Want to improve the buying journey? Here are five changes that can make a real difference

Actionable insights on B2B buyer experiences

February 3, 2021

Want to improve the buying journey? Here are five changes that can make a real difference

As B2B marketers, we know that the experiences of buyers and customers are everything – and we also know that we can’t improve those experiences by acting alone. The buying journey that people take with our businesses travels across marketing touchpoints but also through conversations with sales, customer support and more. Designing it, curating it and delivering it is a test of organisational alignment as well as marketing strategy. At various times and in various businesses that can make it feel like an overwhelming challenge. So what are the easy wins that you can focus on to start making progress? Where do you find the low-hanging fruit where B2B buyer journeys are concerned?

Last month, myself and LinkedIn Marketing Solutions’ Head of Industry Marketing for EMEA and LATAM, Preethi Sundaram, joined a Tea Break Talk with our friends at Merkle. This was a conversation focused on providing some actionable answers. Merkle is a performance marketing agency with a focus on leveraging data to deliver better customer experiences. Merkle UK’s Digital Delivery Director Josie Anderson and Client Director Jennifer Brennand brought their insight on the tactics that have worked for their clients. Preethi and I brought insights from two hot-off-the-press pieces of LinkedIn research: Moments of Trust, an analysis of the state of sales and marketing alignment that we commissioned from Forrester, and The Age of Agility, our latest in-depth analysis of the tech buying journey.

Between us, we identified five points that businesses can focus on. Each of these will deliver a clear, tangible return in terms of improving the buyer journey – and all of them are worth ticking off your to-do list. They’ll ensure you’re doing the simple things first in terms of delivering better customer experiences:

Enlist your end-users as brand advocates

B2B tech brands are increasingly built by their end-users. With anonymous buyers determined to research tech options on their own terms before talking to sales, credible social proof and third-party recommendations become vital if you’re to influence the buyer journey when it counts. A happy customer isn’t just valuable to your business as a source of future revenue. They’re a precious marketing asset as well.

To enlist end-users as true brand advocates, be ready to think beyond simple case studies. Aim for co-created content that delivers benefits to both sides in terms of increasing exposure and reputation. Hero your end-users as the subjects or authors of posts on your blog, invite them onto podcast episodes or webinars as expert guests, and think about how they could contribute to your next thought leadership asset. Showing you’re serious about raising their profile sends a valuable signal about the extent to which you value your relationship – while demonstrating to others how mutually beneficial that relationship is.

Segment your potential anonymous buyers – and ask yourself what your content delivers for each of them

Data has a key role to play in informing better buyer experiences – and segmentation is the key to unlocking its potential. Josie outlined a simple, three-step plan to segmenting your audience in a way that helps to make your data actionable. It starts at the account level, segmenting businesses by their potential value as customers. Within your high-value accounts, you’ll then want to segment on an individual level, distinguishing between different types of buyers and influencers and the roles they play. You can then build on this by segmenting based on actions, using data to identify how these predict what buyers are interested in next.

Armed with such segmentation, you can start to ask questions of your content strategy, and interrogate whether you’re delivering relevant, discoverable information to all of the people who will influence valuable buying decisions. You’ll also be able to scale the reach of your marketing based on look-alike targeting that reflects the types of buyers that matter most to you.

Start your next round of content planning with a few questions for sales

Our Forrester research into the state of sales and marketing alignment found that marketing excels at delivering inspiring content at the top of the funnel – but often struggles to help buyers navigate the rest of their purchase journey. Often that’s because marketing teams aren’t making use of one of the best sources of insight they have about how people actually use their products: sales. Marketers create content based on the information they have internally about a solution and what it can do. Sales starts conversations based on what customers tell them they really need: the challenges they’re trying to solve – and the support they need in solving them. There’s great value to be had in bringing these two perspectives together.

Handing your sales team extra responsibility for coming up with content ideas isn’t usually the best way to do so. Sales professionals don’t often regard creating content as their core competency – and they don’t have time available to try and change that. Instead, try making it a regular feature of content planning to ask sales about the conversations they’re having, and the needs and concerns that buyers have. Set yourself the challenge of coming up with imaginative content ideas to tick those boxes. You’ll be surprised where a different perspective on content could lead you.

Write down the key points in your possible buyer journey – and plan relevant processes for each

Sales and marketing have different processes to support their different roles in the buyer journey. Marketing builds processes to create demand and generate and nurture leads; sales builds processes to manage pipelines and close deals. Sales and marketing have made progress in aligning how they operate, with 86% using the same, shared data pool for targeting and insights. However, 97% admit to problems with integrating their processes that make it difficult to deliver consistent buyer experiences.

How can you start untangling the ways that sales and marketing processes intersect and taking more control of the experiences you serve up? It starts with recognising the limitations of processes themselves. They can’t anticipate or predict the exact way that a buyer will navigate their journey with you, from start to finish. However, they’re great at delivering consistent experiences around the moments that you’ve identified as being important. Try coming up with a list of the touchpoints in the buyer journey that you know most of your eventual customers come through. Then design specific processes for sales and marketing to align around those moments and deliver the experiences they need to. It’s easier to get the two teams’ processes working together when they have a very specific outcome to focus on.

Keep marketing after deals close

For many B2B buyers, especially those buying tech, the decision to purchase is just the start of the journey to realising value from their investment. The shorter and easier that a supplier can make that journey, the more loyalty they secure and the more opportunities they create. When buyers research potential solutions, they don’t just assess what they can do in principle. They seek out evidence around the implementation experience. They want signals that a brand will help shorten their time to value.

For these reasons, post-sales support is becoming a huge opportunity space in B2B marketing. You can start playing in it by auditing the key touchpoints that a business encounters after it buys from you. Who leads implementation on the customer side? What value are they most interested in? And how can you help them reach it faster?

As a marketer, marketing after the close will lead you towards forming different relationships internally. Aligning with customer support becomes as important following a purchase decision as aligning with sales is beforehand. And as with sales, asking the right questions about customer challenges and the best way to solve them is a great place to start. Marketing that supports the post-sales journey earns the kind of end-user advocacy that builds effective brands today. And it helps to produce the type of reassurance that your future buyers are looking for.