Is the “Buyer’s Journey” still relevant in B2B marketing?

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It's been a long-held framework for managing communications in a defined sales cycle, but does that need to change?

The buyer’s journey has been a long-held framework for managing communications in a defined sales cycle, moving a prospect from awareness to purchase. However, in today’s information rich world we’re starting to see less relevance in the concept of specific journeys that prospects move predictably along.

We’re not saying there is no longer a buyer’s journey – prospects still need to first be aware of your products and services before they do their own research and choose if or when to engage with you on a sales level. What we are saying is that journey itself is no longer as predictable as it used to be. There are more paths than ever for a prospect to work their way along and our ability to control that journey through marketing tactics and content is fast disappearing.

This has resulted in a few changes to the way lead nurture programs should be designed and managed. The old concept of a step-by-step program, built on a number of assumptions, with predefined start and end points, no longer holds true. This is due to a few factors:

  • It’s difficult to predict at what stage on the journey a prospect is when they first engage with your content/program
  • It’s unlikely the prospect will consume content in your predicted order and funnel stages, resulting in you not being able to accurately control their path
  • You don’t know what content each person will read, or what is of interest to them until you’ve been nurturing them for a while
  • In the early days of lead nurturing you’re typically unaware of how a prospect fits into their organisation’s buying process, and what role they play.

With this in mind, we feel a nurture program needs to be designed around an ongoing exchange of value rather than a specific buyer’s journey, ensuring that what is being shared is highly relevant and high quality, regardless of length or format. In return, prospects are then more likely to engage with you, providing return value such as completing surveys, forms, coming to events, etc., which allows you to continue to improve the relevance and value.

How does this change the way a nurture program is organised?

With this in mind, the core objective from a nurture shifts from trying to move people along a defined pathway to driving a positive relationship that keeps the brand top of mind. It’s a subtle shift, but the overall outcome is the same – when purchase decisions do eventually start being made, you’re in the consideration set.

To achieve this, we feel you should be defining your nurture programs around two key concepts:

  • An “on-ramp” program where any new prospects are first put into a short automatic nurture with 3-4 touches, each driving to a carefully selected asset that builds that initial awareness and trust in your brand. The objective is to provide value right from the start while also attempting to quickly identify those prospects that are ready to buy, converting them to a sales lead. Once they’ve finished this on-ramp program, they flow into an ongoing program.
  • This ongoing “point-in-time” program is where all prospects join at its current point (not at the start of the program), moving forward at the same pace as all the existing prospects in the program.

The point-in-time nurture then becomes more of a cyclical program where we focus on educational content for the most part, but occasionally bring the communication back around towards more action/intent-based content such as offers, invites and surveys, etc. In this way, it’s easier to manage the content calendar, take advantage of any market opportunities that arise and keep the content highly relevant and fresh.

If you’d like us to have a look at the way you’ve structured your current lead nurture program and provide some feedback and guidance on how it could be improved, get in touch.