By Perry Rearick, Chief Editor, Follow Your Buyer
Last year, B2B companies allocated over 26% of their marketing budgets to technology and Forrester estimates that over $25billion will be spent globally on marketing automation technology alone in 2023.1 What that tells me is that many of us will be embarking on our own buyers’ journeys in the next year or two.
The marketing technology landscape is vast, complex, and ever-changing. It poses a challenging buyer’s journey for us. If we are intentional and thoughtful throughout our journey, we will not only find technology solutions that deliver better outcomes for us, but we will also gain a deeper understanding of the buyers’ journeys navigated by our own prospects and customers.
I’m guessing that most of us have expressed an interest in marketing technology by clicking on a helpful sounding headline only to be showered by product pitches as though we were ready to buy. When sellers misinterpret our interest as intent to buy, we can find ourselves in a product demo before we are ready. When this has happened to me, not only was I frustrated, but so was the seller.
Let’s wade into the marketing technology landscape by applying a buyer’s journey model established in the book Selling to the C-Suite2. Authors Nicholas Read and Stephen Bistritz describe the buyer’s journey in three stages—early, middle, and late. Simple, I know, that’s why I like it!
Stage One: Understand Current Issues, Establish Objectives, Set Strategy
The best sales and marketing professionals intentionally and routinely spend time in stage one of the buyer’s journey. And even though it is called the early buyer’s journey, we really aren’t buyers, not yet anyway. Given the fast-paced development of marketing technology, it is prudent to dedicate time to understand current technology capabilities and marketing best practices.
This early stage of the buyer’s journey is a combination of looking internally for opportunities to improve and externally for insights from thought leaders and experts. A great external resource for building early buyer’s journey understanding is MarTech, a non-profit organization that shares content and experiences to educate marketers on technology. They publish a number of valuable intelligence reports each year that are well-researched and unbiased.
Still in stage one, the next step of our buyer’s journey is to establish objectives. By objectives, I mean outcomes, not activities. A good way to state them is task and purpose. For example: we will adopt an account-based marketing (ABM) model to achieve a 20% growth in sales in the next year. Notice, we’re not talking about buying anything yet.
The third step of the early buyer’s journey is to set the strategy. This is when we begin identifying what we will do, and the resources required to support our objectives. Using the ABM example, this may include territory re-organization, training for both the marketing and sales teams, a new content development plan, more content creation capabilities, an adequate understanding of ABM, potentially new technology, and a supporting budget.
Stage Two—Explore Options, Set Vendor Criteria
Stage two of the buyer’s journey is when we first start seeing ourselves as potential buyers but is still largely done without any direct input from a seller. A good way to begin the stage is to review the resources needed as outlined in our strategy and consider all our options. This often boils down to determining if we can develop the needed capabilities internally or must seek the solutions from outside our organization. We must also weigh the costs, not just money, but time, human resources, and risks to accomplishing our objective.
Let’s look at an example that is more likely to result in us investing in additional technology. According to a recent McKinsey and Company report, the best performing B2B companies are using analytics in support of their marketing and sales operations resulting in sales that are 5% higher than those who don’t. B2B companies, unlike their B2C counterparts, are lagging in their adoption of commercial analytics technology.3
As we explore options, we conclude that developing this capability ourselves is too difficult and we must seek a solution outside our organization. We also likely learned in stage one of our buyer’s journey that effective analytics require integration with technology we already use, our CRM and marketing automation tools. In exploring options, we may consider a customized or off-the-shelf solution and we will set vendor criteria based on how well the technology capabilities align with our strategy and objectives.
Stage Three—Examine Alternatives, Implement Solution, Measure Results
Doing a thorough job in stages one and two, sets us up for a great stage three when we are ready to speak with vendors, participate in demos, and assess solutions. Critical for selecting the right solution is keeping our criteria top of mind when speaking with vendors.
During this stage we’ll gain a sense of what it will be like to work with the vendor(s) as we implement the solution. What does the onboarding process look like, is new user training included, how disruptive will it be? It is not unusual to identify two or more sellers that meet our criteria. With all things being equal, it may simply come down to price at this point.
The final, and ongoing, step of the buyer’s journey is to measure results. The seller of new technology may be able to help too, especially for complex on-boarding that takes more time. It is important at this stage to measure the results of our buy against the original objectives established in stage one. Too often we forget about our original objectives and adjust our expectations to the outcomes we are achieving.
Many of us will be embarking on our own buyer’s journey over the next two years in search of marketing technology that will help us achieve better results, operate more efficiently and effectively, and perhaps grow our business. And we will use some form of the buyer’s journey outlined here.
Our prospects are taking the same journey! But so many of us focus only on stage three of the buyer’s journey when the chances of competing head-to-head with another equally qualified vendor are more likely.
Consider for a moment what was helpful and valuable at each stage of our own buyer’s journey. If a vendor had published an unbiased article that helped grow our understanding of the marketing technology landscape, wouldn’t we have found it valuable in stage one of our journey? And what if the same vendor created additional content that helped us through each step of our journey? Rather than examining several equally qualified vendors, we may have gone with a single trusted source.
- MarTech Intelligence Report. B2B Marketing Automation Platforms: A Marketer’s Guide, MarTech Intelligence Reports: Guides for buying marketing technology
- Nicholas Read and Stephen Bistritz. (2009). Selling to the C-Suite. McGraw-Hill Education.
- McKinsey and Company. B2B commercial analytics: What outperformers do. Warren Davis, Ryan Gavin, Sinem Hostetter, and Wilson McCrory, December 2021. B2B commercial analytics: What outperformers do | McKinsey