How Do You Look At The Sales Process?

The buyer’s journey and the marketing funnel are just two tools that public relations and marketing have to work with. Knowing what they are and how they work are important but should we focus on one over the other?

A few weeks ago I read an article in regards to the buyer’s journey and it made what I felt was a bold statement. The author, David Rondewald, stated, “The buyer’s journey has replaced the traditional marketing funnel as the way to understand what’s going on in our prospects’ minds as they move closer to a purchase.”

I enjoy articles that make me think and this one certainly did. I had been looking at the buyer’s journey and the marketing funnel as two distinctly different things but are they?

As I thought about it, three scenarios popped into my head:

  • The buyer’s journey and the marketing funnel are two completely different things
  • The buyer’s journey and the marketing funnel are two different things that complement each other
  • They are both really the same thing, it just depends on your viewpoint

I accessed a public relations/marketing community that I frequent and the question. Which one of these do you think is correct? I didn’t find any common ground. This is just more reason to stop and consider how and if we should use the buyer’s journey over the marketing funnel or vice versa.

What is the Buyer’s Journey?

I define the buyer’s journey as having four stages:

  • Awareness
  • Research
  • Purchase
  • Advocacy

Awareness is when somebody realizes they have a problem. The issue is that all problems are not necessarily equal. Some are critical and some can wait. What is the same is that people need information to help them learn how they can solve the problem.

The next step is research. Think of the last time you had some sort of problem. The first thing you are going to do is some sort of research. You might Google it or maybe you have a friend who can help. Maybe there is a certain blog you frequent that can help. Whatever the resource, you are looking for answers and that only comes through research.

After finding some information, you might find that the answer to the problem is to make a purchase. The battery in your phone won’t recharge so it has to be replaced. Your symptoms require a doctor’s visit. The sink isn’t working and you have neither the tools or the expertise to fix it so you call a plumber.

The last step is advocacy. The plumber wasn’t only quick but the services were reasonably priced so you tell all your friends. Your experience with a specialist was so good that you refer everybody you know to this doctor.

What is the Marketing Funnel?

I define the marketing funnel has six stages: 

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Consideration
  • Conversion
  • Customer Relationship/Retention
  • Evangelism

In the marketing funnel, awareness isn’t about a problem. It’s about people knowing about your organization and your products/services.

Have you ever been intrigued by an ad or a link on a search engine results page that took you to a website? You’ve shown interest in a specific organization. Interest isn’t as simple as a click or a visit to your website. The information they find has to be enough to push them through to the next step. You need to determine what kind of content is going to do this. What is going to make them consider you?

Assuming we have been successful in the interest stage, our prospect has moved on to consideration. He/she is trying to determine if you are the best product/service for them. There will be comparisons in relation to what is being purchased and the price. Reviews and testimonials are important at this stage because prospects want to make the right decision and this provides social proof they are taking the right action.

Congratulations, you got a conversion which is a fancy way of saying your prospect made a purchase and now is a customer. This is the goal of every company. We don’t report the level of interest, we report revenue and profit. For most companies, this is where it stops. We got the sale so we are done with this person and onto the next. This would be a big mistake.

Some products are purchased every few years while some are purchased more frequently. You buy groceries every week but you don’t buy health insurance, a smartphone, or a refrigerator this often. In the customer relationship/retention phase everything we do or don’t do is going to impact if they buy again. It’s much cheaper to re-convert a current customer than to convert a new customer so this is an important step.

Your customer is absolutely wowed by your product and your support. They have decided that they will buy from you again in the future but it goes further than this because they also want everybody to know how amazing your company and its products are. They are your advocate and they are happy to market on your behalf. These people are worth their weight in gold.

Some Differences but a Key Similarity

As we have talked about both the buyer’s journey and the marketing funnel you have probably noticed some differences.

The benefit of the buyer’s journey is that it looks at everything from the customer’s point of view. This is good because customers don’t necessarily come at things from the same viewpoint as the company.

The marketing funnel takes a view that is more internal in nature. We want them to take a step so we get a specific result. How do we do that?

That’s a big difference. Our customer isn’t worried about our revenue, they are worried about themselves. Another way to put it is, “What’s in it for me?

From that perspective, we aren’t much different. We want a return on investment. If I invest in a marketing plan I want to see results. Again, “What’s in it for me?”

Can We Get Along?

So let’s look back at my back to my three scenarios. The first was: The buyer’s journey and the marketing funnel are two completely different things.

Both are certainly part of a buying process but there is little doubt that they come from different viewpoints. The buyer’s journey is all about the customer while the marketing funnel is the organization’s view of the same journey. They are the same yet different.

The second scenario is: The buyer’s journey and the marketing funnel are two different things that complement each other.

I think we could make a strong case that the buyer’s journey and the marketing funnel could complement each other. I say “could” because this would be a choice. While I would strongly advise looking at the buyer’s journey because it would really help in creating content that would push prospects through the marketing funnel an organization could certainly ignore this.

They really aren’t two different things. They both look at the sales process. It’s not like comparing an apple to an orange. It’s more like comparing a Honeycrisp to a Braeburn. They are both apples but they have different characteristics.

This brings us to the last scenario: They are both really the same thing, it just depends on your viewpoint.

You’ve probably figured out by now that this where I fall. Both focus on the sales process but from two different views. One is how the customer views it while the other is how the organization views it.

Both models start with awareness but they look at it differently, knowing how your customer views it can be helpful in crafting ad campaigns.

Interest and consideration are part of the prospect’s research phase. Purchase and conversion are exactly the same things it’s just that the verbiage used is different.

Finally, advocacy and evangelism are the same thing. Yes, the buyer’s journey doesn’t include a step similar to relationship/retention but you don’t get to advocacy without it. Customers just don’t necessarily think of it in the same way the organization would.

In order to be successful, you need to understand the buyer’s journey. This isn’t optional because customers are the lifeblood of our business.

Final Thoughts

When I was a kid, my parents had a friend who was the president of a local bank. We’ll call it bank A. The president of bank A had a son that was my age and we were friends as well. This will come into play later.

My parents banked elsewhere, bank B (it’s worth pointing out that they knew people at both banks). It was the bank they started out when they moved to town and they saw no reason to change.

I, on the other hand, desperately wanted my parents to switch to bank A. I saw it as the cool bank. My friend’s dad ran it and it seems like all my other friend’s families all banked there. We needed to change but my parents wouldn’t go for it.

To “help” with the change, I was given merchandise from bank A. Still it didn’t work. My parents would not switch. Finally, when I was a junior in high school we switched to bank A. The president asked my dad, “I have been trying to get you to switch for years. Why now?”

My dad responded, “They made me mad.” His language was a little more colorful than that but you get the idea. The customer relationship soured and a change was made.

Do not ignore the buyer’s journey. Pay close attention to it. Understand needs and pain points. It will only help you to get the sale over and over again with your customer.

Now I want to know what you think. Do you agree with me or do you have a different viewpoint? Tell me in the comments.

Shane Carpenter
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