This article is based on a presentation by Tracy Schlabach, Director of Marketing at Accusoft, at the Masters of Product Marketing in October 2022. At the time of the presentation, she was Head of Marketing at the same company. Catch up on this presentation and others, using our OnDemand service.
Back in 2018, Gartner ran a survey to uncover the secrets of the buyer's journey. They learned that buyers got approximately 60% of the way to a purchasing decision before they engaged with the sales department.
Fast forward to 2021, they redid the survey and found that buyers were now 80% of the way through the purchasing decision before they spoke to a salesperson.
That leaves precious little time for the sales team to influence their choice. We fully expect that trend to continue, and that means your marketing and your brand are more important than ever.
In this article, I'll focus on:
- The typical buyer's journey,
- Getting to know your sales prospects,
- Multiple personas in the purchasing process,
- Building buyer personas,
- Putting the knowledge to work,
- The buyer’s journey, and
- Tracking persona engagement.
The typical buyer's journey
Let’s start by taking a look at a typical buyer’s journey today.
Step one: Identification
This is the point at which a company identifies and decides to invest in a solution in order to reach its goals.
As an example of the kind of timeframe you could be looking at here, my company just decided to replace its existing CRM with Salesforce; between discussions about how the old CRM was not meeting our needs and the resolution to invest in a new solution, this step took over a year.
Step two: Research
Once potential customers have identified a problem and decided they need to spend some money to solve it, they enter the research phase, where they gather information on all the potential solutions they could invest in.
Step three: Intent
Next, customers compare the data they’ve gathered on potential solutions to figure out which solution is going to meet not only their needs but also their budgets.
Step four: Purchase
From there, they make the decision to buy. Now it’s time to negotiate prices, payment timeframes, and so on.
Step five: Implementation
Finally, once customers have signed on the dotted line, the solution needs to get ramped up and launched so that the entire company can use it.
This process, from identification to being ready to implement the solution takes, on average, about 20 months.
In 2018, your sales department had about eight of those 20 months to influence the decision. By 2021, that had dropped to only four months. That means that today, more than three-quarters of the buyer’s journey has to be led by marketing.
Getting to know your sales prospects
For marketing to guide the buyer’s journey, it has to know what makes the buyers tick.
That’s where persona research comes in. There is a ton of categories that you're going to want to ask about – everything from demographics to pain points to buying criteria.
For each category, the Product Marketing Alliance has provided a nice long list of questions to ask your prospects in order to understand them.
I'm sure you’re wondering where in the world we start with all this. My first piece of advice is to look at the categories and assess them. You want to make sure that the questions you ask your buyers relate to your business, so be sure to customize them to reflect what's important.
Once you've identified the categories that you want to understand, it’s time to evaluate the questions.
There's a laundry list of questions for each category, so you need to prioritize the most important questions for your company, product marketing team, and marketing department. Then, you'll see the list go from 20–30 to 10–15 questions for each category – a much more manageable number.
Now it’s time to interview your current customers. They’ve already gone through the buying process, so who better to talk to? Pick up the phone, set up an interview, and start walking through those questions. You'll be amazed at what you learn.
Multiple personas in the purchasing process
Once you've started interviewing your customers, you might find that there are multiple personas involved in the buying process. A few key personas are the decision-maker, the evaluator, the influencer, and the champion. You also have the person that holds the purse strings and your end user to consider.
So why is this important? Well, you're going to find that different personas engage at different points along the buyer’s journey.
Your evaluator might be engaging early on in that journey because they have been tasked with figuring out what solutions are out there. They might be signing up for product trials so they can evaluate which solution is going to be best for their company.
These personas are not set in stone. For instance, depending on how the trial process goes, the evaluator might become your champion and evangelize your product to the rest of the buyers involved in the process.
At Accusoft, we sell to a developer market. Our evaluators are developers. Our influencers are developers. Our champions are developers too. If you have a developer audience, they can embody several personas in the buyer's journey, and the decision-maker is usually their manager or the executive above them.
Building buyer personas
Now that you’ve interviewed your customers and figured out who is involved in your buyer’s journey, it’s time to take all that information and amalgamate it into a persona that’s representative of your ideal buyer.
You're going to do this for each persona involved in your product’s buying process. Let’s look at an example.
This is Abigail. She’s a software developer aged 25 to 35 and she plays an influencer role in the buying process. You can see her likes, dislikes, challenges, and what motivates her. You can also see where she goes to research and learn about products.