Optimizing The Buyer's Journey For Every Stage Of The Sales Funnel

A step-by-step guide to help move prospects through each stage of the buyer’s journey and turn them in to life-long customers (and raving fans!).

Sales Funnel Buyer Journey

The word “journey” often brings to mind images of a heroic figure embarking on an epic pilgrimage, like Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. If you’ve never seen the LOTR movies or read the books (shame on you!), though, you need to know two things:

  • Frodo was a pretty big underdog throughout the entire saga
  • He had a lot of help along the way, especially from the magical wizard, Gandalf

What does all this have to do with marketing and sales, you ask?

Well, for one thing, your target customer sees themselves as the hero of their own story. Every problem they face in life is a journey they must undertake; a battle they must fight.

Furthermore, your goal (or your organization’s) is to work tirelessly to be your customer’s Gandalf: the magical figure that always shows up at just the right moment to help them out of a jam.

While you won’t be fending off ringwraiths or destroying Balrogs for your customers, you will be aiming to provide goods and services that will help them reach the next stage of the customer journey. In doing so, you’ll also be leading them to the next part of the sales funnel, as well.

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In this article, we’ll discuss the many ways you can help your customer move through each stage of the buyer’s journey and, in turn, nurture them through your organization’s sales funnel.

First, let’s define the major stages of both the buyer’s journey and the sales funnel.

The Stages Of The Buyer’s Journey & Sales Funnel (And How They’re Related)

The buyer’s journey is most often broken down into three stages:

  • Awareness: The stage at which an individual realizes they have a problem that must be overcome
  • Consideration: The stage at which the individual comes to understand how the problem can be solved (in terms of what products or services they’ll need)
  • Decision: The stage at which the individual makes a purchase, whether from your organization or from a competitor’s

As the name implies, the buyer’s journey looks at things from the consumer’s perspective. In other words, the endgame of the buyer’s journey is for the customer to successfully solve an problem or fix a pain point in their life, by any means necessary.

On the other hand, the sales funnel describes a consumer’s journey from the perspective of your organization.

The basic stages of a sales funnel are:

  • Awareness: The stage at which an individual becomes aware of your brand, products, and services. With relation to the buyer’s journey, this stage is where consumers either become aware they have a problem in the first place, or are in the beginning stages of seeking out a solution to a problem they know they have. Individuals in this stage are considered leads.
  • Interest: The stage at which the individual actively begins looking for a solution to their problem, and actively engages with your brand. This stage relates to the Consideration stage of the buyer’s journey. Individuals at this stage have become qualified leads, and are inching toward becoming prospects.
  • Desire: The stage at which the individual actively shows interest in your specific solution – whether it be a product or service – and your brand as a whole. Since they are yet to make a purchase, though, these individuals are still in the Consideration stage of the buyer’s journey. Since they’ve become more actively engaged and interested in your brand, individuals at this stage are considered prospects.
  • Action: The stage at which the individual makes a purchase from your company. They’ve reached the end of their journey as a consumer, and have decided that your solution is the one for them. Because they’ve given you their money in exchange for the services you provide, you can now officially call them customers.

Note: The above is a basic overview of the buyer’s journey and the sales funnel; there are many iterations of each that describe “micro-stages” throughout each major stage. We’ll get into this a bit later on.

As a provider of goods or services, you need to understand where your prospective customers are in terms of their own buyer’s journey, as well as where they are within your sales funnel. Going back to our LOTR metaphor, taking both of these perspectives into consideration will allow you to “magically” appear at the exact moment an individual finds themselves in a sticky situation – making them all the more likely to do business with your organization.

Knowing where a consumer is in their own buyer’s journey allows you to:

  • View and evaluate your offer from the consumer’s perspective
  • Understand the individual’s needs at various moments throughout their journey
  • Maximize the value you bring to them during each of these moments

Having a clearly-defined sales funnel within your organization allows you to:

  • Determine what a specific individual is “ready” for in terms of what you have to offer
  • Identify consumer-facing actions your organization has taken that either moved individuals to the next stage of the funnel or caused them to “leak out”
  • Make accurate predictions and focus on consumers who show a high probability of converting
  • Improve your marketing and sales campaigns and initiatives

The importance of understanding and considering where consumers are within the buyer’s journey and the sales funnel cannot be understated. According to data collected by Protocol 80:

  • Companies that are laser-focused on lead-nurturing generate 50% more sales while spending 33% less to do so
  • Providing targeted content and offers lead to 20% more sales opportunities than generic offerings
  • The average Fortune 500 company reports $240 million in potentially lost revenue due specifically to consumers being “stuck” at a certain part of the sales funnel

In other words, companies that provide value to their prospective customers throughout each stage of the buyer’s journey stand a much better chance of increasing their conversion rate (and overall revenue) than do companies that only engage with customers at the point of sale.

So, how do you go about providing this value?

How To Optimize The Buyer’s Journey To Generate Leads, Prospects & Customers

We’ve been alluding to the following point throughout this post, but it bears repeating:

As a service provider, your job is to make your target customer’s journey as a consumer as smooth as possible. By providing exactly what they need at the exact moment they most need it, you’ll make them more likely to follow your path toward success – nurturing them through your organization’s sales funnel along the way.

The following section will provide details and insight regarding the three stages of the buyer’s journey, as well as:

  • How each stage relates to the sales funnel
  • Content your organization can provide at each stage to nurture consumers along the sales funnel
  • Tools your organization can use to better understand and engage with consumers at each stage

Let’s start at the very beginning.

The Awareness Stage

Individuals in the awareness stage of the buyer’s journey know they have a problem, but they aren’t quite sure how to go about solving it.

This is perhaps the most painful part of the customer journey for a number of reasons. For one thing, the sting of discovering a pain point is fresh in their mind, possibly causing a shift in their emotional equilibrium. In addition to this, they may not know where to turn – or may be paralyzed with the fear that any decision they make will lead to even further disaster and despair.

At the same time, however, the pained individual will likely be open to almost any help they can get – which is where you come in. But, you can’t just swoop in with a sales pitch and expect a person at this stage to just throw their money at you.

First and foremost, you have to reassure them that things will be okay; that the problem they’re facing isn’t unfixable; that they can and will get through the pain they’re feeling.

Before they’re able to overcome their problem, though, they need to truly understand it – and understand what they can do about it.

At this point, you have an incredible opportunity to provide the individual with educational material relating specifically to their problem and the ways in which they can go about solving it.

Consider creating content such as blog posts, podcasts, and videos that provide a framework for your visitors to operate within.

For example, Instapage offers a variety of marketing guides addressing common beginner-level questions such as “What is Conversion Rate Optimization?” and “What is A/B Testing?”

You might also create content addressing more specific pain points that your audience might not even be aware of:

Content Examples (Awareness Stage)

If your content hits home, you can be sure your visitor will dive deeper into your site.

Such content accomplishes a few things:

  • It allows you to empathize with the individual and build a foundation of trust between them and your brand
  • It “grounds” the individual, allowing them to think logically about their predicament and where they should go from here
  • It positions you and your company as an authority within your industry, hopefully leading the individual to follow you as they move through their journey

There are a few ways you can optimize your visitor’s experience (as well as their chances of engaging with your brand), despite not yet having any contact with them:

  • Search Engine Optimization: Using tools from sites like Moz and SEMrush, you can make sure your content is one of the first results your target consumer sees when they search for a solution to their problem.
  • Site Optimization: Tools such as Optimizely’s Web Experimentation allow you to tweak parts of your website to more effectively deliver content and information to your audience in a way that engages them and grabs their attention.
  • Site Tracking: Services like Google Analytics and Crazy Egg makes it easy to determine who visits your site, and what they’re doing once they land on your site. Used in conjunction with site optimization tools, these services allow you to make intentional and concentrated changes to your site (rather than relying on blind trial-and-error methods).

Again, your goal when creating this content and optimizing your delivery of such is to generate leads. It’s essential that you include lead capture forms on your landing pages, squeeze pages, and other areas of your website to encourage visitors to sign up for your mailing list (providing their contact information in the process). Once they’ve provided this information and given you permission to contact them, you can reach out with more targeted content in the future.

The Consideration Stage

Most – if not all – of the individuals who provide their contact information to your company have reached the Consideration stage of the buyer’s journey.  At this point, they’ve gotten over the initial shock of discovering a problem or pain point in their life, and have begun actively seeking out an effective solution.

In terms of the sales funnel, they’re now interested in a solution – but aren’t sure which path to take.

Your job, then, is to convince leads that your services are exactly what they need to overcome their specific problem. In doing so, you’ll have converted individuals at this stage from leads into prospects.

However, there’s a fine line between objectively informing your leads of the value of your brand, and subjectively peddling your solution as the “best” solution available.

In other words, you’ll need to provide individuals in the Consideration stage with evidence that strongly suggests your product or service is the one they’re looking for – but then step back and allow them to come to their own conclusion.

You can provide this evidence in a few different ways:

  • Case studies or success stories explain how past customers have used your services, and describe the positive results they experienced upon doing so
  • White papers or reports regarding current trends and advancements within your industry as a whole, showing that your company stays up to date and offers innovative solutions to common problems
  • Webinars that dive deep into common problems faced by consumers in your industry, as well as the current solutions available. Webinars are similar to written reports in terms of content, but add value through their multimedia delivery.

Successful Client Case Study

HubSpot uses the success it helped Shopify attain as leverage to attract even more clientele.

Most of the content you provide at this stage will showcase the benefits of choosing the solution your brand offers. It paints a picture of what your target’s life will be like after successful implementation of your products or services.

Though you want to remain objective when presenting content that showcases your value, you also want to create said content with specific customer needs in mind. Because different individuals will come to you for a variety of reasons (i.e., to get help solving a variety of different problems), you can’t assume one piece of content will sufficiently showcase your value to all of your leads.

Instead, you’ll need to create content that addresses the entire spectrum of your potential customers.

For example, say your company specializes in selling fitness guides. While a success story featuring a customer who lost 40 pounds using your strategies might resonate with prospects looking to lose weight, it would fall flat with those engaging with your brand because you also offer a strength training program.

So, in addition to that initial piece of content, you’d also want to provide a success story explaining how another customer increased their weight-lifting capacity after engaging with your company, as well.

There are a number of tools that can help you determine who you should be reaching out to (and with what content), and that can help with the actual delivery of said content:

  • Lead scoring tools, such as Infer, and InsideSales, allow you to determine which leads are most worth following up with (i.e., those who have the highest probability of conversion).
  • Email marketing tools, such as MailChimp and its alternatives, help you create email drip campaigns that deliver specific pieces of content to individual leads at exactly the right moment.
  • Marketing automation tools, like Marketo, pinpoint the best offer to provide a certain prospect at any given moment

At this point, you’ve provided your leads and prospects with tons of value through a variety of content – without ever asking them for a penny.

Not to worry, though. By helping these individuals through the first two stages of the buyer’s journey – and asking for very little in return – you’ve proven to them that your main concern is helping them overcome their pain points.

Once they trust that you’re truly operating with their best interest in mind, they’ll be much more confident that purchasing your services will be money well spent.

The Decision Stage

Individuals that have reached the Decision stage of the buyer’s journey will definitely be making some sort of purchase in the near future – but they won’t necessarily be purchasing your product or service.

At this point in time, prospects fully understand the problem they face, have a pretty good idea of how they want to go about solving the problem, and have likely narrowed down their choices to a handful of companies that they believe can help them reach their goals.

So, now is no time to remain objective.

When engaging with individuals in the Decision stage, you want to provide content that showcases exactly what they’ll get when purchasing your products or services. This might include videos demonstrating how your product works or how your customer would actually use it, or it might be a longform sales page detailing specific features of your service, tied to specific benefits.

 

Content Examples (Landing Page)

By putting this content behind a contact form, you can differentiate between marketing-qualified leads and sales-qualified leads, and between leads and prospects overall.

As with the Consideration stage, customer success stories are also incredibly valuable pieces of content to offer to those in the Decision stage. However, rather than offering a cursory “before and after” glance at a previous customer’s circumstances, Consideration-stage success stories would dive deeper into exactly how the customer used your products or services to accomplish their goals.

Note: You can use the same tools as mentioned in the above section to deliver this content to your high-probability prospects.

The goal of this content is to clearly differentiate your brand from the competition. It’s where you want to make your unique selling proposition and any added value you bring your customers incredibly obvious. That way, your prospects can be almost 100% confident that purchasing your product or service is the right decision.

The final piece of the puzzle comes in the form of your actual offer.  Up until this point, the cost of your product or service hasn’t been a factor regarding whether or not your prospect will purchase from you – and it still shouldn’t be.

As was the content you provided throughout the buyer’s journey, your final service offering should be tailored to the needs of a specific segment of prospects.

Zapier Pricing Example

Zapier offers three tiers of service depending on its customers’ needs.

Because you’ve provided personalized content and individual attention to your prospects throughout their journey, they’ll pretty much expect the same thing when it comes time to make a purchase. By giving them the opportunity to pick the subscription or payment plan that best fits their needs, you give yourself a leg up over any of your competitors who pigeonhole their customers into a one-size-fits-all fee.

One last thing to note about the Decision stage is: there’s still more to do once a prospect becomes a paying customer.

As mentioned, you’ll have (hopefully) provided content explaining how to get the most use out of your product or service. After a customer has made a purchase, be sure to include this material in your confirmation email or alongside the physical product being delivered.

Additionally, give your new customers the opportunity to provide feedback, as well. Not only will this help you gain insight into what your customers are looking to get out of your offering, but you can also use any positive responses you receive to create additional customer success stories and other content, as well.

Conclusion

The buyer’s journey can be a lonely one, especially considering how distraught the individual may be upon discovering a pain point or problem in their life.

That being said, if you, as a service provider, stick by this individual throughout the many stages of their journey, you’ll build a sense of trust within them that will ultimately lead them to become loyal followers of your brand.

In turn, you’ll easily be able to lead them through your sales funnel, and continue doing business with them, in one way or another, for a long time to come.

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Matt is one of the brilliantly gifted content contributors at Fieldboom. He helps us whip up useful and interesting blog posts, guides and more.