Are you working inside out? Weird question, I know, but stay with me. Many people approach their sales, marketing and customer success processes in an inside out manner. They start with themselves, their brand and their product as the center and then project that onto the customer and their journey. But brands that aim to delight customers work from the outside in. If you find yourself guilty of this self-centered approach, you aren’t alone. This article will explain how you can improve your customer journey, by starting with your buyer.
This simple starting point adjustment will shape your sales, marketing and customer success processes. As an example of what it takes to embrace this approach let’s dig into what it takes to achieve alignment between your sales and sales enablement processes and your buyer journey specifically.
Step 1: Start with your Ideal Customer Profiles (ICPs) and Go-To-Market (GTM) strategy.
Do you know who your buyers are? Really know? Before anything else, review your ICPs (or make them, if you don’t have them yet). And, yes that is ICPs with an S, because unless you have a wildly niche product or service there are going to be multiple profiles. Then consider what the buying committee looks like for each ICP. Now each of those members of the buying committee becomes a persona. All of the information about your buyers, and how they buy, will then be used to help you map out your customer journey. This should answer the question of how they get to you and what they need at each step along the way.
Usually, it’s a good idea to flesh out one universal buying process and then adjust it based on each persona you have. However, if you market in very different ways, you may need two buyer processes. For example, if you have a heavily partner-driven GTM motion and also have an inbound GTM motion in place, you’ll need distinct buyer processes for each.
Understanding your buyer process will improve your customer journey, because it sets the foundation on which to build your marketing process, sales process, customer process and even your GTM strategy. You might find, after mapping out your buyer process, that your existing GTM strategy doesn’t really make sense. In this scenario, address that right away before moving on. All set with your ICPs, GTM strategy and buyer processes? Move on to step two.
Step 2: Align your sales and sales enablement processes to the buyer journey.
We recently released some compelling research on sales and marketing alignment, conducted in partnership with Drift. We learned that keeping sales and marketing in close physical proximity to each other goes a long way toward alignment, as does including marketing in face time with customers. But, perhaps the biggest takeaway of all was that many teams thought they were aligned but really weren’t (at least around the right thing – the customer).
There’s a huge difference between being customer-centric in philosophy and being customer-centric in process. The ultimate act of aligning your sales, marketing and sales enablement teams is aligning around the customer. And the ultimate act of aligning yourself to your customer is aligning your processes to theirs, not the other way around. “So, how do I do that, JT?” you ask. I’m getting there.
Create a Customer Lifecycle
So, you should know the big picture of how your buyers buy at this point. Is it through partners? Outbound? Inbound? Ecommerce? And, of course, that answer will define your routes to market. Your next step is to create your customer lifecycle. We like to think of the “full bowtie” concept for funnels; the prospect who doesn’t know anything about you or your products is on the left, and the customer who is a full-fledged advocate on your behalf is on the right of the bowtie.
One quick way to improve your customer journey is simply by viewing your customers through this lens. What stage is a customer in at the top of the funnel? What obstacles to reaching them are present, and what information do they need? As they move down toward the traditional bottom of the funnel, what questions might they have? What reassurance might they need? And then as the bottom of the bowtie expands out, what does your potential customer advocate require in order to be your advocate? All stages and activities within this journey should be focused on where your customer is, what decisions they’re trying to make and what’s important to them.
Enable Sales Around the Customer Lifecycle
Then, you connect the dots in terms of your sales and sales enablement. Align your processes to the customer, and create messages, resources and an experience that mesh with where the buyer is. If you start with your own process first and then try to force fit your customers into it, you’ll simply create friction in the buying process.
For example, let’s say you don’t have a good understanding of your customer and their process and lifecycle. So, you run your discovery phase and operate sales and marketing processes as if high velocity actions are needed (e.g. strong CTAs, expectations for quick conversions, etc.). But you didn’t know your client had a much deeper and involved buying process and would bring in other committee members. So your message, pace and desired velocity are vastly different than what they need. It’ll fall flat.
Warning Signs of Being Inside Out
So you think you’re aligned, but how do you know for sure? Here are a couple of classic red flags that misalignment is your reality.
- The naming conventions used in your sales process are you-centric. The naming conventions you use and the activities in your exit criteria for buyers at each stage of the process should be about what the buyer is doing (e.g. buyer is asking, “how much should I budget for this?”). If yours are centered on your salesperson instead (e.g. “salesperson gets opportunity for meeting”), you’re missing alignment.
- Lower than industry benchmark conversion rates through the funnel. This is a clear indication that you’re not giving prospects and customers what they need in order to progress through your sales process.
- High customer churn. Customers who don’t get what they need end up dissatisfied – and they leave. If your customers keep leaving, you’re not aligned to their journey and need these tips to improve your customer journey.
Putting Alignment into Action
To really knock it out of the park with aligning your sales and sales enablement processes to your buyer journey, here are some more tips.
- Get deeper with the customer journey. It’s not enough to have a buyer journey that looks like this: Buyer hears about our company, buyer requests a demo, buyer buys. This will get you nowhere fast. To truly improve your customer journey, include who’s involved at each step of the journey, how long each step takes, what information the buyer is looking for at that point, where they go to find it and who they trust in each phase (this last one is crucial).
- Run an audit of your sales, sales enablement and marketing processes against the buyer process. When you put them side by side, you’ll almost certainly find some stark gaps in what the buyer is doing and trying to accomplish compared to what process your organization is running.
- Rearchitect your processes accordingly. Now you know what’s missing, and what’s needed. You can fix it. If there’s any confusion here, work through it in a facilitated workshop, through conversations with customers, etc.
- Operationalize it. Remember this step! It’s all just a big pile of documentation if you don’t put it into action. This includes setting up your analytic reporting, CRM and executing the customer-centric marketing and sales processes and systems.
- Enable the process. This step is often missed, but is just as important as the others. What enablement do you have in place for each step of your new processes, in terms of content, tools, etc.? Do you need to create any templates or job aids for customers?
- Spend a day in the life. Encourage marketing to spend time in sales’ shoes and vice versa. And both sales and marketing should spend time in customer success’ shoes. This will help you continually evolve and refine your processes, and better understand your comrades.
- Practice regular win/loss analyses. Finally, analyze how you’re doing! One of the best ways is also mind-blowingly simple. Every time you win or lose a customer, ask the customer key questions about why they were going to (or did) buy from you, and what their process looked like. This will help you understand whether you provided ample insight, tools and resources along the way.
Sales and sales enablement are critical to moving the revenue needle, but they’re nothing if they’re not aligned to your customer journey. Take these steps, and let us know how it helps. Still looking for more guidance? That’s what we’re here for. Give us a call.
Meet JT Bricker
As a strategic marketing leader, J.T. leads teams in helping clients design and execute actionable marketing and sales strategies and impactful execution that drive revenue growth and profitability. He works closely with organizations to develop a strategically grounded approach to marketing and sales with a blend of strategy, analytics, technology and creative to achieve growth objectives. J.T. works with the LeadMD team in advising clients on best practices in revenue growth strategies, strategic sales and marketing alignment, account-based strategies, demand generation, marketing technology, marketing operations, analytics and sales management. Prior to joining LeadMD, J.T. held a variety of marketing leadership and strategic consulting roles including management consultant, marketing operations, pricing and offer management, demand generation and analytics in multiple enterprise organizations.