You can tell a lot about a people by the way they cross the road, can’t you? For example, in India, where I live, most people don’t wait to get a clear and open path to the far sidewalk before they decide to cross a street, like you’d see in Singapore for instance. Many folks just need a clear path for the first quarter of the distance before they wade in.
Sometimes, you’ll see that approach reflect in the way ventures are started. The attitude’s less “let’s knock every last nail in”, and more, “we have a general direction, let’s go!”
What’s interesting for marketers, I think, is how this reveals something about the way buyers mentally deal with complexity, and what they says about their decision-thresholds. It answers the question: How much and what type of information do buyers want before they move from stage to stage of the buying cycle?
Here’s another way of looking at it: To the man crossing a street, he just needs enough information to get to the first quarter of the distance. Similarly, IT buyers require just enough, at the exploration stage, to know they aren’t wasting their time.
Remember that argument, it’s critical to the rest of this article.
Unfortunately, this idea runs counter to the way we push information to prospects because of the way we’ve been taught to look at buying stages and funnels.
As a result, (IMHO) many of us B2B technology marketers are potentially failing buyers, especially in that early part in the buying cycle.
Here’s an example: In many B2B technology marketing campaigns, messaging around cost, even for simple solutions, is offered closer to the bottom of the funnel. In fact, many marketers consider a visit to the pricing page as good indicator of readiness to pass on a prospect to inside sales reps. (more on this later)
But buyers don’t work like that.
Many potential buyers will visit a pricing page, as a quick check, to figure out whether the solution is broadly in their budget—so that they can quickly decide if the solution is even worth pursuing.
Unfortunately, based on our current marketing models, this isn’t the way we market. We expect buyers to embrace the complexity of a product/solution and its buying process (licensing etc) from the get-go, (probably because that’s the way engineers sell products and solutions to us.)
Maybe, we should be giving potential buyers just the right amount of information they need at that early stage. Just the right amount of information to decide if they even want to pursue a solution. Think a ball-park figure of cost, or a basic how-it-works.
Let’s call just the right amount of information, an overview.
Once prospects have had an overview, we can then go full bore on them.
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? However, it doesn’t align nicely to the sales funnel we know and love.
A multi-stage sales funnel: Broad at the top, skinny at the bottom. It’s a mental model we B2B technology marketers have employed when visualizing our buyers’ journey. Many funnels have three stages: Awareness, consideration, and evaluation.
Each stage needs to have appropriate content aligned to it, nice and snug.
Here’s an example. You’ll need to imagine you’re a company selling AI solutions to manufacturers (with a focus on job titles/personas who deal with plant operations).
|Stage||Content Idea||What B2B Marketers Suspect Customer Are Thinking, Or Want Them to Think at This Stage of the Funnel|
|Awareness||5 Ways AI Can Improve Key Metrics for Discrete Manufacturers||Hey! I didn’t know you could use AI to predict when a machine on our shop-floor requires service! That can help us lower the costs associated with equipment downtime and equipment repair! Seems worth investigating.|
Auto Component Manufacturer Increased Equipment Uptime and Lowered Servicing
Costs With AI.|
Video: 30 Seconds to Figure Out How AI Can Lower Machine Downtime
|I wish someone would tell me how does this AI thing works—in an easy-to-understand way? I’d also like proof of someone’s that already done used AI for the same purpose I’m envisioning.|
Choose an AI Provider|
3 Things You Must Know If You’re a Manufacturer Planning to Use AI
|Who is offering this AI solution? Is it very complex? Is it something we can buy off-the-shelf or will it take time, money and skills to create? Is it very expensive? What’s a ball park cost?|
There’s a ‘serialness’ built into this model. We believe buyers should start with Awareness content and progress to Evaluation.
Now, ask yourself: In which stage you’d place pricing data? Likely in the Evaluation stage, right?
B2B marketers who believe this, also tend to believe that a lead is only good enough to pass on to inside sales representatives if they’ve engaged with Evaluation content (pricing, trials, etc).
Yet, this isn’t the journey of most buyers.
That’s part of the reason that in real-world sales-led interactions, 6-in-10 buyers want to discuss price during a first call. About same ratio want to see how the product works, also in the first call. Under the traditional marketing funnel, these questions are answered at the evaluation stage and consideration stages, respectively.
More and more enterprise technology marketers realize this. They are finding fault with the ‘serialness’ of this model, and are drawn to the idea of wall-less lifecycle marketing.
Wall-less lifecycle marketing seeks to align the buyer’s journey we have in our heads with a more realistic version. There’s a great article on the idea by Julia McCoy of Marketing Profs Forget the Funnel: Join the Buyer’s Journey With Lifecycle Marketing Instead (registration required)
Here’s a summary of the idea, from Julia’ article: Instead of a single path with only one direction, lifecycle marketing looks at the buyer’s journey as a series of many open pathways. No matter where the buyer starts his or her journey, the directions they can go in are limitless. The lifecycle marketing model matches the unpredictability and freedom of today’s buyers.
In effect, potential buyers can—and do—jump from what we call awareness content, to evaluation content, back to awareness, and then to consideration content–without a second thought to the neat little buckets we made for them (buyers can be so annoying!). Why? Because they’re looking for something we aren’t giving them.
The wall-less lifecycle marketing model better represents the real-world, but it still doesn’t account for our buyers need for an overview.
Most buyers don’t have a lot of time to waste; a technology solution is normally only useful if it solves a problem (the right back-up tool solves the problem of long back-up windows, for example) or allows business or IT to achieve something new (an AI tool that increases plant equipment uptime, for example).
Basically, enterprise IT buyers don’t normally window-shop. If they’re engaging with your brand (reading content, taking free trials, using your live chat function, attending your events, etc), they’re probably trying to achieve something.
Which means they need a quick overview. A quick-and-maybe-a-little-dirty understanding, so that they know they aren’t wasting their time (this becomes more important as enterprise IT decision makers and influencers face an increasing onslaught of marketing).
What constitutes this overview? What questions do potential buyers want answered during the overview period? Here they are:
|What Buyers Want to Know||What Buyers Really Want to Know|
|In 30 seconds, how does it work?||What they’re seeking to understand is: Do I understand the basic underlying technology?|
|What does it cost, ballpark?||What they’re seeking to understand is: Is this roughly in my budget or a budget I think I can access?|
|Give me a quick sense of how easy it is to roll out.||What they’re seeking to understand is how close a roll-out is to a best-case scenario: Does it plug in easily with the way they structure data, with the skills they already have, with their legacy IT environment, and with existing business and IT processes. The less re-tooling required, the faster the adoption rate, and the lower the failure rate. Remember the mental make-up of many IT decision-makers tends to be anti-risk, pro-stable. They want a quick sense of Does it work well with my current data and IT environment? Does it fit my business/IT roadmap?Does it change any of my current business or IT processes?Do I need new skills?|
|Is it easy to use?||What they’re seeking to understand: Is this going to need lots of change management among users?|
|What are others (peers and analysts) saying?||What they’re seeking to understand: Generally, if there are a lot of complaints (like poor reliability), I’m striking this solution/provider off my list.|
|Is it compliant with the law? Does it put us at risk, security-wise?||What they’re seeking to do: I need to cover my basic bases. (Unfortunately, even today, security and compliance tend to be after-thoughts)|
|What’s the post-sales service like?||What they’re seeking to understand: Are we going to be left high-and-dry after we pay? What’s the experience of other IT teams who have bought it?|
The beauty of this question set is that it applies, for the most part, to both technology product or a solution, immaterial of whether it’s simple and affordable, complex and expensive, commoditized or not.
Here’s an example of a MindMap we created for a customer recently, based on this thought process, to help clarify the objectives of the content that needed to be produced. Double click on the boxes below to explore.
And because buyer research will typically go down these vectors, this idea can form the fulcrum of most content strategies. Once you have the content to support these ideas for an overview use, you can then create more detailed content down the same messaging vectors. For example, an overview content for pricing would typically be ranges, for each for a small, medium and large deployment.
In summary, if we B2B technology marketers, could divide marketing campaigns into two segments: Let’s call them Overview and Full Bore, I suspect we would be able to serve our audiences more efficiently and have a more accurate reading of how ready our prospects are to make a purchase.