It’s about the journey, not the destination.
Understanding buyer journey stages empowers marketers to deliver the right message at the right time. Using buyer journey stages as part of a greater marketing strategy is like having a treasure map that guides brands toward measurable success, one stage at a time. Not only will you be able to increase conversions and create exceptional customer experiences through marketing but you’ll also make it possible to boost engagement with enviable specificity.
Without further ado, here’s everything you need to know about what the buyer journey stages are and how to maximize their potential.
Buyer’s Journey 101: Definition, Stages, and More
For a marketer, to say understanding the buyer's journey is important is an understatement.
The number one reason why marketers need to care about the buyer's journey is that it makes it possible to understand their customers' needs, behaviors, and motivations throughout the entire purchasing process.
By understanding the buyer's journey, marketers can create a more effective inbound marketing strategy that targets potential customers with the right content strategy, at the right time, and in the right format.
This not only increases the likelihood of converting leads into customers but it also helps to build trust and loyalty with existing customers. This is becoming more and more critical. As Salesforce’s 2022 State of the Connected Customer finds, “88% of customers believe trust becomes more important in times of change”.
All of that to say, in today's competitive marketplace, understanding the buyer's journey is crucial. Not only does it help with staying ahead of the competition but it’s also fundamental for achieving long-term business success more than ever before.
So what is the buyer journey, really?
The buyer's journey is the process that a potential customer goes through when they become aware of, consider, and decide to purchase a product or service. Understanding the buyer's journey allows marketers to create more effective content marketing strategies and target their ideal customer.
The main buyer journey stages
The buyer's journey is often described as having three stages: the awareness stage, the consideration stage, and the decision stage. But it really all depends on who you ask.
Some experts have claimed that the buyer's journey actually has four distinct phases. Then there are the thought leaders who say it actually includes six life cycle stages instead.
So what’s really going on here and why can’t we all just agree on a number?
Simply put, the concept of the buyer journey is a jumping-off point for a few different marketing and sales models. The terms stages, phases, and life cycles are often used interchangeably which only adds to the confusion. The model and terms you use to define your own buyer journey stages will be unique to your account-based strategy at the end of the day.
To focus our discussion, we are going to focus on the four universally agreed upon buyer journey stages. You’ll find these exact concepts at the root of every buyer journey model.
Here’s what they are and what you can expect from buyers at each stage plus illustrative examples of each:
Stage 1: Target 🎯
In the Target stage, marketers identify and prioritize target accounts based on various criteria such as company size, industry, and buyer personas.
Here is a general overview of what buyers might do during the target stage including examples of actions a buyer might take:
Identify their needs. Buyers begin by identifying their specific needs or challenges. They assess their current situation and recognize the gaps or opportunities that need to be addressed.
Define key goals. Once the needs are identified, buyers establish their goals and objectives. They determine what they want to achieve by addressing those needs and what outcomes they are looking for.
Research options. Buyers engage in research to explore various options and solutions available in the market. They gather information from different sources such as online searches, industry publications, social media, and recommendations from peers or colleagues.
Seek out recommendations. Buyers often seek recommendations and advice from their professional network or trusted sources. They may reach out to colleagues, industry experts, or online communities to gather insights and opinions on potential solutions or vendors.
Evaluate alternatives. During this stage, buyers compare and evaluate different alternatives or providers that can meet their needs. They assess features, benefits, pricing, customer reviews, case studies, and other relevant information to make an informed decision.
Engage with your content.
Buyers consume various types of content
during their research process. This includes blog articles, whitepapers, e-books, videos, webinars, product demos, and other resources provided by vendors or industry influencers. They use this content to gather insights, understand capabilities, and assess the suitability of solutions.
Attending events or webinars you host. Buyers might attend industry events, conferences, or webinars to gain a deeper understanding of the available solutions and engage with subject matter experts. These events provide opportunities to ask questions, interact with vendors, and gain valuable insights.
Look for proof. Buyers look for proof points and validation of a solution's effectiveness. They may seek case studies, customer testimonials, or success stories to understand how other organizations have benefited from a particular solution.
Request demos or start trials. As buyers narrow down their options, they may request product demos or trials to gain hands-on experience with the solutions they are considering. This allows them to assess usability, functionality, and fit for their specific needs.
Engage with sales reps. Towards the end of the target stage, buyers may engage with sales representatives to ask questions, seek clarifications, or negotiate terms. Sales reps provide personalized guidance and address any concerns or doubts the buyers may have.
Stage 2: Engage 👩💻
In the Engage stage, marketers begin interacting with target accounts through various channels, such as email, social media, and display advertising.
A buyer in the engagement stage of the buyer's journey might do one or more of the following:
Contact sales. Buyers reach out to the sales team of the chosen vendor or provider to initiate direct contact. This can be done through phone calls, emails, contact forms on the website, or scheduling meetings or demos.
Request additional information. Buyers may request further information about the product or service, such as detailed specifications, pricing, implementation process, customization options, or support services. They seek to gather all the necessary details to make an informed decision.
Participate in demos. Buyers engage in product demonstrations provided by the vendor. They actively explore the features, functionalities, and user interface of the solution to determine if it meets their requirements and expectations.
Evaluate proposals. As part of the engagement stage, buyers review and evaluate proposals or quotes provided by the vendor. They carefully assess the pricing, terms and conditions, contractual agreements, and any additional services or packages included.
Review case studies.
Buyers often request references or case studies
from the vendor to gain insights into the experiences of existing customers. They seek validation that the vendor can deliver on their promises and meet their specific requirements.
Consult with stakeholders. During the engagement stage, buyers may involve other stakeholders within their organization to gather additional input and perspectives. This can include decision-makers, department heads, IT professionals, or other relevant parties who will be impacted by the purchase.
Address concerns or objections. Buyers might raise concerns, objections, or questions regarding the solution or the vendor. They engage with the sales process to address these concerns, clarify doubts, and ensure that all issues are adequately resolved.
Negotiate terms. In the engagement stage, buyers may engage in negotiations with the vendor to discuss pricing, contract terms, customization options, or other aspects of the purchase. The goal is to reach a mutually beneficial agreement that meets the buyer's needs and fits within their budget.
Seek proof of value. Buyers may ask for additional evidence or demonstrations of the solution's value. This can include requesting a trial period, conducting pilot projects, or seeking specific metrics or data that demonstrate the solution's impact and return on investment.
Secure internal approvals. Buyers may need to obtain internal approvals or budgetary sign-off from relevant decision-makers or departments within their organization. This buying process involves presenting the proposed solution, its benefits, and the associated costs to gain buy-in and move forward with the purchase.
Stage 3: Convert 🤝
In the convert stage, marketers focus on converting engaged accounts into customers. They will typically provide leads with personalized and relevant content such as case studies, whitepapers, and product demos. Each piece of content can and should be linked to a specific stage of the buyer’s journey, especially this one.
Here are some examples of what someone might do during this buyer journey stage:
Make the purchase.
The primary action in the convert stage is the buyer completing the purchase transaction. This can involve placing an order, signing a contract, or making a payment to officially become a customer
Finalize contractual agreements. If applicable, the buyer may work with the vendor or legal team to finalize and sign contractual agreements, ensuring all terms and conditions are agreed upon and legally binding.
Arrange payment. Buyers take necessary steps to arrange payment for the product or service. This can include submitting payment information, initiating wire transfers, setting up payment plans, or other payment-related activities as per the vendor's requirements.
Provide necessary documentation. In certain cases, buyers might be required to provide specific documentation, such as business licenses, tax forms, or other legal paperwork, depending on the nature of the purchase or the vendor's requirements.
Participate in onboarding or implementation. Depending on the complexity of the product or service, buyers may engage in an onboarding or implementation process. This involves working with the vendor's implementation team to set up and configure the solution, integrate it into existing systems, and ensure a smooth transition.
Attend training or orientation sessions. Buyers might participate in training or orientation sessions provided by the vendor to familiarize themselves with the product or service, its features, and best practices. This helps ensure that the buyer can effectively utilize and maximize the value of their purchase.
Provide feedback or reviews. After the purchase, buyers may provide feedback or reviews regarding their experience with the vendor or the purchased product or service. This feedback can be shared directly with the vendor, posted on review platforms, or shared within industry communities to help other potential buyers.
Consider cross-sell or upsell opportunities. During the convert stage, buyers may be presented with additional cross-sell or upsell opportunities by the vendor. This involves considering and potentially purchasing additional products, services, or upgrades that complement or enhance the original purchase.
Refer or recommend your product. Satisfied buyers may refer or recommend the vendor or the purchased solution to their colleagues, friends, or professional network. They might provide testimonials, participate in case studies, or share positive experiences to help generate further business for the vendor.
Engage with customer support.
After becoming a customer,
buyers may interact with the vendor's customer support or service teams for ongoing assistance, troubleshooting, or to address any questions or concerns that arise post-purchase.
Stage 4: Advocate 📣
Finally, in the Advocate stage, marketers encourage satisfied customers to promote their products or services to others through referrals, reviews, or testimonials.
Some actions a buyer in the advocate stage of the journey might take include:
Advocates may offer to provide testimonials or success stories
that highlight their positive experience with the vendor or solution. These testimonials can be used by the vendor in marketing materials, websites, case studies, or social media campaigns to build credibility and attract new customers.
Write reviews. Advocates might write reviews on platforms such as review websites, social media platforms, or industry-specific forums. These reviews help potential buyers gain insights into the quality, benefits, and performance of the product or service from a customer's perspective.
Refer friends or colleagues. Advocates often refer the vendor or solution to their friends, colleagues, or professional network who might have similar needs or challenges. They actively recommend the vendor, providing personal endorsements and encouraging others to consider the same solution.
Participate in case studies.
Advocates may volunteer to participate in case studies or customer success stories
. They share their experience, the challenges they faced, and how the vendor's solution helped them overcome those challenges. Case studies serve as valuable marketing assets that demonstrate the real-world value and impact of the solution.
Speak at your events or webinars.
Advocates may be invited to speak at industry events, conferences, webinars
, or user groups to share their firsthand experience with the vendor's solution. By speaking about their success and the benefits they've gained, they inspire and influence others who are considering similar solutions.
Provide referrals. Advocates actively refer potential customers to the vendor or facilitate introductions between interested parties and the vendor's sales team. They leverage their network to help connect potential buyers with the vendor, acting as trusted intermediaries.
Engage in online communities. Advocates actively participate in online communities, forums, or social media groups related to their industry or the specific solution. They share insights, answer questions, and provide advice based on their experience, helping others in the community make informed decisions.
Provide feedback. Advocates continue to provide feedback to the vendor to help improve the product or service. They share suggestions, feature requests, or insights that can contribute to future enhancements and updates, demonstrating their ongoing commitment to the vendor's success.
Renew contracts or expand usage.
Advocates continue to renew their contracts
or subscriptions with the vendor, indicating their ongoing satisfaction and loyalty. They may also explore opportunities to expand their usage of the solution, such as upgrading to a higher-tier plan or adding additional features or modules.
Celebrate shared success. Advocates celebrate their own success achieved through the vendor's solution. They may share their achievements, milestones, or ROI metrics with the vendor and the wider community, reinforcing the positive impact of the vendor's offering.
As you can see from the examples above, there is some overlap between each of these buyer journey stages. However, each one is distinct and serves its own purpose, which makes it important to target and track them throughout the process.
How to track each stage of the buyer journey
In a nutshell: learn how to track events.
Events are specific actions that a prospect takes during the customer journey. For example, visiting a website, filling out a form, or attending a webinar are all potential events. By tracking and analyzing these events, marketers can gain valuable insights into a prospect's interests and behavior. From there they can adjust their account-based marketing strategies accordingly to better suit the needs of the buyer at that very moment.
Today’s Unique Buyer Journey Challenges (and Solutions)
The days of marketing and sales controlling the buyer's journey are over. At least that’s what the 2022 DemandGen report says.
Buyers now rely on self-service as well as anonymous buying journeys, peer recommendations, and social media insights to make purchasing decisions. When it comes to demand gen, the rise of buying groups and committees (consisting of members from various departments) is highlighted as a crucial component of the modern buyer's journey.
These committees have specific needs and marketers must engage in hyper-personalized outreach to meet their desires. Why? Because buyers are taking charge of their own buying journeys like never before. Which means, to cater to the modern B2B buyer, organizations must be agile and omnipresent in their account-based marketing strategies.
The other key trends in buyer behaviors revealed…
the need to expand of the buyer's journey
an emphasis on meeting buyers' desire for anonymization while providing relevant outreach
strong preferences for peer reviews
the need to strike a balance between self-service and sales outreach
Not sure how to fit all of this into the various buyer journey stages in an effective and scalable way? You’re not alone. Achieving the solutions to these major pain points is one of the reasons why many smart marketers are now exploring account-based marketing.
How B2B Marketers Can Effectively Target Buyer Journey Stages
The traditional funnel model focuses on moving customers through a linear progression from awareness to purchase. However, given what we know about today’s marketplace, this is no longer sufficient. Instead, companies must adopt a more holistic approach that considers the entire customer lifecycle, from awareness to advocacy. Marketers will need to map out the customer lifecycle in order to do this.
Companies can improve overall customer experiences simply through mapping out the customer lifecycle and understanding the needs and pain points of customers at each stage. This single shift can lead to increased customer loyalty, higher retention rates, and ultimately, increased revenue.
The following is a framework you can use to effectively implement ABM strategies and improve ROI for each of your buyer journey stages:
Identify target accounts. This step involves researching and selecting the specific companies that are the best fit for your product or service.
Create account profiles. This step involves building detailed profiles of your target accounts, including information such as company size, industry, key decision-makers, and pain points.
Define the account journey. This step involves mapping out the stages that a target account goes through on its way to becoming a customer. This includes identifying touchpoints and creating content that is tailored to each stage of the journey.
Measuring success. This step involves setting KPIs and metrics to track the success of your ABM efforts, such as engagement rates, conversion rates, and revenue generated.
You can create your own outline using these key points or streamline the process using a DIY account journey template.
Frequently asked questions on buyer journey stages:
Q: What are the five steps of the consumer journey?
A: The five steps of the consumer journey are awareness, consideration, purchase, retention, and advocacy.
Q: What are the stages of the buyer's journey?
A: The stages of the buyer's journey typically include awareness, consideration, decision, and post-purchase.
Q: What are the three main steps of the buyer's journey?
A: The three main steps of the buyer's journey are awareness, consideration, and decision.
Q: What are the four stages of buying?
A: The four stages of the buyer are target, engage, convert, and advocate.
Q: What are the four phases of the buyer's journey?
A: The four phases of the buyer's journey are attract, engage, convert, and delight.
Q: What is the buyer's journey process?
A: The buyer's journey process is the progression a buyer goes through from the initial awareness of a problem or need to the final decision to make a purchase.
Q: What are the six lifecycle stages in the buyer's journey?
A: The six lifecycle stages in the buyer's journey can vary but often include lead, marketing qualified lead, sales qualified lead, opportunity, customer, and advocate.
Create an exceptional buyer’s journey experience for your target audience
In today's competitive marketplace, grasping the buyer's journey is crucial for staying ahead and achieving long-term business success. Marketers can adapt their strategies to meet the evolving needs and behaviors of buyers simply by targeting each stage of the buyer’s journey.
At the end of the day, embracing the complexities of the modern buyer while adopting agile and omnipresent account-based marketing strategies will make it possible for organizations to drive meaningful results. And better results mean better experiences for the buyers on that journey. Talk about a win-win!