If you feel like discussions about the buyer’s journey have suddenly popped up all over the place, you’re not imagining it.

While it’s easy to dismiss these conversations as nothing more than the latest buzzword, that would be a mistake. As a matter of fact, the buyer’s journey plays an integral role in today’s digital, multi-channel marketing world and even SMB organizations can’t ignore it.

What is the Buyer’s Journey?

The simplest way to describe the buyer’s journey is as a map of the phases through which people will cycle as they become prospects for your business and, hopefully, customers.

This map should follow people from the very first stage of their journey, which starts before they even become a prospect or know about your business, to the time when they make a purchase and officially become a customer. Ideally, it should even extend beyond that purchase as customers re-cycle through the journey through re-sell, cross-sell and up-sell initiatives.

Additionally, lead scoring should be a key component of the buyer’s journey, as this score should help define where each buyer is on their journey at any point in time.

Why is the Buyer’s Journey Important?

Do you really need a defined buyer’s journey? Isn’t it enough just to know that people come to you because they have a problem that you can solve? The short answer is no.

Having a well-defined and widely accepted buyer’s journey is critically important to modern marketing organizations for several reasons. For example, it can help:

What Does the Buyer’s Journey Look Like?

As is the case with most strategy initiatives, there’s no rubber stamp for the buyer’s journey. After all, your business is unique and that makes the path that your customers take unique as well. That said, the broad strokes of the buyer’s journey are generally the same across most businesses.

The best way to visualize and understand these phases is to take on the perspective of the customer, so let’s consider the buyer’s journey for Innovative Machines, a fictional company that sells equipment for manufacturers. In this scenario, we’ll put ourselves in the shoes of Mitch, who is an operations manager for an automotive manufacturer.

Phase 1: Mitch takes a lay of the land

In his role as an operations manager, Mitch regularly monitors his company’s equipment to make sure everything is working properly. Beyond that, Mitch also keeps an eye out for how his team might be able to improve their equipment or processes to see better results.

As part of this process, Mitch checks out some industry publications and comes across a blog post from Innovative Machines. He reads it and then moves on.

Mitch has now been exposed to Innovative Machines, although he is not aware of any problems his company is experiencing or areas that need improvement.

Phase 2: Mitch identifies an issue

A few weeks later, Mitch finds that one of his company’s machines has slowed down and is affecting output. Mitch isn’t quite sure what’s happened to the machine, but he knows there’s a problem and he knows he needs to figure out what it is.

In an effort to identify what’s going on with the machine, Mitch does some research online. Once again, Mitch comes across information from Innovative Machines. This time, Mitch finds a white paper that seems like it could help diagnose his problem. He fills out a form to download the white paper.

Now, Innovative Machines has information about who Mitch is (where he works, what his role is, his email address) and the topics in which he might be interested.

Phase 3: Mitch knows what his problem is and needs a solution

After reading the Innovative Machines white paper and finding information from several other sources, Mitch has figured out what his problem is: One of the levers in the machine is not functioning properly. Now that Mitch knows what’s happening, he needs to figure out the best way to fix the problem, whether it’s getting the lever fixed, replacing the lever or replacing the entire machine.

Once again, Mitch does some research online to identify the options and weigh the pros and cons of each. During this time, Mitch receives an email from Innovative Machines with some relevant information that builds on the white paper he downloaded previously. Mitch found the white paper helpful, so he checks out the new resource Innovative Machines sent.

At this point, Mitch not only knows what his problem is and is actively seeking a solution for that problem, but he’s also more familiar with Innovative Machines and has engaged with the company’s content several times. These engagements have helped move Mitch further down Innovative Machine’s funnel.

Phase 4: Mitch is ready to decide on a solution

Now, Mitch has chosen which solution option he wants to pursue (replacing the lever) and needs to decide which replacement and company to use.

Since engaging with the resources from Innovative Machines, Mitch has received several other communications from the company, including an invitation to speak with them at an industry event he’s attending. While at the event, Mitch visits the Innovative Machines booth and likes what he hears. When Mitch receives a follow up email from a salesperson from Innovative Machines, he quickly arranges some time to talk.

Following his conversation with the salesperson, Mitch decides to purchase the new lever and installation services from Innovative Machines.

What Path Will Your Buyers Follow?

While the story of Mitch and Innovative Machines provides a general, high level overview of the buyer’s journey, it’s important to note that in most cases, the path buyers take will not be this linear.

Even so, it’s imperative to define what each of these phases means for your business (including aligning marketing and sales activities to each phase) and what buyers need to do to move from one phase to the next (this is where lead scoring is critical).

With that, we’ll leave you to get thinking. Happy mapping!