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How to Unravel a Nonlinear Buyer’s Journey
Marketing Trends

How to Unravel a Nonlinear Buyer’s Journey

The typical buyer’s journey doesn’t move in a nice, neat line from awareness to consideration to purchase. A modern buyer’s journey is a complex, squiggly set of intersecting paths made even squiggly-er (go with it) when it’s a B2B buyer’s journey. Sometimes, whole committees get in on it with multiple stakeholders researching and vetting suppliers for different reasons. 

Gartner’s sales insights report puts it this way:

“The typical buying group for a complex B2B solution involves six to 10 decision-makers, each armed with four or five pieces of information they’ve gathered independently and must deconflict with the group.”

The experience you offer buyers cannot be disjointed.

While their journey is disjointed or fragmented, the experience they have interacting with your organization can’t be. Your company needs to serve them the information they need and make it easy to get. You need to be a knowledgeable, helpful presence ushering them along to the next phase of their journey, whatever that phase may be. 

The first step is being sure you have a good understanding of who those six to 10 decision makers are and what they’re tasked with finding out.

Research Your Audience and Create Buyer Personas

When we work with clients on their B2B marketing initiatives the very first thing we do is research. We want to find out as much as we can about not just the client’s offerings but who they’re offering their products and services to. 

Our team — most often a mix of creative, UX, and strategy people — conducts interviews with stakeholders in the client’s organization and with their clients whenever possible. We’re trying to find out things like:

  • What triggers the need to seek out our client’s services
  • How are buying decisions made
  • What challenges are they trying to overcome by using our client’s product/service
  • What is their role in the buying process

All of that information helps us get a more complete picture of who’s on the buying team, what their pain points are, what their goals are, and much more. We use it to create buyer personas that inform everything from which features our client’s new website might need to which channels we recommend for marketing to a particular persona. 

We know from our experience interviewing countless buyers and stakeholders over the years that B2B buying decisions are about more than hard numbers.

B2B is thought of by some to be a space where decisions are based on data and hard numbers. But we know from our experience interviewing countless buyers and stakeholders over the years that it’s not the whole story. 

When we think about all the personas representing a sampling of those six to 10 decision-makers, and imagine them in a meeting room together, it’s easy to see how complicated reaching a final decision can be. Along with hard data, there are any number of other more human factors at play, like convincing higher-ups that there is a need for a capital expenditure, advocating for your department (which in some cases can mean vetoing any change at all!), or simply looking good to one’s boss. 

Appealing to buyers on their non-linear customer journeys requires a mix of statistics, proof points, and emotional appeals. The easier you can make it for your prospect to vet your company and check the boxes they need to have checked off, the better off you’ll be. 

How to Map a Non-linear Buyer’s Journey 
Once we understand our buyers, we can start unraveling their squiggly journeys. We like to create an overarching journey map that plots out all the players and what they’re doing at each stage in a typical buyer’s journey. 

Remember, buyers generally aren’t ready to reach out to a sales rep until they have determined you’re a strong contender for their business. Understanding what they are looking for to move their process forward and then delivering it to them seamlessly can help get you on their shortlist.

Understanding what your buyer needs to move the process forward and then delivering it to them seamlessly can help get you on their shortlist.

The map below shows the entire life cycle of the buying experience — what they’re doing before they finally reach out to your rep. It details:

• Each persona’s role
• Where they drop off
• Where/if they rejoin
• Where the experience is handed off to the next user

CID’s Senior UX Designer, Neil Kloppenborg, explains it like this:

“Rather than each persona having their own separate user journeys they each play their own part. The overall user journey becomes something more akin to a relay race, where each user takes their own journey and then hands the ‘experience’ off to the next user.”

We also like to include information in our maps about what channels they are using at a given stage in the journey, how they’re feeling as they move through it, and what types of content would be the most helpful for them to be served at each stage.

While we use the typical linear stages (those colorful bits across the very top) to anchor the map, noting who’s doing what when in each column helps capture the nonlinear nature of the buyers’ experiences. 

Whether you try your own version of our customer journey map or create one that looks completely different doesn’t matter. What matters is that you have the journey documented in a way that works for you, with key moments, pain points, and needs captured.

Turning Your Map Into Marketing 
Using your buyer personas and journey map as the foundation for a marketing initiative makes delivering the kind of information and experience your buyers are looking for so much easier. At CID we use personas and customer journey maps for everything from helping a client plan a successful new product launch to planning out a website redesign. 

"Managing these disparate journeys, and understanding where they intersect or hand off is essential to making a good user experience for all." - Neil Kloppenborg, Senior UX Designer at CID

Neil relies on them to ensure the UX work he’s doing for a website or an app is tailored to the client’s audience. “Managing these disparate journeys, and understanding where they intersect or hand off, is essential to making a good user experience for all,” he says.

As a content strategist, I use them to make recommendations on what types of information best serves a user at each stage of a journey. For example, a targeted LinkedIn ad with a striking statistic might be a great piece for someone at the beginning, while a case study about how your product solves a specific pain point would be perfect for those a little further along. 

Our clients have used journey maps we developed to align their sales and marketing departments around certain goals. They’ve helped marketing teams create sales enablement pieces that empower sales reps with the right information for a certain persona, so they can be more confident on their calls. And, they’ve helped sales teams get a more complete picture of what marketing is working on. 

So, yes, the modern B2B buyer’s journey can be really complex. We promise (and hopefully if you’ve read this far you agree) taking the time to unravel them and truly understand them is worth the time and effort. 

Find out what all that tiny type in our personas and journey maps actually says. Contact CID to have us create them for your next initiative.

Rebecca Rick

Rebecca Rick

Senior Content Strategist + Copywriter

Creative. Strategic. Crategic? (We'll workshop it.) Rebecca's part of our award-winning marketing & strategy team where she turns ideas into words and words into content.

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