The probability of closing a marketing lead is 46% higher for companies that let their marketers change their CRM to use customised stages. This goes up by another 28% if those renamed stages are buyer-readiness stages, not seller-activity stages.

But only 24% of marketers make this change. Why?  And what are the buyer readiness stages, anyway?

In our sales and marketing alignment study published a couple of years ago, we found that only 24% of marketers had changed the stage names from the out-of-the-box configuration given by the CRM vendors to buyer readiness stages (the stages in the buyer’s journey). We found that those marketers were enjoying closure rates of nearly double those that their counterparts that took the CRM stages straight out of the box. Clearly, the importance of this is not lost on you or on me. But, what really are these buyer readiness stages? What message is the buyer ready for at each stage? That’s what we’re going to uncover in this blog. The exact stages in the buyer’s journey, and what message they’re ready for at each stage.

Let’s take a look at the buyer’s journey. We all know that the end of the journey for a first-time buyer is to make a decision. Now, if the decision made is the final stage in that part of the journey, before that they need to know what the options are, and actually they need to prefer the option you’re offering. Prior to that, they have a clear need that they’re looking for options to meet. Before they get there, there’s a problem that they’re trying to solve that gives rise to that need. Before the problem, they know who you are but they’re not yet interested. And before that, they’re just a name.

Let’s cycle that forward and think of that from a marketing and a sales perspective:

  • First they’re a name. Then they know who you are, but they’re not really interested
  • Then after they’re interested, they actually accept that the problem you’re talking about is real and a priority for them
  • Then at some later point, they know what they need from you or from somebody else
  • Then they become clear about what your offer is, the product, the price, the services, the proof. All of that is your offer and it’s fully understood
  • Then after that, they prefer your offer over others.
  • Then they can make a decision.

What should your content messaging strategy be for each stage?

1. If your buyers are just at the “names found” stage (that is, they haven’t really taken any steps in their journey at all with you) what are they ready for? Well, they’re ready to understand that you’re a player in the mix – you’re one of the companies who can solve that problem. So talk about the problem. Talk about the fact that you have credentials solving a problem. You’re not yet really trying to trouble them around the problem, only that you have insights around the problem that should be listened to.

2. Once they know who you are, but they haven’t yet really shown much interest, what are they ready for? Well, they’re ready for more content that helps them actually develop an interest in that topic. So what are you going to talk about? Why should this problem be solved and what are some of your clever and unique insights into that problem? They’re ready to show their interest by responding to that sort of messaging.

3. Once they’ve accepted that this is worth exploring, we want to get them to the stage of, ‘this is a problem not for the market, but for you’. You have the problem, and it’s probably better that I don’t tell you that. It’s probably better that you work it out yourself. So the message that the buyer’s ready for would be comparison messages; it would be troubling content that helps the buyer understand that, actually, they have this problem; it’s self-awareness type content. So the message is going to revolve around the problem. Again, it’s causes, triggers, consequences and some of the solution elements that you might look for, but it’s all around: “Hey, you know what? This is not a problem, it’s the problem.” That’s what they’re ready for right now.

4. Once they’ve accepted that they’ve got that problem, they’re ready for messages around what they need from you or from others. So help them shape that need, the content that helps them work out that the solution that you look for needs to have these four elements in it. That’s the message that they’re ready for now.

5. Once they’ve accepted that they have a need, now they’re ready for your offer. They’re ready to understand how you would meet that need, and for those four elements that are most important, how do you deliver each of those four elements? If I back up one stage prior to the needs stage, you can see why it’s so important that we shape the need, because now our offer needs to meet that previously shaped need. Imagine then how silly it is for us as marketers or as salespeople to be talking about product messages before this point. If they’re ready for it now, they certainly weren’t ready for it earlier. We should be talking about the problem and its consequences earlier on. Not until they’ve clearly negotiated and agreed a need, are they ready for messages around your solution.

6. Then they’re ready for messages around why your solution is better and how it more fully meets the need. So testimonials and case studies are clearly going to be important now. Then, finally…

7. Once they’ve preferred your solution and they’re ready to make a decision, what message are they ready for next? Messages that help them realize that the pain of the problem is greater than the pain of the solution. There needs to be a good enough delta between the pain of your solution – the dollar cost, the time cost, the risk etc. – such that the difference is attractive enough because there is going to be a risk in buying your solution (or any). There needs to be a big enough payoff for them making that risk decision. So the pain of the problem needs to be higher than the pain of the solution. That’s the message they’re ready for now.

So our messaging at each stage needs to be precise and targeted, and that’s why one of the tactics that we love to employ is not just automated marketing but sales that have been enabled by marketing; marketing building content for the sales team to manage that progression as well. As marketers, we don’t create all of the opportunities, we create some of them. But we can provide support materials for the sales force to use at each stage in the journey. So the salesperson knows when it’s the right time to message the next frame, we then have got the right content for them to do so.

Tying it all together

These stages are used by thousands of companies around the world and there’s real value in sticking to them. You don’t have to stick to the names we’ve outlined here – you can change them if you really want to – just don’t skip important stages or think some stages are the same (‘Gap’ and “Need’, for example). They’re really important in their differences, and I would encourage you to keep that separation.

These stage names will help with two really important areas: velocity (that’s velocity of buyers, not of sellers) and tactics. Firstly, velocity: how many weeks does it take to win a deal once we have a qualified lead? How long will it take to get from ‘Positioned’ to ‘Interested’, and how many will we lose along the way? Looking  at the time that it takes, the leakage that occurs and the meetings that are consumed to move buyers through each stage in the buyer’s journey.

That’s the first area it plays out. The second area is in the tactics themselves. If we take a look at the tactics, the tactics are what we do to the buyer in order to move them from one stage to the next. So we need to know what the stages are. How do we get the buyer to this stage? When we’ve completed all of the tactics in the ‘new names’ stage, we would have a complete set of names. When we’ve carried out the tactics to position the category, that’s how we would have got those names to know that we’re in the market when the business is solving that problem.

Naming the stages alone won’t magically improve lead closes – but it does make the whole process more easy to manage and to keep sales and marketing on the same page. It’ll help determine what tactics to deploy and when, and when a buyer is ready for the next stage. It can be a complex subject – it’s best understood visually. It’s why there’s a video with this weeks blog, and also why we created Funnel Plan – it does the hard work for you and makes following the buyer’s journey (and closing those leads) that much simpler.