Oftentimes, when we visualize the perfect buyer’s journey, we’re looking at it from a marketer’s perspective, imagining what we’re trying to achieve with our initiatives. But, ultimately, the definition of the perfect journey is in the eye of the buyer. The buyer doesn’t really care about your programs, your channels or what technologies you’re using, they’re just trying to get enough information to make a purchase decision.
We recently spoke to Integrate CMO Deb Wolf about the perfect buyer’s journey and the obstacles marketing teams face when trying to deliver the ideal customer experience. In the lightly-edited conversation below, you’ll find Wolf’s specific tips for building connections between siloed channels, technologies and teams, as well as the reasons why this is so important today.
Q. As a B2B buyer yourself as well as a seasoned marketer, could you share your thoughts on the perfect buyer’s journey?
A. When we buy marketing technology or services as a customer, we want to understand the mission of the company we’re doing business with, we want to understand their products and their functionality. We want to understand which customers actually use their solutions and what value they gain from them.
There’s a natural progression of the information customers are looking for and it’s not linear. Just like any B2B purchase, we may have 16 to 20 potential people who are involved in the decision process and we all have different needs. My perspective as the approver of the buying decision is different than that of the user of the system. They’re going to look for more details on the functionality, whereas I’m going to look for more value. And what procurement needs, or our privacy people or security people need, are entirely different than what we need as the users.
So tailoring the experience to whoever it is that’s looking for information about your company is what makes it perfect for that buyer. As marketers, we need to treat our buyers the same way we’d want to be treated.
Where are we failing to make connections?
Q. Can you describe some of the different silos that we see in marketing today that prevent us from delivering the ideal buyer journey?
A. Silos tend to exist across four different areas in marketing: channels, technology, data and your own team. They’re ultimately interwoven, but I think it really starts with the teams and the way in which we work.
Marketing teams have many specialists and few generalists. Event marketers plan events. Demand generation professionals drive leads. PR folks have been focused on earned media. And few, if any, of those marketers are looking at that entire buyer or account journey.
We don’t really have a role within the marketing organization whose job it is to build a horizontal buyer’s journey. That has to be done through a collaboration across teams in order to create the experience we’re trying to provide. There are few people who are really thinking about the impact that the entire experience leaves on our potential customers.
If we think about our demand channels as swim lanes — with each different specialist area in its own lane — it seems like sometimes our teams are in a race against each other. Everyone wants to be the first to have a conversation with the customer, the first to get credit for driving the lead, etc.
Nine times out of ten what you’ll hear from marketers is they have this desire to delight the customer with the right content in the right channel at the right time. And they can describe what they think of as the ultimate buyer’s journey. But they lose their way when it comes to executing it.
There’s so much technology involved. That’s one of the other challenges. Each of those channels is associated with a different part of the marketing technology stack. Many marketing organizations can have upwards of 50 to 60 different pieces of technology in their stack today.
When you ask a marketer what’s core to their system, they’ll tell you it’s a marketing automation system. But they’ll also tell you that their comms team is using a different piece of technology to monitor coverage, their event organizers have technology they use for registering people at events and scanning badges on the floor.
The biggest challenge is all of the data that this technology creates. Data comes from all of those different siloed technology channels, and campaigns and, at the end, a marketing operations person has the goal of trying to make sense of it all.
When we think about all of these silos, you can sum them up as the way your team operates, the technology from which they’re operating, the channels across which they’re driving, and then, ultimately, the data that it creates.
How did we get here?
Q. So how do you think we got here? How did we get into this position where we have all these silos?
A. My theory is that we have a lot of high performing marketers that are just driven to succeed — it’s one of the natural traits that you see across the marketing persona in any of the different areas that we’ve talked about.
So, typically what happens is you end up having a marketer who thinks: “My job is to do this. I have budget aligned to do this. And, ultimately, I live in a world where I’m heads-down on trying to accomplish that thing, so I can be successful.”
Part of this disconnect between disciplines stems from marketing teams being decentralized — they could live in business units, they could be regionally based, and now we’re all living remotely. So the discussions that used to happen over a water cooler don’t even happen over a water cooler anymore. I think this starts with our teams, and how we align work and think about getting work done.
Q. That makes a lot of sense. So what are the consequences of this situation for the buyer?
A. When I think about these poor buyers, they’re really focused on one thing and one thing only, and that’s finding the right solution for the problem they’re trying to solve.
In the past, a traditional B2B sales engagement had buyers working one-to-one with the salesperson and it was very personalized. Salespeople would answer questions and get buyers the kind of information they needed. But now, marketing has filled in a lot of that space.
But so many times, we are not providing buyers with the kind of information they want, which means that, ultimately, they’re not going to believe in our brand. This is a brand experience from the moment they start looking at your organization. And if you can’t provide them with a great customer experience, I’m not sure that they think you’re going to be a very good vendor for them to deal with.
A lot of B2B buyers today have become highly consumerized. They expect the B2B buying process to be like the B2C buying process, only it’s not. When you look at B2C and you think about how advanced we’ve gotten in understanding the buying needs of the consumer, then you try to mirror that in the account needs or the B2B buyer needs within a larger decision-making process, I think we’ve failed the buyer altogether. Ultimately, it leaves a bad taste in their mouth and a bad first impression of your brand.
First steps toward building necessary connections
Q. So, do you think marketers want to break down those silos that are causing these disconnects?
A. I do. When you ask marketers what they’re trying to achieve today — and we just did some research in the August timeframe — the one thing they’ll tell you is that they have more data than they know what to do with. They say: “Don’t give us more data; we have data coming out of every part of every piece of technology that we have. How can you help us piece that data together?” A better buying experience, that’s what we’re really trying to do. We’re trying to get as much information to those buyers as we can, so that we provide them with that optimal experience.
Most marketers are pretty brand savvy, so they want the relationship that a potential customer has with their organization to be very positive. But what’s holding them back are these organizational structures that we talked about, the technology that we talked about, and this mindset that focuses on single channel execution.
Rather than thinking “I’m driving this campaign or event or webinar” they need to think “I’m part of this customer journey. I need to help the customer achieve what they want to achieve.” And that requires a lot more work cross-functionally to bring technology together in a place where you can actually understand the performance of specific campaigns and activate an omni-channel buyer’s journey. It’s only then that you can provide those buyers with the next best thing to do. When you’re pulling so much data out of so many different types of technology, it’s hard to activate anything and move them along the funnel.
A new definition of success
Q. So how can marketers begin to break through? What are the steps that they need to take?
A. First, this is about getting your data together and really understanding who you’re even marketing to. If you have incomplete or inaccurate data from any of these different campaigns, and we get a lot of that, that’s the first problem you need to solve.
I think a lot of marketers are dealing with marketing databases that are somewhere in the range of 40% marketability — meaning that only 40% of the records have all of the information you’d want to know about a buyer in order to be able to market to them. If you don’t have all that, if you have incomplete and inaccurate data, that’s no way to make a first impression.
Nobody wants to get an email or an invitation to an event that says “Dear D. Wolf.” What about my first name? It’s so impersonal. That kind of information is key as a first step in starting off a great customer journey.
Q. What excites you about the opportunities for a great buyer’s journey?
A. One of the most important and interesting things about what’s going on in marketing teams today is the future of marketing work. What are the roles that we don’t have today that will be more focused on the entire buying journey? You’ve seen this with things like account based marketing. Five years ago, we didn’t have an account-based marketing manager — that title did not exist in a marketing team.
And today, you’re starting to see roles that originate maybe in demand gen, but really touch an integrated function across all of the different channels that we’re using today. That’s one of the super exciting things I’m seeing. What is it going to mean for the future of our teams and the future of people that are just coming into marketing today?
Perhaps it won’t have occurred to them to think about marketing more from a specialist standpoint and they’ll asking questions like:
- How do our top-of-funnel demand marketers expand their efforts into mid funnel?
- How do they use all their channels to digitally nurture?
- How do they quit thinking about email as the one way to get in front of their prospects and move them along the funnel?
- How do we use things like intent data and the buying signals that buyers are giving us? Today, we score these leads based on who the person was and what they did, but this is just two dimensional scoring based on what the marketer thinks.
- How can we start using the signals the buyer is giving us to actually point us toward how these campaigns should be run — to infuse more intelligence into what we’re doing from a marketing standpoint?
Those are all super exciting because we’re going to have to conquer and figure out and understand and experiment with our marketing and see where we go.
Q. It seems like one of the challenges might be the psychology of that very driven specialty marketing person who really wants success and wants all the budget to come to their area.
A. Today, we KPI our employees based on a lot of output, like “how many events did you complete? How much press did you get? How many demand campaigns did you run?” But what we’re really more interested in is the outcome.
You can’t look at the outcome in one single channel; the outcome is a revenue-based outcome for the organization. And so you have to look at all of it together, and it shouldn’t be done retrospectively, as it is today. Today, you’ll have a marketing ops person who takes all these different channels and pulls them together to get some picture of what actually happened in this account that closed.
Instead, we should be looking at marketing success metrics like how many accounts we got to and what the outcomes were across those accounts. How many new buyers did we bring in? How did we expand business? These are new outcomes that you can’t answer just by looking at channels or technology. You have to change the mindset of the marketer.