Pipeline Strategies: How to Map Your Customer Buying Process
It is has been calculated that finding new customers costs six to seven times as much as retaining an existing one. Obviously the cost-conscious business will want to keep this as low as possible and the best way to do this is to carefully consider and plan for each step in the buyer’s thought process.
There is also the added importance of relevance. By targeting buyers with information relevant to their needs and position in the sales pipeline, your business will:
Appear more knowledgeable about the topic in hand.
Benefit from providing the information needed to help move the buyer along the pipeline.
Reduce the chances of buyers looking at your competitor’s offerings.
Mapping the pipeline process is essential to better targeting marketing spend and increasing ROI. By building your approach around the following steps, you’ll be able to hone your approach and give your target audience exactly what they need at just the right time.
Top of the funnel: the Awareness Step
When a customer identifies a business need, they immediately begin researching the available options – generally online. Awareness content serves several purposes:
To help buyers find the information they need to answer initial questions.
To help validate the buyer’s concerns about the business need or pain they have.
To help establish your brand as a thought leader in your field of expertise.
To get your marketing right, it is essential to properly understand the thought processes of buyers in the Awareness stage of the pipeline. By doing so, your content is more likely to be relevant to their needs at that point in time. Try to define:
Common questions buyers ask when they identify a need.
What sort of information buyers seek upon discovering they have an unfulfilled need.
Who exactly will be looking for the information – the CEO, CFO, CIO or someone else?
What are the specific needs your buyers have, and how can you address them?
Analysing your previous sales and communications with buyers should reveal the answers to some of these questions. You could also ask existing customers directly for the information they felt they needed at the beginning of their buying process.
Generally the information buyers are looking for will be relatively high level – buyers find statistics or quotes are particularly valuable for gleaning general information. Infographics, blog posts and presentations provide basic awareness content in an easily digestible format.
Sales studies consistently show that anywhere from 35-50% of all sales go to the agent who makes first contact.
Middle of the funnel: the Consideration Step
Once research has been completed, and the buyer is convinced that they have a genuine business need, they then begins the process of narrowing down the list of available options. As before, relevance is crucial to the campaigns you create targeted at people in this stage of the pipeline.
Similar to leads in the awareness stage of the sales pipeline, your business needs to know and address the challenges faced by their buyers. This is done by providing in depth, practical guidance that addresses the business pains identified and provides suggestions on resolving them. Once a need has been identified, buyers ask more probing questions to help them identify suppliers that will be able to help them move forward.
Common buyer questions include variations on themes like:
How do I…?
What is the value of…?
How can xyz improve profitability?
It is therefore essential to provide content that acknowledges and answers these questions to establish your brand as one for further consideration in the buyer’s shortlist.
Bottom of the funnel: the Decision Step
As the buyer moves to reduce their shortlist of potential supplier to one, businesses can finally openly talk about their products and services as being the solution to the business pains discussed in previous pipeline stages. Again this will take the form of a longer document that provides more practical guidance about business pains and how to resolve them using your product and best practice tips.
The marketing team needs to provide the final evidence to complete the sale. You will be able to gain a good understanding of the sort of information required by carefully tracking the buyer’s interactions through the sales pipeline up until this point:
Which marketing emails did they open/click through?
Which blog posts or articles did they access?
Which whitepapers or consideration content did they read or respond to?
Using this information it becomes possible to identify common trends and themes that customers want addressed. This data can then be used to create highly targeted resources that meet those needs perfectly.
“Ultimately you want to accelerate pipeline activities and maximize conversions. Doing that means you need to assess the value in your funnel and understand which levers you can pull to increase time or throughput to revenue. For example, you could decide to adjust spend on the marketing side or reallocate resources on the sales side to focus on the most effective campaigns and to increase conversions.” - Dare to Compare: Marketing Automation Trends and Benchmarks, Eloqua
The Repurchase Step
After converting leads into paying customers, the sales pipeline can be restarted to sell additional products and services. Your business may offer support and maintenance services, or complementary products that provide extra value to the customer. Your marketing team can apply the same techniques outlined above to create a new sales pipeline that targets existing customers and their needs.
Putting your own pipeline together
The keys to properly mapping your customer buying process are:
Identifying the people you need to target with useful content.
Creating practical and informative content that targets those personas and addresses their specific business needs.
Using top quality materials to ensure that your brand becomes regarded as a thought leader.
Creating a secondary pipeline to transform customers into repeat buyers by continuing to add value for them.