Someone looking for your services pulls out the phone book and starts searching ... Oh, no, wait - that was 15 years ago. Today, the buyer who picks up the phone to call is already more than half way to his or her buying decision. And where did they find the information to make such a decision before even hearing your voice? Very often the answer is - online!
But what does that process really look like, and how can you reach people at every stage of the buyer's journey to move them along to the next?
How the "Unaware" Prospect Researches
The person in the "unaware" stage of the buyer's journey may have a need for your product or service, but not know that they have an issue or they could be aware of an issue, but not know that there is a solution.
For example, a purchasing manager for a large manufacturer might wish he could reduce cost on parts, but not be aware that there are other options for reducing costs than just getting $.02 off each washer. Your system which optimizes warehouse processes and streamlines ordering might give him more savings than he ever imagined, but he's not looking for your help because he never dreamed it existed.
This person is not actively looking for your help, so you'll have to bait him by speaking to what he THINKS he needs. In our purchasing manager example, you might address his inside-the-box question with a blog post such as, "How to negotiate lower fastener prices" or address issues of quality control. Once you get them to the site, you'll use your blog posts and calls to action to make them aware of their real issue and the fact that solutions are available.
The "Aware" Prospect
The person who begins to sense symptoms of a problem, but has not quite pinpointed the issue is in the aware stage. To reach your aware audience, provide plenty informative content to help them identify their problems and needs - that's what they're looking for at this point. You can do this using:
- blog posts
- check lists
At this stage, keep the body of your information vendor-neutral and strictly educational. "Aware" buyers aren't ready for a sales message yet. You can increase your chances of attracting the attention of people at this stage by using social media and paid online advertising.
What Someone in the "Consideration" Stage Looks For
Now that your potential buyers has put a name to his problem, he is ready to research solutions. Be there to meet his needs by presenting unbiased suggestions, whether you offer all those solutions or not.
Don't be afraid of offering some do-it-yourself options, either. Someone who is determined to do it on his own will find the information he needs somewhere. If not on your site, then on someone else's. If he tries it and realize it's beyond his ability or he can't keep it up, who do you think he'll call for help?
To meet the needs of researches in the consideration stage, supply:
- comparison charts
All of which should present help in selecting the tools, solutions and methods to solve the buyer's problems or fill the need.
Here, too, you should be taking advantage of social media and paid online advertising. At this point, you may have collected the visitor's email address as he moved from awareness to consideration, so make sure you are nurturing that interest with educational email messages.
What a Buyer Needs In the "Intent" Stage
At this stage, your potential buyer has decided which tools and solutions will best address his needs. Now he just needs to determine which provider to hire or recommend. To this end, he'll be looking for a way to differentiate suppliers - and not just by price!
Do him (and yourself) a favor and provide a comparison of available vendors and the features (and even pricing) each one offers. Of course, it's your content, so you can add a little "why you should choose us" section, too! Some businesses have found it helpful to even include a "who should NOT choose us" section. Not only does this weed out companies that might not be a good fit for you, that kind of transparency also builds trust.
People in the intent stage will also use the following to complete their research:
- free trials or samples,
- case studies
- vendor or product comparisons.
At this point, a potential buyer may search for reviews of your company. Keep a close eye on your online reputation to make sure that what they find is accurate and positive. Your professional response to reviews (good and bad) can go a long way towards reassuring a prosepct that you are trustworthy.
At this stage, depending on the habits of your buyer, he may be asking around for specific suggestions via social media. Make it a habit to monitor social for mentions, not just of your brand, but of the services or products you offer. When you spot a question, take that as an invitation to reach out directly. For example, a person might tweet out, "I'm looking for a new laptop supplier for our school. Anyone have a recommendation?" If you sell laptops to schools, you just found your next "intent" prospect!
It truly pays to have complete, optimized and active profile wherever your prospects are on social media. A social profile that was carelessly set up and abandoned gives the impression that the company just doesn't care about the impression they make. When your intent prospects are checking you out, make sure they'll like what they see.
The "Monitor" Stage?
I propose we add another buyer journey stage here. This person is a customer, but as we know, many customers are, either by nature, or because of pressures from above, always looking for the "latest and greatest" solution for their problems or needs.
To that end, they may be looking for trends in your industry. New tools, advancements, better pricing, etc. How sad it would be if they canceled their contract with you, and when you asked why you learned that it was because they wanted a feature that they didn't know you offered! By then it might be too late to win them back.
Clearly, they are looking online for this kind of news, so make sure they find YOU. Keep on top of industry news and trends and report on them on your blog, using social media, and in newsletters you send to your existing clients. Of course, you'll have in-person or telephone meetings as well, in most cases, but it's still important that they can find what they need exactly when they are looking for it.
We've come a long way from cold calls and the Yellow Pages. Make sure your prospects can find you when they look - even if they don't know what they're looking for! That's the power of inbound marketing - and we can help.