The Buyer Journey: A Model for Professional Services
Analyzing and mapping the buyer journey is not new. In fact, it’s commonly used in consumer marketing. But despite its tremendous benefits, it has not been widely adopted in the B2B professional services space. That’s a missed opportunity.
You see, buyer journey mapping encourages you to look at the entire lifecycle of a client — identifying every point of contact between your firm and your buyers.
It’s a tool that allows you to identify gaps in your marketing, sales and service processes. And you’ll see where your tactics, online and off, may break down.
Buyer Journey Defined
Understanding the buyer (or “client” in the B2B professional services context) journey involves researching and detailing the steps a buyer takes to move through the purchasing and use cycle. It’s a systematic and comprehensive view of their experience that you can summarize in a buyer journey map.
The buyer journey mapping process puts you in your clients’ shoes so you can understand and enhance their experience. And better client experiences are a critical ingredient to building your firm.
You’ll be compelled to answer questions like, “What goes on inside your buyer’s brain before they launch a project with a service provider?”, “How do buyers make decisions?” or “What factors impact client satisfaction?” By wrestling with these questions, you’ll be able to improve the way you connect with prospective clients — and boost your chances of closing the sale.
But many firms end their mapping process at the point where a prospect becomes a new client. That’s too bad. You should never think of closing a new client as the end of the process — after all, it could be the beginning of a years-long relationship. So your buyer journey map should also explore what goes on during the client engagement, what happens between engagements and how you can encourage former clients to become reliable referral sources. Such a comprehensive, detailed buyer journey map helps you analyze your clients’ experience and better communicate with them. But where do you start? The rest of this article introduces you to a simple model you can use to map out and enrich your B2B client’s lifecycle.
Buyers Journey Stages
To get started, your map will consist of four parts, each representing a stage of the B2B buyer’s journey:
Here’s how to tackle each part:
Stage 1. The Pre-Purchase Experience
The pre-purchase experience starts when potential buyers realize they have a problem — one they can’t solve themselves. As they look around for answers, they become aware of your firm (as well as your competition, of course). That’s great! You’ve overcome the first hurdle — your prospects are aware you exist. Next, B2B prospects need to determine whether you can help them. They might talk to colleagues, check out your website (and those of your competitors) or get on social media to find out how others have solved similar problems. Ultimately, B2B buyers want to find out if your firm’s expertise and past experience are relevant to their problems. Once your potential clients decide which service providers make their short list, they usually do further research, interview the finalists and ask for pricing before making a final choice. At this point in the B2B buying process, there are three possible outcomes:
- You’re hired. Good for you!
- Not now. Frustrating, but actually not such a bad place to be. The buyer has good feelings about you, but the timing is not right.
- No way — you don’t make the cut. In this situation, you may not even know you were in the running. In fact, the buyer might have completed their research without ever contacting you.
Okay, now let’s consider what happens after you’ve been hired.
Stage 2. The Professional Services Client Experience
During a client’s initial engagement, they find out what it’s like to work with you and the value you provide. While one-and-done projects generate incremental revenue, repeat clients fuel long-term growth. So it pays to build enduring client relationships. To win repeat business, you need to meet or exceed your clients’ expectations. So as you map out your B2B buyer journey, ask yourself some questions: Are you living up to your promises? Are you easy to work with? Are you hitting deadlines and staying within budget? And during every engagement, you need to ask yourself how the project is going and what you can do to improve the client’s experience.
Eventually, your initial engagement will wind down. What happens next?
Stage 3: The Between Engagement Experience
After you’ve completed your first project — especially if you’ve made a positive impression — the client may decide they want to use your services again. They may not have an immediate need, but you will be the first firm they call when they are ready. Consumer marketers might call this a loyal customer or regular user. In the B2B buying process this stage is pivotal.
Now, most buyer journey mapping models ignore the stage between engagements, but we believe it’s critical. That’s because it represents a significant opportunity, one that’s often missed.
Let’s consider an example. Suppose at the end of a successful engagement you determine there is a chance you could work again with the client in two to three years. That’s a long time for any company to remember you. If you don’t reach out in the interim, they are likely to slip away forever.
Here’s another example. Often, clients hire you to solve one kind of problem, and in their minds that one thing is the only thing you do. Just as any actor who has played James Bond becomes typecast, your firm runs the risk of being pigeonholed. You can easily lose out on a future job that should be yours simply because the client doesn’t associate your firm with other services you provide.
So as you map your journey, think about what it takes to avoid being typecast. It’s not enough to nurture leads — you need to nurture clients, too, educating them about everything you do. And you need to stay on their radar, even after your initial work is long over. The more they know about you, they more likely they will be to give you a call when the time is right.
Eventually, every client runs its course. But they still have value. Let’s find out how.
Stage 4: The Former Client
Clients leave for a variety of reasons. A contact can retire or take a new position, for example. While you can continue to nurture former clients, some situations are simply out of your control.
In one camp are clients that had a poor experience. Maybe you dropped a ball or two. Or maybe it was bad chemistry. Either way, they aren’t coming back and they probably aren’t going to recommend you to others. Say goodbye to these forever (or at least for a long, long time).
In the other camp are clients who had good experiences. They just don’t expect to need your expertise again. But that doesn’t mean you should forget about them. That would be a terrible mistake.
Why? Well, consider an investment banker who sells a business for a retiring owner. Is that the last opportunity with that client? Probably. Should that firm walk away from that client forever? No, they should stay in touch. You see, that former CEO is going to talk to her friends about the experience. And at some point, an impressed friend is going to consider that same firm to represent him when he sells his business.
Former clients can be powerful advocates for your firm. Just don’t let them forget you.
Why do most companies ignore this final phase? Probably because it doesn’t fit conventional buyer journey models. And it’s far easier — and more exciting — to look to future opportunities than to pay attention to the ones that have slipped into the past. But if you keep in front of your best former clients, you will find that they can be exceptionally loyal, and lucrative, friends.
Mapping Your Touch Points
Every phase in the B2B buyer’s journey is connected to others. So you need to be able to step back and see how it all works. That’s where the journey map comes in. Begin by identifying how and when your firm interacts with clients during each stage. Then note these touch points on your map.
What does an actual buyer journey map look like? It can take a range of forms — from a highly visual infographic to a spreadsheet to a basic Word document. The tool you choose matters less than the quality of the data that goes into it. The goal is to recognize the critical decision points (see illustration above) where buyers will either hire you or take another avenue. Only then can you see how you can meet their expectations and tip the scale in your favor.
At Hinge, we work with a wide range of data to map out a client’s entire buyer journey. To understand the pre-client phase we conduct interviews with prospects in the marketplace, as well as the “got-aways” who ended up selecting another firm. That way we learn what prospects want out of a service provider.
We also talk to current clients to understand the quality of their experience with their professional service provider, as well as to learn whether they understand the full breadth of our client’s services. Finally, we research former clients to understand where they stand on the map and what future prospects they offer: Are they between engagements, or are they gone for good? How likely are they to refer the client, and why? You can plot your own customer journey map with information you may already have — client satisfaction surveys and follow up with former clients. But without detailed research into prospects and “betweeners” — and without a clear understanding of how much clients at every stage know about your range of services — there will be significant areas of terra incognita on your map.
To understand where the gaps exist, you’ll need to analyze each client stage. What proportion of clients experience each outcome? For example, how many prospects become clients? How often do clients move into the “between engagements” stage? How many former clients are recommending you? And, of course, why? Most important, what could improve your clients’ experience — and create better outcomes? If you can’t answer all these questions, you may need to conduct research to see the full picture and make the most of all of your opportunities.
- Dive into Hinge’s own research into what motivates professional services buyers in the free book, Inside the Buyer’s Brain (Third Edition).
- Our Professional Services Guide to Research gives you the tools and knowledge you need to lead your firm through conducting research.
- Bring data-driven marketing to your firm with Hinge University’s step-by-step, in-depth courses.
How Hinge Can Help
Don’t overlook the importance of business research for your firm. Research gets to the core of what will resonate with those audiences—and is an integral part of what Hinge does for clients. Learn more about our research services or contact us to learn whether research makes sense for your professional services firm.
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