process intersects with them. Importantly, companies must consider the relationship they nurture with customers after a sale. Companies that neglect to consider retention, advocacy, and loyalty strategies will miss out on significant brand building and revenue opportunities.
In this month’s virtual panel, we interviewed Authentic Brand Fractional CMOs Barb Bertsch, Daneen Kiger, and Kris Paulson to learn more about the critical role marketing plays in defining the buyer’s journey and facilitating connection along it. The fractional CMOs shared advice about how businesses can better support prospects along their journey, increasing conversion and forming lasting customer relationships.
1. What advice would you give to growing businesses trying to understand their buyer’s journey better and identify opportunities to support buyers more effectively?
Barb: Documenting the buyer’s journey is a foundational element of marketing. Knowing how and why your customers buy from you helps marketers understand how to best target them and helps sales know how to best interact with them. It’s also an effective tool to determine what messaging is needed to grab customers’ attention and drive their actions further down the funnel toward consideration, eventually leading to a decision to purchase.
If marketing clearly understands the buyer’s journey, they are better equipped to support sales. The same is true for sales. If sales clearly understands what their buyers are thinking and feeling during each stage of their journey, they are better equipped to respond more efficiently, therefore shortening the sales cycle.
Daneen: The buyer’s journey begins with building awareness of your products or service. This means you must activate strong awareness-building marketing activities, including optimized content that shows up in search engines to drive potential customers to your website or strong brand messaging at trade shows to pull them into your booth.
Understanding your buyers’ pain points at every stage helps your business create the right content along the right touchpoints, ultimately helping you to nurture loyal customers. Knowing your audiences and the channels they use will help you establish clear communication with them and build strong, lasting relationships.
Another key opportunity is to build trust with your brand through the content that you create for every stage of the customer journey. Trust is an essential part of the buying decision. According to this Edelman Trust Barometer Report, 81% of global consumers said that they need to be able to trust a brand before they buy from them.
Kris: Having a deep understanding of your customers is critical to any business. Not just who they are, but how they find you and what they need from you. Once you have this insight, you are able to influence them to believe that buying from you is in their best interest.
Your potential customers are finding information way before they reach out to you. You need to be answering questions and providing value at every stage of the buyer’s journey. That means developing content that will help them move in your direction.
Without it, you are losing potential customers you never even knew existed.
2. What lasting impacts has the COVID-19 pandemic had on the buyer’s journey, and how should businesses continue to consider these implications?
Daneen: Prior to COVID-19, most consumers were already gearing up to use technology more readily in their lives. The pandemic fast-forwarded digital transformation into everyone’s lives. Workforces had to be productive in their home offices, and Zoom and Teams calls became the new way sales teams introduced customers to their products. Talk about old schoolers going to a new school and being forced to quickly get used to all the changes at once!
Now the customer wants a digital experience and is expecting seamless transactions and personalized experiences throughout their journey. It’s important to align all customer-facing departments (e.g., sales, marketing, customer service) and ensure they have the tools needed to continue to build trust by listening to customer needs and delivering solutions that meet expectations.
I think one thing that the past couple of years has taught all of us is that we must make adjustments and embrace new strategies and technologies while keeping our customers’ priorities top of mind.
Kris: The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely impacted marketing and sales, but the steps of the buyer’s journey haven’t changed. The difference is that, today, buyers are doing more research online than ever before.
Marketing and sales need to adapt to the buyer’s changing needs. That means organizations must invest in building digital assets in order to remain competitive more than ever before. Online content needs to be a focus area to make sure prospects are able to access the needed information for your organization to gain trust and influence them.
Bottom line: Marketing and sales need to adapt their strategy to align with the needs of the buyer today.
Barb: In a recently published McKinsey article, it was noted that COVID-19 has changed the way B2B buyers and sellers interact:
“B2B companies see digital interactions as two to three times more important to their customers than traditional sales interactions.”
B2B companies need to change their game when it comes to digital. Buyers are exploring companies through multiple digital channels (i.e., omnichannel). We need to react accordingly. Don’t have a chat option? Find one. Not showing up on social media? Might want to reconsider that.
Customers’ preferences for interacting with sales have shifted from phone calls to digital engagement. One of my clients has seen a dramatic shift from sales through outbound calling to communicating more through email and online chat. Plus, they’ve experienced increased engagement with digital advertisements. This client is moving toward structuring their BDR program through much less outbound calling and an increased paid ad spend, more automated email messaging and perhaps even text messaging.
Understanding the buyer’s journey today and having a documented plan to adjust to the new ways in which buyers reach your business has never been more important. Companies need to react quickly to this shift and “show up” differently, meeting customers where they are. Buyers are looking to be a little more self-sufficient and rely less on human interaction.
3. What do businesses often miss with the retention, advocacy, or loyalty stage of the buyer’s journey? How should they think about these stages more strategically?
Kris: We have all heard it a million times: It is less expensive to retain a customer than to acquire a new one. Yet, many businesses continue to focus their resources and dollars on acquisition while efforts to improve retention are neglected.
Every business needs new clients, but it is just as important to retain them. The customer journey doesn’t end with the sale. You’ve done the hard work to acquire them and now you should be working just as hard to maintain and nurture them.
New clients are vital for growth, but if the majority of your focus is around acquisition and you are neglecting your existing customers, customer churn is inevitable. Yes, customer churn will always happen, but it is also manageable.
That’s why you need to find the right balance between the two.
Barb: I couldn’t agree more with Kris. Current customers are low-hanging fruit that should be nurtured and followed up with regularly to strengthen that relationship and drive additional revenue. It’s not unlike maintaining friendships.
What happens after the sale? If sales and marketing are in alignment, there should be a post-sale process developed for all new customers. Whether it be setting up a QBR in 3 months as a follow-up from sales, having marketing put them in a nurturing campaign, or something as simple as setting up a follow-up phone call in a month. How you nurture the relationship should depend on how that end-user customer or client prefers to be communicated with.
Daneen: Now is the time to begin the lifecycle process and start tracking the Customer Lifetime Value (CLV). Part of the lifecycle process is determining how often you will engage customers after the sale. This could be sending an email newsletter, inviting them to a webinar, having customer service call them to make sure the product or service is meeting their expectations, or sending a sales manager to visit them to find out if there are any other opportunities to assist them. You can increase the likelihood that customers share their experiences with others and advocate for your brand if you continue the conversations with them after the sale.
Data is also very useful and important for these stages of the buyer’s journey. Use data as a tool to continue the relationship with the customer. For example, one of my clients used data from their CRM to gather information on customers that 1) hadn’t bought in a long time, 2) bought one product, but not another, and 3) bought a product but not a service. Realizing the opportunities that were sitting in this goldmine of information helped the client define plans to create an even stronger customer experience. Defining the buyer’s journey and identifying opportunities for deeper customer engagement and connection is complex and requires a strategic, holistic lens. Authentic Brand’s Fractional CMOs have mapped journeys for businesses of all sizes and types across various industries. Reach out if you’d like to discuss how our strategic leaders can help your business rethink its buyer’s journey and find new ways to spur growth and nurture customer relationships.
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