How much of their buying journeys have your leads traveled on their own before you and your sales team even know they’re there? Figures range from 50 to 60 percent – higher in some industries – but that statistic is unintentionally misleading. It suggests your leads are wandering through a wilderness before they encounter you and that once they do find you, they follow the straight and narrow path you’ve laid out for them. Marketing automation technology has shown just how oversimplified that metaphor is in the digital realm.
In fact, the buying journey for many leads is less like an epic narrative from humble origins to the lofty destination and more like an anthology of short stories linked together by a common theme. Your prospects interact with you in a host of different ways throughout their buying process. Their initial impression might come from a banner ad or paid search, and they may return to and move away from you and your content multiple times over the course of their decision-making process. That increasingly complex relationship is why marketing automation is quickly becoming an essential component of a marketing strategy.
How They Buy
Most B2C sales involve only a single decision-maker or at most a small number of people with roughly equal influence. B2B sales are an entirely different animal, often involving multiple layers of authority in a hierarchical arrangement. Understanding more about how these buyers arrive at their decisions is critical to guiding them along the way.
In general, buyers fall into one of three categories:
- The Committee – When decision-makers at one level of authority must go through multiple layers at managerial and executive levels before making a purchase, these are Committee buyers. The sales cycle with these buyers can be a good bit longer than it is for other prospects. Committee decision-making is more common among large firms, government departments, and non-profit organizations.
- The Consensus Seekers – Groups that have about the same buying authority but must reach agreement about their choices are consensus seekers. More prevalent among mid-sized firms and private-sector buyers, prospects who want to achieve consensus with the other decision-makers in their organization have more variability in the length of their sales cycle.
- The Independent Thinkers – Sole proprietors, executives with significant authority, and department heads with a high degree of decision-making latitude may make some buying decisions unilaterally.
How Buyers Differ
No matter how persuasive your marketing campaigns are, if they aren’t reaching the people who satisfy budget, authority, need, and timeline qualifications, they won’t make an impact. Committee buyers have a deep understanding of their organization’s needs and timeline, but they don’t hold the purse strings; they want content they can take back to those in authority to build their case. Independents, meanwhile, have ultimate authority and full knowledge of their budget but might need to know more about how a product or service offers a solution to their needs.
For all types of B2B customers, the buying journey is often episodic. They dip into and out of your content at will to gather the information that’s most relevant to them, so it’s important to know what kinds of knowledge they need so you can supply it – sometimes even before they know they want it.
Here’s where marketing automation comes in.
With marketing automation technology, you get a picture of a prospective buyer not just as an individual, but as part of the organization. With an understanding of the kinds of content your buyer needs and the level of contact that can best help them make necessary buying choices, you’re able to keep each of them informed at the optimal level. Your marketing automation system can send buyers down different nurture streams, supplying committee buyers with downloadable white papers they can bring to their C-level executives and giving independent prospects how-tos and webinars that demonstrate value directly.
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