Respect the Funnel: Why B2B Marketers Can’t Shortcut the Buyer Journey

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It’s a truism in B2B marketing that every buyer journey is unique and different, but, even then, and especially in the B2B tech space, almost every buyer progresses through 3 basic stages:

1. awareness – becomes aware of the category, solution, or the problem it solves
2. consideration – defines a need and researches/considers potential vendors/solutions
3. decision – chooses which product/solution to purchase

(Models vary – some add “retention” or “loyalty” as a fourth stage.)

If the solution you’re marketing is in a long-established category, a category for which the need and problem solved is broadly accepted, it might be possible to focus demand generation activity on identifying and engaging active buyers in Stages 2 and 3, on the assumption that awareness is already a given.

For example, if you’re in the marketing automation space, you probably don’t need to invest too heavily in convincing potential buyers why they need marketing automation and what problem it solves. You just need to be in the right place at the right time – identifying buyers looking to make a switch and why your product should be in the conversation.

Most tech marketers don’t have that luxury.  Many are solving a problem that is well understood, but solving it in a fundamentally different way.  More still are solving a problem that buyers don’t even know they have, or a problem that buyers simply accept as status quo.  In those cases, and therefore for most tech marketers, generating awareness – through thought leadership, social media, and the like – is a fundamental first step.

But there’s another common thread to B2B tech marketing, and that is a short-term horizon and the pressure to generate results quickly, to “hit our numbers.” It’s in that context that demand marketers at tech companies are often tasked with generating highly qualified leads (i.e. buyers further along in their buying journey) in the shortest timeframe possible. Awareness-building is viewed as a long game, counter to short-term objectives of building pipeline and closing deals.

The result of these pressures is content and campaigns and programs focused on late-stage buyers, buyers ready to engage with sales, buyers who can convert quickly to new customers. Unfortunately, said late-stage campaigns rarely deliver. Here’s why:

* Buyers lack awareness of the vendor, solution, category or the underlying problem
* Sales are engaging with buyers very late in the selling cycle, at which point most buyers have already conducted research and very likely been nurtured or educated by the competition, so close rates are lower
* Late-stage calls to action (demos, trials, talk to a sales rep) only ever appeal to a small subset of the buying audience, so response rates are low and costs per lead are high

Put simply, attempting to shortcut the buyer journey by targeting only those prospects who are ready to engage with sales is expensive and inefficient.

Over the long term (yes, these things take time), the most cost-efficient and productive demand generation programs:

* generate awareness for the brand, solution, and underlying problem
* reach and engage with buyers at all stages of the buying cycle
* nurture and educate early stage buyers, building credibility and brand affinity

Having built this foundation, and a database of potential buyers, marketers can then generate a consistent stream of sales-ready prospects by converting early- and mid-stage leads over time, leads that translate to pipeline and deals at a much higher rate, and at a lower cost.

Bottom line: respect the funnel.  Any attempt to short-cut the buyer journey, to find and engage exclusively with only sales-ready buyers in the pursuit of short-term results, is a recipe for disappointment.

Photo by Brett Patzke on Unsplash

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