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How to design a buyer’s journey – four steps to turning a lead from ‘interest’ to ‘conversion’

Dan Sands

October 06, 2021

As we’ve covered in previous blogs about demand generation, Agent3 views marketing as far more strategic than simply generating form fills for salespeople to wade through, searching out something that might convert.  Taking an account centric view of demand generation and focusing on quality leads that are likely to convert is a far more effective approach to building a more valuable pipeline.

But nurturing a prospect through a buyer’s journey from an initial expression of interest to a point where sales conversion could occur is tough. Especially with the increasing emergence of the self-guided buyer’s journey, a factor accelerated by Covid in the last 18 months. In truth, today, there’s no such thing as a standard B2B buyer journey. Each one requires different touchpoints (both marketing and sales) at different stages. And if the transaction is multi-faceted and high value, then the level of complexity and decision making becomes even greater to both manage and track.  

But marketing must deal with the reality of today’s buying environment and plot a path to success.  So, how do you design a conversion program, and what are the steps you must take to deliver value?  Let’s explore them…

Step 1: Know your audience

Knowing your audience doesn’t mean having a list of people to track and deciding what to say to them in the hope that they’ll buy something, but rather knowing the people you are trying to engage and anticipating their likely needs. Having this deep understanding of what the audience needs will provide you with the best chance of engaging that audience (see also Step 2 – Be A Trusted Advisor) as well as allowing you to ask fundamental questions such as ‘is this even the right audience?’  Or, ‘do we truly have the right message/proposition for this audience?’

All too often marketers jump into program activity itself and lose sight of the bigger picture of ensuring they are reaching the right people with the right message. This manifests itself with lots of marketers being faced with lots of different activity ‘dials’ for their program, which they are then constantly tweaking and optimising as they go along, putting too heavy a focus on doing lots of ‘activity.’

To be successful, designing a nurture program needs to begin with an understanding of who you’re hoping to convert. What are they likely to be able to see? How are they likely to behave? How can you ensure you are anticipating their needs? 

Beginning by building this understanding of your audience’s interests, and how to talk to those interests, will ensure you are putting the right content in front of them, in a language that will resonate with them. Getting this right will allow you to deliver a nurture that will engage the people who are most likely to convert.   

Step 2: Be a trusted advisor

While it won’t be possible to see every signal that a buyer might be sending, once intent has been demonstrated, your job – in either sales or marketing – is to get in front of your target prospect. But that’s not to say ‘what can I sell you?’ rather to say ‘how can I help you?’ As such, this approach ultimately requires skilled Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) who are willing to intervene early, not just to sell, but to help. Indeed, a good SDR is almost part of your nurture process and should add value to the conversation.

As our recent blogpost covered, the buying cycle typically moves from an awareness phase, to evaluation, and finally to a solution, and it’s not until the solution phase that vendors should focus on their products.  Until then, rather than saying ‘hey, we noticed you downloaded something, can I send you some pricing?’ the approach should be to say instead ‘hey, we noticed you downloaded something, what else can I tell you about this area?’ or ‘how else can I help you?’ Remember that, often, the role of the nurture is to inform and educate a buyer or prospect rather than tell them more about a product and, ultimately, you are more likely to close a sale if you can show that you are a trusted advisor.

Step 3: Re-cut the way you think about identifying and engaging with a lead

Consider, for a moment, the sales and marketing alignment in your organization. If sales ask marketing for leads, the tendency is for marketing to jump to it and scrabble for numbers as fast as possible. Little matter that most of the leads will have completed a single action (for example filling a form to get a whitepaper) and typically will not proceed to become customers. It’s no wonder that sales don’t grab these leads with glee! Equally, the all-too-common sales expectation that prospects are queuing up to complete complex profiling forms to declare their readiness to buy, does not reflect the reality. 

So how do we bridge that gap? With the sales development function. 

This critical function should not be what comes after marketing, but rather the trusted advisor that manages the portion of the customer engagement between the prospects’ own research, initial touchpoint with the vendor and full sales conversation.  Businesses need to maximize this role in their buyers’ experience.  Marketers need strategies to maximize the ROI on this role, and their sales bosses need to recognise the critical role they can play in engaging with, and nurturing, leads that are ready to buy now, or that will be ready in the future, rather than black and white qualification.

But how do you do that? As a marketer using account-centric lead generation, chances are you’ve developed an agreed list of accounts that, for a variety of reasons, are likely to be good fits as customers for you.  You know the personas that buy from you.  In this, you are far ahead of the broad brush marketers who rely on looking for individuals in a sea of people to complete multiple actions that you can capture, hoping against hope they happen on your website!  With a more pre-qualified approach, you just need your audience to raise their hand and give you a reason for more advanced (but appropriate) engagement. You’re almost certain they could become a customer, and probably will, either now or in the future. 

Essentially you have a bunch of passive qualifiers, now you need an active one. So if a prospect then completes one or two active indicators – for example, they download a guide to a product category and they have been talking about the same topic on social media – you should have enough validation (and marketing permission) for an SDR to engage in a considered manner. 

If you can bring in another need indicator – such as the downloading of product comparison or confirmation to a telemarketer that they are reviewing their use of a product set – then you can further prioritize engagement.  

In Agent3’s view, the purpose of a nurture in an account-centric world is not so much to expect that people will score highly at every opportunity, but to keep regularly putting relevant content in front of a customer, knowing that they probably won’t see 1 in 3 pieces, but when they do see one and they do engage, you can be confident it was worth the effort to reach out. 

Step 4: Nurture ‘smart’

If we think about nurture as being a tool to get a lead to a point where it’s ready to be engaged with sales then we should look at it in terms of uncovering the people, from an agreed audience, who are most likely to convert, and doing everything we can along the way to help them do so.  

Achieving conversion in an ABM world isn’t always about having a traditional lead scoring model based on what they’ve done in email, which is typically how people still view a nurture model. Email, of course, does play a significant role in the process, but we also need to consider the bigger picture.  So, for example, if an individual has only opened one or two emails, because that’s the reality of modern B2B buying – they get lots of emails – but that person is from the right company, has the right job title and you have the right approach to help them, then it would still be sensible to try to engage that person with the appropriate asset via an appropriate channel, be that a direct personal email, via social media or even by phone.

Think of your ABM nurture as a bingo card where most of the numbers have already been marked, you only need one or two more and you’ve won!

To conclude, marketers need to get away from the notion that, if you put 100 people in the top of the funnel, then 3 weeks later you’ll have 40 people who have clicked 3 emails, opened two of them, downloaded two assets and there are your leads. Sure, the volume game can deliver results but it’s massively inefficient, time consuming and costly. Instead, you need to be thoughtful about your buyer journey, building it on an account-centric basis (i.e putting the audience at the heart of your strategy!) if you want to build a bigger pipeline that is faster to close.

Finally don’t toss out a lead you have engaged with (unless they have explicitly asked you to do so!). Given all the qualifications you have already engaged in, the chances are it’s a “not now” rather than a “not ever.” Use your nurture to continue to engage! 

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