You’ve been doing customer journeys all wrong – damnit

February 8, 2017

If like moi you follow (with squinty-eyed, suspicious interest) all the chatter on things #modernmarketing you would have noticed the near-hysterical levels of excitement around content and buyers journeys of late.

The b2b buyer’s journey may be a dangerous myth
— protocol, yesterday


Myths being exploded and debunked. People accidentally peeing their pants at the revelation that 67% of buyers don’t always self-educate entirely before they speak to sales, blah blah.

Truth be told, I was one of the people who merrily jumped on the band wagon no doubt perpetuating the various myths surrounding it. My bad. Soz. No more espresso for me.

Things were a changing

The reality was that we kinda knew things were fundamentally changing in B2B Marketing but we didn’t necessarily have all the data points needed to back up our collective hunch. And, we were been given stats and information from various industry sources that we were accepting on face value – sometimes revealed at big events with dry ice, thumping music and charismatic presenters – borderline evangelical in stage production.

All these ‘facts’ seemed so credible. They were packaged well, and looked good and kinda sounded plausible. But still, it didn’t feel quite right – there was something a little wonky  about it all. We would all whoop and clap but maybe sideways glance at our colleagues to see if they were totally buying it…


Were us marketers drinking way too much Kool Aid and believing our own marketing hype?
— protocol, just now


The worry was that that whilst we were producing new frameworks, visions and data points (to satisfy our urge to be innovative and cutting edge), in the long term it might not hold water and do more harm than good. It was marketers trying to get ahead of other marketers, and companies will of course convince us of revolutionary approaches to sell their wares, licences, whitepapers or software.

In short we felt that the new modern marketing vision didn’t quite reflect what we were seeing in the real world, outside of our naval-gazing self made marketing adminisphere.

So what is the truth Then?

About 18 months ago we set out on a mission to uncover the real truth of the B2B buyer’s journey. Invariably the buyer’s journey ‘gravity well’ pulls in other factors too, content strategy, personas, the use of marketing automation etc but we wanted to focus on this one fundamental modern marketing concept.

We made one crucially important decision on our quest for truth. We would focus our analysis on data gathered from real life campaigns (52 in total from about 3 years of clients data).
Specifically we looked to tag content and messaging at buyer journey stages and map movement and engagement between them (ignoring lead taxonomies). We took data directly from marketing automation platforms without any marketers putting spin or opinion on it.

Our analysis showed the buyer journey ‘vision’ was basically flawed in conceptual design.

B2B buyers didn’t neatly progress along linear decision paths as previously defined by us, in fact they took seemingly illogical paths. Sometimes they started at the end and weaved backwards (which defies any existing marketing protocols), or missed some steps out entirely.


They acted human. Which was bad news for our programmatic and linear engagement plans, marketing automation programmes and a real bummer for our pretty Protocol Buyer’s Journey Powerpoint slide. Eugh. People, I’d rather work with animals.


Often the most engaging call to action or content drew the most attention – regardless of where in the buyer’s journey they were. Which, as a human, makes total sense.
— protocol survey respondent


So what?

So – we have to be careful on how we interpret and act on people’s behaviours because they might not mean what we think they mean. Just because a woman winks at you on the Tube doesn’t mean she wants a date, she might just have an itchy eye 😉

Downloading a whitepaper doesn’t necessarily mean that they are ‘sales ready’ and just need justification content. It doesn’t necessarily mean we should MQL them because they downloaded a comparison guide. We have to be more dynamic and fluid with programme design. More human. Less automaton.

What is true then?

It is clear that buyers just see an ‘experience’. For example many buyers would see click to chat as a ‘digital thing’ rather than a human thing despite a human being on the other end. Fair point, you do click on something after all. Much of the time ‘click to chat’ wasn’t used as a ‘I want to buy something now please’ interaction, often it was information gathering or sometimes customer support. There is no digital/offline – there is just the customer experience.

This whole online/offline, human versus digital thing might not be ‘the thing’ we think it is.
— protocol

Digital content however is still crucial

Of course it is, but not in the way many marketers perceive it. There was an interesting disparity between the influence of digital content on actual purchases between what the marketers think, and what the actual data shows:



In the real world, 85% of confirmed ‘wins’ had one or more digital interactions in the six months leading up to the sale. The vast majority registered between two and five engagements with digital content. 38% had only one interaction. Marketers however believed the numbers to be much higher despite what the data showed. Wishful thinking maybe?


So digital content is key, but not huge amounts of it. Less is more, punters have a short attention span and don’t engage with nearly as much of our lovely content as we think – or maybe would like. Is that an argument for or against content marketing? Neither really, just produce better stuff.

With content, it’s less is more. Higher quality, researched, robust and exciting content wins over a high quantity of generic, dull content


Interestingly, according to our analysis almost a third (32%) of the consumed content (that influenced an actual sale) was third party created or hosted – so think review sites, industry reports, external thought leaders and influencers, customer reviews – and yes, social.

reboot: B2B Buyer’s Journey v2

So back to our Buyer’s Journey. How does it really look? How do we articulate it as a pretty diagram? And explain it to our colleagues in a fancy Powerpoint?

Well it ain’t the pretty, easy to explain linear chart we’ve all come to love and regurgitate. It’s a whole lot messier. And maybe there is the concept of ‘depth’ to be factored in.

Or maybe we stick to the linear chart and just recognise there is movement back and forth:


Analysing content we found that pre-sales (prospect content consumption) roughly sits in 3 buckets. This is an important point – many buyer’s journey models have 5,6, 7 even 9 steps that we’ve seen.


Too many buyer journey steps can make content production and campaign implementation difficult. Layered with too many personas, geographies and products means campaigns are over-engineered with data and insights difficult to analyse – and draw meaningful conclusions from
— protocol


Start with These Three Basic Stages

  1. Discover
    Awareness, or being made aware of a problem, need or challenge (or opportunity)
  2. Consider
    Exploring and understanding options, features/benefits, see it in action or context and comparing to other solutions
  3. Justification
    Validation, proof points, reviews and recommendations


This is manageable – you can easily craft and identify content for each stage and when you have to scale the programme (e.g. across Europe) it can be operationalised.

Of course our buyer’s journey doesn’t end there. We have the crucial actual act of Purchase, a step in its own right (especially selling SaaS type stuff to SMBs). Get the content and experience wrong and you can blow the sale. This all then leads to the customer piece with additional important steps:

  • Adoption
    Taking ownership of the product and the customer experience surrounding it, are they using it? Are they making the most of it and seeing the value?
  • Sharing
    The act of giving feedback often in a community forum via social media, this can be positive (advocacy) but also negative and harmful to the brand
  • Leaving
    Sometimes people go. Walk out the door, don’t turn around now…But we need to leave the door open and maintain a good experience.
  • Repeat
    And finally..and we have the whole Repeat/Cross/Up-Sell bit. This can often be the most crucial part of the buyer’s journey with greatest revenue potential.

What this all means for you

So what have we learnt. What does it all mean, how do we operationalise these learnings? Start with these pointers:

  1. The journey is actually non-linear in nature much of the time. People are emotional, and unpredictable. You must allow people to navigate between your content stages (moving up, down, left and right). This affects UX/CX design, MAP implementation, inbound, messaging and more.
  2. People have totally different psychologies when researching and buying something (which can’t necessarily be predicted with persona or profile mapping), and start from completely different perspectives, some more left brain than right brain. You need to keep all options open to punters.
  3. Third party content is key – and shared customer/community content really is very important. This links to the adoption and sharing piece which needs to be fully baked into your strategy. Make sure your company is making good friends with the thought leaders and industry experts. Maybe those air-kissing PR types were right all along?

There is no Spoon

Ultimately our message here is to take all frameworks, external data points and opinions with a pinch of salt (including ours). Work with your data, your content, trust your unique experience and knowledge.

Sure it’s good to take inspiration from articles such as this just don’t be seduced down paths or strategies which may contradict your own evidence and thinking.

Who says they’re right and you’re wrong?

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