By Steve Hall
When Dorothy set off on her journey to Oz her goal was clear and her path was clearly marked by a Yellow Brick road.
Along a journey of many stages she gathered allies, overcame obstacles, faced setbacks, showed determination and courage and eventually achieved her goal of returning home.
Like Dorothy, buyers have journeys but there's no Yellow Brick road. Digital buyer's journey theory states that there are three stages to the journey - awareness, consideration and decision. By providing buyers with relevant collateral - research, white papers, webinars, case studies - at each stage of the journey B2B companies can use digital marketing to map the buyer's journey and to create leads with little or no human intervention.
Both journeys, of course, are fantasies. But while we know the Wizard of Oz is just a story many companies believe - and spent a lot of money on - the digital marketing fable.
Unlike the Wizard of Oz, which bears little resemblance to real life, there are parts of the buyer's journey that are real. But anyone believing that a company buying high value items follows a simple, linear journey is as deluded as a six year old looking for the Yellow Brick road in their back garden.
Companies don't buy things. People who work for companies buy things. Or to be more exact, people who work for companies want to solve business problems. In order to solve their problems they sometimes have to buy things. The problem comes first, the solution and sale follow.
A company's buyer's journey involves many people, each with their own perspective and, at least to some extent, their own agenda. Different people with different ideas are involved at different times. If it's a big purchase the CEO, various Heads of Departments, CIO or Head of IT, the CFO, end users, technical specialists and risk assessors may all be involved in various stages of the journey.
The first step begins when a business problem becomes apparent. It continues when the problem becomes painful enough to warrant immediate action. Senior executives initiate research which is carried out at lower levels and can involve many people. This research identifies potential solutions, develops requirements, helps set budgets and timeframes and the acquisition process follows.
Companies selling B2B need to adapt their sales and marketing activities based on the stage of the buyer's journey, the role of the various people being contacted, the level of relationship and the impact of the business issue.
Such journeys are never simple or linear. They are certainly far too complex for any predetermined digital content delivery mechanism to cover effectively.
Does this mean that B2B companies shouldn't do digital marketing? Not at all. But it means digital marketing needs significant, intelligent human intervention to make it truly effective. And it means that you need to be able to capture and analyse feedback from everyone involved in that journey.
If you want your prospect's buyer's journey to end in a sale you need to navigate the twists and turns in the road and, like Dorothy, you need to adapt to events, outsmart wicked witches, recover from false promises and use digital marketing as a useful tool, not an all-encompassing panacea.
And having a Friendly Lion, a Tin Man and a Scarecrow as friends and allies wouldn't hurt.
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