In today's episode, we're going to look at your buyer's journey: the buyer's journey today versus the buyer’s journey back in 2007, versus what the buyer’s journey will look like in the near future.
In order to put all of this into context and understand the active research process that complete strangers go through, in between when they first start researching a problem and when they ultimately become a customer of a company like yours, you need to understand what's going on in their minds.
You also need to factor in some of the big changes that have happened in the last few years.
Meet the Modern Buyer
Now, the modern buyer is quite different than the buyer of as recently as five or ten years ago.
The modern buyer has very different ways of researching and making purchase decisions.
There have been really dramatic changes in behavior ever since the release of the original iPhone back in 2007. The introduction of the original iPhone set off an acceleration and series of cascading events that were all about empowerment; empowering people to get access to information and take back control of what they want.
For example, people got tired of getting interrupted by obnoxious marketers and salespeople. So some entrepreneurs came up with better ways to do things.
Modern buyers got tired of for example of listening to radio commercials. So an entire business model around satellite radio was born. Modern buyers got tired of watching TV commercials so fueled growth in the digital video recorder (DVR), TiVo, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video.
We could talk for quite some time about the impact of Amazon on a lot of different sectors. But suffice it to say, the buyer's journey is quite different today because of the impact of Amazon, way beyond simply selling books -- what Amazon set out to originally disrupt more than two decades ago.
The Impact of Search, Social Media, and Mobile
A lot of traditional marketing and sales playbooks that many businesses lean on have become really disrupted, a lot less effective and a lot more expensive to execute on. Why? Mainstream adoption of search engines, social media, and mobile devices.
And it's not like mobile devices have just been adopted. Mobile devices are now to the point where they’ve reached the level of addiction. It's the first thing that people look at when they get up in the morning before they even get out of bed.
In many cases, mobile devices are the last thing people look at before they go to sleep in the evening. And yes, there are experts that advocate against doing that. But the reality: that behavior is the behavior of a lot of people. Modern buyers are checking their mobile devices literally dozens of times each day for voicemails, text messages, emails, and messages on social media.
Mobile devices -- including the hardware, apps, and connectivity -- are an addiction that causes people to drive and walk around dangerously.
Smartphones are a very big part of our pop culture, a very big part of people's lives.
And smartphones when combined with search engines and social media give modern buyers unprecedented empowerment to control more of the buyer's journey.
The Modern Buyer of the Future: Voice Search, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, the Internet of Things (IoT), and Smart Cities
In the future, these changes are going to be even more dramatic. The modern buyer’s journey is not just going to be about search engines, social media, and mobile computing.
Voice search has already taken off like a rocket on smartphones and on personal assistants like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa, and Cortana.
People are just asking questions like crazy. The nature and specificity of their questions get even more intimate, even more detailed, because you don't even need to type your questions anymore.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is going to be a huge factor going forward as all of these platforms not only know what we explicitly tell them about ourselves. But everyone from Amazon to Netflix to Uber starts to model our implicit behavior and make all kinds of inferences based on other people like us and in their recommendations about what they do next.
Amazon has been successful with AI for well over a decade: people who bought this item also buy this…
Machine learning is another big deal that will continue to empower modern buyers. Software continues to become smarter and smarter over time, potentially displacing not only jobs but entire industries.
IoT, the Internet of Things, is going digitally transform manufacturing, hospitality, transportation, and dozens of different areas by putting sensors in devices that feed data back in real time to all kinds of networks and information infrastructure.
Autonomous driving is right on the cusp of taking off. And wow does that have massive implications for how people get around in cars, trucks, and buses.
Smart cities are also just around the corner; cities where everything is connected.
So this is the backdrop on which the entire buyer's journey is drastically changing.
But in order to understand where we are today, let's take a brief trip back down memory lane into what the buyer's journey looked like before the iPhone, pre-2007.
Buyer’s Journey Pre-iPhone (Before 2007)
Back then, your marketing team probably exhibited at a lot of trade shows and invested in print advertising, direct mail, and cold emails. They rented lists of people and sent a lot of emails to people who didn't want those emails. If they were more self-aware, marketing professionals might have considered themselves spammers. But of course, everyone else are the spammers; we’re not right? Of course, everyone else sends junk mail. We send targeted direct mail, right?
So this is what the marketing playbook was like in the pre-iPhone days. And yes, there were other digital channels and Internet marketing components mixed in it. But trade shows, print ads, direct mail, and cold emails were kind of the mainstay back then.
Sales back then were quite different as well. Buyers were at the mercy of your sales team. Sales controlled access to information, especially in complex purchases of high-ticket business to consumer and business to business items. There was tremendous asymmetry, with many lopsided situations where the sales team had all the cards, and the buyers had to literally go begging, chasing, and grovel to figure out what was really going on.
At this stage, marketing didn't need to be that accountable, as it didn't matter quite that much. Ideas like return on investment (ROI), landing page optimization (LPO), conversion rate optimization (CRO), split testing, multivariate testing, and attribution models hadn't become quite as mainstream in digital as they are today.
It was a very seller-centric sales cycle. Back then, your sales team could successfully use cold calls to start the buyer's journey. People had caller ID, but there wasn't quite the level of cynicism, reserve, and refusal to answer phone calls if you don't recognize the number that we see today.
Prospects spoke with sales reps pretty early on in their buyer's journey, pretty early on in their decision-making process, out of necessity, when prospects were 10% to 20% into the decision-making process.
Consumer Preferences and Technology Changes Greatly
In the time since the original iPhone shipped, consumer preferences and technology platforms have evolved and changed greatly. Think about the impact of:
- Airbnb on how people make hotel reservations
- Uber and Lyft on ground transportation both in your home city and when you travel
- Amazon Prime 1-Click Ordering on expectations with shopping, time savings, and shipping costs
- Sirius XM, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video on broadcast media
These trends call into question the future of broadcast and cable TV which are heavily dependent in many cases on interruption-based commercials.
The smartphone has largely replaced, in many cases, a half dozen different devices. Remember when people used to buy:
- Standalone GPS devices that were applied with suction cups onto the inside of car windshields and plugged into cigarette lighters
- Cameras (that were just cameras)
- Digital photo albums
- Clock radios
- Watches (that were just watches)
Yes, people still do to a certain degree buy the modern versions of these devices. But for a lot of basic video and photography, for example, the smartphone has completely replaced these devices.
With G Suite or Office 365, you can to write documents and create spreadsheets right from your smartphone.
There have been huge changes in mobile hardware, dramatic improvements in available mobile bandwidth, and cost reductions on mobile bandwidth.
As the modern buyer has become a lot more comfortable with cloud computing and software as a service (SaaS), especially within mid-market and enterprise companies, there's been the consumerization of IT where line of business units, business departments, are literally wrestling with CIOs and IT empires for control of IT assets. Along the same lines, you see this whole idea of shadow IT emerging where business managers get tired of waiting for their IT departments to keep up. So business managers do their own thing and create all kinds of security and compliance problems along the way.
The modern buyer is a lot more comfortable with video conferencing and online collaboration.
Today’s Buyer’s Journey
So that brings us to the buyer's journey we have today.
There are still some marketing teams that swear by their trade show booths. Although we see many that are pulling back on their trade show investments, after many years of participation, and redeploying towards digital.
Some marketing teams still swear by their print advertisements. But many of these publications are not very financially healthy and have been going away. More digitally-savvy marketers are moving a lot of their resources over to digital equivalents.
There’s a similar trend with direct mail transitioning over email, as well as cold emails becoming more permission-based (in theory!).
However, the rise of search engines, social media, mobile devices, and cloud computing really does change everything when it comes to the traditional playbook.
Because of these changes, sales no longer holds the cards like they used to. Buyers are no longer at the mercy of a sales team.
Modern buyers are using search engines and social media to do tons of research on all of their questions, problems, challenges, and struggles long before they ever consider talking with a salesperson. So in many cases, buyers don't need sales assistance anymore. Prospects often have strong preferences to put off sales conversations as long as possible, until way down the road, avoiding these interactions at all costs in many cases, in many industries.
In many business models, sometimes 70% or more of their decision-making process is over before prospects are open to a sales conversation. The sales monopoly on information is gone. It is a much more buyer-centric sales cycle today. Buyers hold all of the cards, and they decide if and when they're going to speak with your sales team.
Sales teams need a way to get found earlier and be seen as trusted advisers, as subject matter experts, because no one's getting up at 2:00 in the morning in a cold sweat and worrying that they haven’t spoken with enough salespeople this month.
With modern buyers in a digital-first world, personalization is absolutely critical. You must understand who they are and where they are in the buyer's journey.
All of these prospects and customers are looking at you in the same context of how they interact with businesses again like Airbnb. Uber, Lyft, Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon Prime.
Modern buyers may not be expecting your company to be quite at that level, but that's what they're used to. So in order to really up your game, to stay relevant, your sales team needs to be a lot more focused on being seen as consultants and true experts, not just order takers and explainers.
The Impact of Amazon and Its Change in Market Capitalization Over the Past Decade
Amazon has really changed everything. Think about how the equities market has valued this change.
Look at what Amazon was worth from a market capitalization standpoint before the iPhone was released compared to where we are today.
If you go back about ten years or so, Amazon's market cap was worth about $17.5 billion. Today’s Amazon’s market cap is closing in on almost $700 billion; almost 40x growth in a little over a ten year period. That's insane.
While all of this was going on, Amazon was throwing a wrecking ball into and disrupting traditional preferences by giving people what they wanted: control, convenience, and getting exactly what they want 100% on their terms, no more and no less.
The market share of Sears, J.C. Penney, Nordstrom, Kohl's, Macy's, and Best Buy have been completely decimated -- in many cases being reduced by 90% or more.
Walmart seems to be the only major retailer in this time period that held its own against Amazon. Walmart’s market cap didn’t grow much in this time period, but at least it didn’t shrink,
Buyer’s Journey Within The Next Three Years
So what does this mean for where the buyer's journey is headed, regardless of whether your company is business to business or business to consumer? And where is the buyer’s journey going in the next one to three years?
There will still be marketers investing in trade shows, print advertising, and direct mail. And there will still be marketers who insist that it's okay for them to send emails to people that didn't ask for emails because everyone else is a spammer. There's been this severe disruption of traditional marketing and sales. Everything traditional and old-school has become a lot more expensive and a lot less effective.
Yes; search engines, social media, mobile, and cloud will still be huge factors.
But expect media like what you're listening to right now -- podcasting -- to become more mainstream as it becomes even easier to listen to podcasts in your car on standard car stereos in the major auto manufacturers.
Expect the video to continue growing like crazy as more people are streaming video on mobile devices, streaming video on smart TVs, and moving away from broadcast TV.
Live video -- especially Facebook Live and YouTube Live -- will continue to skyrocket in popularity to bring people together from across town, across the state, and across the planet. Every business can now have its own TV station.
Personalization will just no longer be a nice-to-have. Personalization is going to be a need-to-have.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning will accelerate the pace of change and disruption even further as the tools that we use as business owners, sales professionals, and marketing professionals will continue to bake in AI.
Why Sales and Marketing Need to Join at the Hip
So what does this mean for your sales team if you think about the buyer's journey one to three years out? If there are different departments and silos in your company, where sales and marketing do not collaborate well together, or worse have a negative opinion of each other, that needs to stop.
In a world where people are getting 80% to 100% of the way through the buyer's journey without the need to talk with someone from sales, if your sales and marketing teams are not working together it's going to be catastrophic for your company's future. Sales and marketing really need to come together as a single revenue-generating team.
When your prospects and customers are doing all of their research or nearly all of their research on search and social before they're open to a sales conversation, 70% to 90% of revenue generation is going to fall within what people would traditionally consider marketing.
This impacts your budgeting too. In most companies, there's an overwhelming amount of payroll sitting in sales in the last 20% or 30% of the buyer's journey and very little budget being allocated to marketing that’s supposed to cover the first 70% of the buyer's journey.
The baseball analogy is this: think about how baseball teams put together rosters of players that play in the early innings, like their starting position players and their starting pitchers, compared to players that come in to play in the late innings, their bullpen of relief pitchers and bench players. These late-innings players typically are good in short bursts but don't necessarily have the endurance to play for two or three hours every single night.
Now think about the way that your sales and marketing teams are constructed. Do you have almost all of your sales/marketing payroll going to the late innings -- to the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. This approach could be awesome if you have a close game that's on the line. But in most cases, you're completely starving the first seven innings -- in your case: the first 70% of the buyer's journey, where your company is totally and completely invisible.
Your Sales Team as Masters of Answering Questions in the Modern Buyer’s Journey
Because of this, your sales team is fighting a losing battle to stay relevant. Smart companies are taking some of their digitally-savvy sales people and moving them into content roles -- driving strategy, content creation, and content promotion as company evangelists.
It's super critical that you get as close as possible to your customers, so that you can encapsulate their own words.
You need a way to make sure that every single question that you ever get asked by phone, in person, by email, or on social media is answered in your content.
Because the next time, a person won’t ask you directly, but will instead ask Google, Bing, Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant, Facebook, or Twitter.
The modern buyer is going to ask their question digitally.
So the question for you -- when your prospects and clients are asking their questions, do you want your company to be discovered? Or do you want these prospects and clients to find your competition providing better answers and your company to be invisible?
Is your company invisible in this early stage, where it matters most, where you have an opportunity to earn a seat at the table as a trusted adviser and really shape all of the buying criteria throughout the modern buyer's journey?
Reinventing Sales Teams as Thought Leaders and Consultants
Again sales teams are going to face great challenges. One of the best ways to push back against that is to look at how your sales team can reinvent their positioning with tactics as basic as title changes on their business cards, email signatures, and LinkedIn profiles.
Thought leaders, experts, and educators will be sought after. Salespeople, not so much.
So if you have people on your sales team that are basically glorified order takers or all they really ever do is explain things, that’s all being digitized and won’t need to be provided on a one-off basis in the near future.
True consultants are going to dominate sales because the modern buyer does not always need a salesperson to make a purchase.
If you're wondering what Jeff Bezos and Amazon are up to in this regard, look up “Amazon Go.”
This concept, for now, is a small convenience store in downtown Seattle that just recently came out of beta.
It's not the size of a supermarket yet. But Amazon does own Whole Foods. So you have to wonder: is this the future of retail where there are no cashiers and no checkout lines, where everything is being tracked by sensors and scanners.
Yes, Amazon Go is a very small, controlled experiment. Right now there are lots of restrictions.
But remember. If you were an executive at Barnes & Noble two decades ago and you looked at Amazon.com as just a little startup that was selling books online, you definitely would’ve been overlooked the disruptive threat.
The Bottom Line on Your Buyer's Journey - Then, Now, and Beyond
The modern buyer's journey is presenting a big challenge for a lot of old-school, traditional companies. The 70% factor -- where prospects and clients don't want to talk with your sales team until they're at least 70% of the way through the journey -- is a really big deal. It's a huge challenge for a lot of companies.
But the 70% issue is also a huge opportunity for digitally-savvy customers that know how to attract the right people, in the right places, at the right time, and most of all in the right context.
So the question for you:
Do you want to be on the right side of the modern buyer's journey? Do you want to be able to compete not only now, but beyond? The ball is in your court.
The decision depends on how serious your company is about core concepts like differentiation, competitive positioning, being seen as thought leaders, understanding the buyer's journey so you can accelerate the sales process, and being really focused on revenue growth with the modern buyer in a digital-first world.