In our Cognitive Marketing framework, there are six stages in the customer decision journey from Unaware to Advocacy. We can classify a prospect going through the process of making a change by their behavior, placing them in one of the six stages. To simplify our thinking, we tend to consider the four conversion points between the first five stages leading up to a closed deal. For example, conversion one is the process of helping a person move from being Unaware to Contemplating a change.
We, as sales and marketing professionals, are not in control of the buyer’s journey; we have no say in keeping them at a given stage. Our job is to help them move forward. And that is the rub. Remember that most marketing folk are skilled at moving people from stage one to stage two. Some are good at helping them convert from stage two (contemplating) to stage three (preparation). Then the lead gets tossed to sales, and marketing steps back.
But why? Nothing is closed yet. Business is an exchange relationship, and victory can only be measured at the end of the entire process. Marketing-qualified leads are great but not the goal.
The True Power of Marketing
It’s in the later stages of the buying process that you see the true value of effective marketing, when marketing and sales are aligned and working in concert to drive revenue and profit.
Since there are 50,000+/- agencies in the U.S. that can probably help you with the early-stage stuff, I’ll focus our insights on what matters most in helping a prospect through the journey to buy. We are experts in the kind of marketing that helps sales close deals. Can we do the early-stage stuff? Awareness and converting people into leads? Sure. But we do our best work for companies that want help with those prospects through to close.
Here’s a glimpse inside our heads. We intend for what follows to be helpful, for you to apply it. It’s not just some marketing fluff!
Stage 3 Stage 4 Conversions
Preparation is the best name for this conversion point. Our objective is to help prospects move to the Action stage. (In a previous blog post , we riffed on the science behind our framework; understanding that will help make the names of the principles make sense when applied to business and sales.)
Knowing where we are going, let’s talk about where the prospect is. The idea behind Preparation is simply this: The prospect has shifted gears from thinking about making a change to exploring options and gathering information. They are working to more deeply understand what it would take to make a change. They are looking into the specifics of their needs as much as your offering.
Do you hear that? It’s as much about THEM as it is YOU. Rest assured, they are looking at all available options to solve the problem—the internet gives them unprecedented access to information about you and all of your competitors. If the prospect were your best friend, you would listen to the problem and help them imagine the way the future might look if they made a change.
Occasionally, we still hear about people reading trade publications for information or going to trade shows to learn about new products. But today, people do their own research online. The most significant difference between a prospect at Stage 2 Preparation and a person at Stage 3 Contemplating is this—they might, might be willing to give you a name or an email address in exchange for an insightful piece of content. Maybe they will watch a demo video. Perhaps they will even talk to your sales team.
But what are they looking for? Science teaches us that three processes will help a person in the Preparation phase move to Action:
The prospect wants to see how the change will impact them personally. Will I get fired or get a promotion? Will I be proud to tell my best friends about the decision, or would I be fearful? Could I get an award at the annual event? A raise? The respect of my boss or peers?
This all might sound too mushy for hardcore sales, but guess what? Your prospects are people. They have the same ambitions and anxieties as the rest of us. And when it comes to B2B, we also know this kind of “what’s in it for me?” thinking is happening with multiple decision-makers at all levels in the process.
Our goal is to inspire their emotions, help them see what success looks like.
B2B is strategically a brilliant puzzle to solve. Multiple buyers, multiple stages. We like to say it is simple but not easy. A good plan, an effective plan, maps and understands this complexity. This is not selling a can of soda pop. It’s not about the tool; it’s always about the ideas found in the process, but I’ll share some video we’ve always found to be powerful.
People are motivated by emotion but will absolutely rationalize their decisions. Most of us in sales lean on this process, and that is good but not sufficient. Strategic and financial insights rule the day here. Can you prove your claims? More than ever, prospects expect that proof.
Strategically, though, showing how your product/service can help achieve a non-financial corporate goal is also powerful. We tend to focus on money, but the truth is that non-financial objectives are very close to the hearts of all buyers. Can you demonstrate how this new service/product will impact company culture? Also, sure, how will it help the prospect solve a financial problem? Think about price but also ROI. This needs to be visually and simply communicated. Calculators and ROI tools are useful. These might be consultative-driven or self-administered. It would help if you offered both.
As much as we all lean on Rational tools, and some of us have emotional tools, almost all of us forget to build tools around the process of Commitment. This is an excellent example that demonstrates how marketing and sales should be working hand in hand. This is the most critical process in helping a prospect move forward.
The prospect needs to know they have safety. This is basic human-being stuff. Without safety, we stop moving forward and might well retreat. I retreat when I get an unwanted call from a business that I might have downloaded a white paper from, for example. It ticks me off. I wanted to read and learn—NOT GET PRESSURED.
You must build tools and processes that allow a prospect to engage with your business without exposing themselves to the risk of ridicule or error in front of other peers and executives. You know the phrase “nobody got fired for hiring __ __ __.” Right? This process is the why. It’s the source of the joke. IBM created such safety that the rational and emotional process was covered in the development. I could even buy the wrong thing, and it was safe. What are you doing to design and create safety?
Tools we find compelling are small exchanged-based diagnostics, deep expertise, testimonial tools and advocacy-development partnerships. Reminder: It’s NOT the tools—it’s the idea that matters. Safety. Even with the most powerful rational and emotional tools, your prospect will not move forward without safety.
Is there more to think about? Yes. What is the biggest mistake we see at this conversion point? We see two errors often.
First: way too much aggressive sales behavior, way too soon. This erodes the feeling of safety immediately because it signals your intent to meet your needs, not your prospect’s. Second: marketing abdicates. Too many marketers are not trained in sales and have proven they will mess up deals. So salespeople reinforce the lack of skill by hiding from marketing. Frankly, if I were making a living as a salesperson, I would not want untrained, if well-intended, marketers messing with my pipeline. Marketing, in turn, backs out. They don’t assign resources, and sales becomes an independent origination or worse, a bunch of cowboys, each with their own plans to close deals.
You can do better. Begin here at the stage 3-4 conversion. Equip your teams to work together. Have a guide—even start with these insights, and challenge them to build tools that fit all three processes.
Of course, this is what we do, and we are always glad to help. In fact, if you want help, we want you to have enough safety to call us. If you’re going to explore more deeply, call us, and we will give you access to a video series that teaches this topic deeply. That’s our promise. Alternatively, you can consider reading a book we wrote: SHIFT “A guide for executives in charge of marketing but not trained for the task.” Then again, if you are ready for a guide through this, we will talk to you about that process, too.