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Managing the Buyer’s Journey In Uncertain Times
This week, I’ve received countless calls to discuss the question, “What now?”
Fellow marketers and agency owners are asking, “How do we keep our marketing messages in focus for our customers when their heads are simply somewhere else?” I heard one marketer say, “It’s the elephant in the room. You can’t avoid it.” He was referring, of course, to COVID-19.
Managing the buyer/seller relationship during times of “normalcy” is hard enough. But during a global health pandemic, the entire context for the conversation changes.
At Simantel, we’ve always said the framework for good CX is in the four C’s of branding: Consistency, Clarity, Character and — in more recent years — Context. You can’t market to your customers without understanding where they are. For more information about the four C’s, check out a recording of our recent webinar Understanding Customer Experience.
A couple weeks ago, B2B marketing guru Scott Vaughan of MarTech Today wrote a piece suggesting that the industry has overplayed the importance of marketing to sales alignment, and rather what we should be talking about is integration of the two disciplines.
Scott makes some great points in this article, and I’ll be getting a deeper take on his viewpoints in next season’s podcast.
I, too, have some tightly held beliefs about the elusive “marketing to sales alignment.” A few weeks ago, when all signs were pointing to a pretty great, “status-quo” year, the idea of building journey models that could be managed by both marketing and sales seemed like a simple concept. I’ve always felt there’s a ton of value in doing the foundational efforts to align around a customer journey model. It helps sales and marketing teams speak to each other with a shared language, builds systems and processes based on the alignment and then triggers opportunities from that integration. The model is crucial, even if we never get all the way to the “closed loop” ROI so many executives and marketers seek today.
In today’s strange environment, defining those touchpoints is truly unknown. As Scott notes in his article, understanding buyer’s research patterns online is pretty challenging. We probably can’t fathom what that looks like today amid the information overload associated with school closings, work-from-home arrangements, and, of course, healthcare and financial news.
Bring the Customer Back into Focus
So, how does a marketer begin to bring a customer back into focus on their products?
Well, here’s the deal — you ask them. And, you meet them where they are. Those two principles really haven’t changed.
The strongest marketers will be the ones that see that as an opportunity to redefine and potentially learn from what is inevitably a changing world. As marketers, we always want to know answers to questions like:
- How do we know how our customers feel about their buying experience with my brand?
- Are some aspects of the experience better than others?
- Where do I start if I have no idea?
Can you imagine how different the answers might be today than they were a few weeks ago? What if you asked these questions of your employees? How is their experience today versus just last week? What would you do with that information if you had it?
Just a week ago, I was going to share some case studies about clients who did ask these questions. I wanted you to know how a company’s entire focus can change, simply by getting the right people in a room and beginning to “map” the expected sales to marketing alignment. Now, that message seems better for another day.
What feels more actionable today is to say this: Don’t let too much time go by without revisiting YOUR journey between marketing and sales. If you are a leader responsible for these activities, while the tendency might be to “press on” with your current to-do’s, you might consider pulling a team of marketing and sales folks together (not just once, but on the regular) during these trying times.
Communication (and over-communication) is the only way to manage through chaos. And, what was likely once a neat end-to-end journey for a customer probably is now more of a winding journey.
- What if your customers are home with their children today, but still need to research your product? Are you making it easy for them?
- What if your customer has an urgent need to buy, but has been told not to leave the house? Who can they call for support when they can’t be face-to-face?
- And, finally, what if your product breaks? Are you confident in your “remote” ability to fix it?
If you can’t improve all of these things at once, which of your buyer/seller touchpoints matter the most? How can you continue to survive financially in uncertain times, retain customer loyalty, take share from the competition or all of the above?
What strategic solutions can you implement now that you weren’t thinking of before? And, are you willing to invest the time, money and resources to make the leap of faith?
If you’re like me, just reading those questions is exciting. It’s not without some level of fear, but in the game of marketing, customer experience, data and technology, so much is possible.
Mapping the Customer Experience
We’ll save the case studies for a later date, but I’ll leave you with this:
A strategic approach to developing and managing the customer experience is measured, scientific, logical and requires research and planning.
On a recent episode of my podcast Marketing Sweats, I interviewed Jeff Bowman, CX expert and Chief Experience Officer of Titan Machinery. He said to me, “It’s fairly mathematical to understand the steps that a customer goes through in order to complete the work that they do every day. And so that understanding is really the cornerstone of everything else. You can have meaningful conversations and collaborate to solve a problem if you have a common framework.”
Perhaps you’ve never mapped your marketing to sales alignment. Or maybe you have, and you’re thinking it would be interesting to revisit it.
For a simple starting point, fill out the form below to receive a customer journey template you can use to begin re-thinking your marketing messaging during these unparalleled times.
Either way, understanding the buyer’s journey requires all elements of the business to come together to define phases, triggers, steps and outcomes. Our task as marketers is to enable the customer to move through the intended experience on their terms. If managed well, a buyer’s journey can impact:
- Internal communications and alignment
- Cross-selling opportunities
- Role confusion
- Operational changes in product management
- Channels and tactics in your marketing strategy
To reiterate Scott’s points, this “alignment” effort isn’t easy in a world of changing buyer and seller habits and expectations. Perhaps “alignment” is simply the wrong word. He says it’s more about orchestration. It’s really important, I think, to consider who is managing that orchestration. Is it supposed to be you? Are you doing it well?
If you think you could improve, I would say now is the time to identify areas to bring marketing and sales together to determine how to delight customers, fix poor or missing experiences or defend areas of strength.
Not to mention, that in times like these, without a clear journey and “new world” vision to rally around, organizational silos that can so often surface in highly-matrixed organizations may get worse, creating conflicting (or duplicative) experiences for the customer and wasting funds. On this, Scott Vaughn and I agree.
If you haven’t considered revisiting your customer journey, we highly encourage you to do so. Of course, it’s best to consider employees’, distributors’ and customers’ experiences in that process as well. But if that sounds daunting, don’t discount the importance of simply gaining some internal alignment and short-term “a-ha” moments. Starting small with a workshop between sales and marketing can go a long way.
Good luck, marketers! And, reach out for ideas or if you need help structuring this meeting. We’ve got a few tools you might consider.