Earlier this month, our co-founder Hugh was interviewed on the Pathmonk Presents podcast by host and design/UX expert Lukas Haensch. The Pathmonk podcast is a fast and effective show to sharpen your growth marketing skills.

Hugh was interviewed to cast more light on recent statements purporting that the buyer’s journey is dead. And as an expert on marketing and sales funnels, it was clear that Hugh could help bring more clarity as he discussed why this statement is categorically untrue.

From here, we get an unfiltered view of Hugh’s expertise on buyer-centric thinking, the role of the buyer’s journey, tactics to focus on, website hyper-personalisation, multi-streamed demand generation, and lots more.

Read on for the transcript, which we’ve edited for time and clarity:

What marketers don’t understand about the buyer’s journey

The internet has evolved, and so has the way we browse and shop – and this dramatically affected the buyer’s journey. So, what does this mean for us when we create and structure content copy for our websites?

What the traditional buyer’s journey fails to do


We talk a lot about websites in the Pathmonk Presents Podcast, [and you as well with] align.me and funnelplan.com, what role do they play? You mentioned inbound plays a role in both of them?


In your introduction, you referred to the role that Pathmonk plays in the buyer’s journey. Initially, we didn’t think the stage names in the buyer’s journey mattered. [When I coined the term “buyer’s journey” in my 2003 book The Leaky Funnel] we weren’t trying to sell the world on a particular language to describe the journey. But what we found is there’s a couple of stages that are really quite important.

If you think about the sort of more common terms in the customer journey and the buyer’s journey like AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action) and other simplistic models, what they failed to do is to really get into the psyche of the buyer.

Simplistic sales funnels have failed to really get into the psyche of the buyer, and that’s what is holding back your conversions. – Hugh Macfarlane

What you need to know about the psyche of the buyer


For example, I’m looking for some kind of clever tool to help me optimise my web experience and I don’t know about Pathmonk, and I’m just kind of bouncing around looking for ideas.

At this stage (awareness), I’m doing that for a reason, right? I’ve already worked out that I have a problem: I’ve got traffic that I’m not optimising, and I’m looking for some way to optimise my traffic. During this search, I’m thinking about traffic optimisation, conversion rate optimisation, other similar terms – that’s the interest stage.

But at some point, I have a concept about what the problem is, which is that I don’t know as much about conversion optimisation as you do. So when I’m looking, I’ve got a concept and your website has the job of changing me from that initial concept to the concept I should have (desire), which is realising that tracking problems are creating gaps/barriers in your customer’s journey – and that Pathmonk helps solve this problem.

(There are more stages in the journey, but I’m trying to simplify it to answer your question.)

How your website needs to play into the buyer’s journey


Given that frame, when we look at our own website and we look at the websites for our clients, different pages play different roles in the buyer’s journey.

[For example] the About Us page is where people are just looking to do two things, 1) check your credentials and 2) also understand your story in a snapshot. But they’re not actually yet looking for a solution and [maybe aren’t] going to stay on your website at all.

Whereas when they’re on a blog article, they might be reading about this really interesting insight that you have about a particular problem, and then the light goes on and they realise, “Actually, you’re right. The problem that you’re talking about is present in my business. Now, I’m interested in looking for a solution.”

So you’ve got a blog article that talks about a problem, that’s a webpage. You’ve then got some kind of transition that we want to get them to a solution page, but they need to segue from one to the other.

And so, when we think about the buyer’s journey and websites and the role that they play together, it’s around how do we get them from one idea to the next most logical idea. What’s the shortest path to get to that next most logical idea without taking shortcuts? And then when they’re on that idea, how do we get them to the next one?

The buyer’s journey isn’t dead

We are no longer on one platform or device, which breaks the traditionally linear buyer’s journey. So what can we do to continue converting our audience?


Let’s talk a little bit more high level about marketing because you’ve had long years of perspective on how things have been changing, right? What would you say is the biggest challenge when it comes to bringing innovation into growth marketing?


The biggest challenge is glib expressions. People who don’t market for a living saying things like “the funnel is dead”. What they really mean is the concept of me forcing you through a journey is dead.

[When] somebody visits your websites, they [might also] jump on LinkedIn, and they’re engaging with other sites as well. We’ve lost visibility on [their movements], but it’s not that they aren’t going through a definable journey.

In the beginning, they’re kind of curious. At some point, they buy into the fact that they’ve got a problem. [Following that, they become] clear about what they need. “Maybe I can get it from you, maybe I can get it from somebody else.” At some point, they’re really clear about what the solutions are. And following that, they prefer one over another. That journey is still very strong.

The challenge is that we’ve got people saying things like the sales funnel is dead or they might express that the buyer’s journey is now dead. It’s not. You’ve just lost visibility on it and you still need to think, where’s the buyer up to? What are they ready for?

So for me, that’s a big challenge. People using glib throwaway expressions without really thinking through the dynamic of buying.

The buyer’s journey isn’t dead, you’ve just lost visibility of your customer. – Hugh Macfarlane

What stops your ROI in its tracks

When marketing is all about improving sales and reaching goals, a lack of success in that area can be devastating. Spending money on tactics and tools that don’t pay off is a marketer’s worst nightmare. So what could be behind you not seeing any results?


What is the biggest challenge when it comes to return on investment?


Failing to experiment. People get really locked in on a particular tactic. If you’re working with an agency, it’s normally the case that that agency is wickedly good at one or two things. And if you like the agency and your relationship with it, it’s very tempting as a marketer or as a business owner to get locked in on that tactic.

[This leads to] an almost baked-in impediment to high return on investment because you’ve got this perception of a sunk cost. “I can’t switch this tactic off” – you can. You can switch to another tactic in a heartbeat. And at a tactic vs. tactic level, we’ve got this baked-in barrier, which is an artificial barrier. You can change tactics quickly. And then within a tactic, failing to experiment, failing to test [is a barrier too].

The scientific method to experimenting with your marketing


Within an individual test for an individual tactic, the third biggest barrier to ROI is not understanding how the scientific method works.

You don’t begin with a test. You begin with a hypothesis.

For example: 40% of my users are disappearing off the website because I’m not giving them a logical next path to take. That’s a hypothesis. How can I build an experiment that proves or disproves that hypothesis?

So in order, I would say those three things are the biggest barriers to ROI:

  1. This artificial lock-in on the wrong tactic
  2. Failure to test within a tactic
  3. Failure to understand how to test

The biggest challenge to conversion optimisation

Marketers will spend hours strategising and testing all for one goal: conversions. It’s our bread and butter. So how can a misunderstanding of the buyer’s journey affect conversions, and what can we do to improve this?


What comes to mind when I say, the biggest challenge when it comes to conversion optimisation?


I’m probably going to cheat a little bit, and somewhat use one of my previous answers. I think this one’s going to be useful.

If I’m trying to convert – to what am I trying to convert? Now, I don’t mean in a very simplistic sense, such as I want them to fill a form in or I want them to take some other action that lets me know who they are and that they would just get in a conversation.

But every page, every email, every ad, and every LinkedIn post – they all have a job to do. And so I would say that the biggest challenge in conversion optimisation is either not being clear about what that job is or having the wrong job.

I mentioned before that go-to-market planning (which is one of align.me’s specialist services) is quite a big intervention. We tend to work with these companies for eight months. It’s quite a change management program over eight months. And that’s something that people aren’t going to take on lightly. It’s perhaps the reason why 65% of our revenue comes from referrals and not from colder sources.

So if I tried to have a web page convert somebody who’s interested in planning to have a conversation with me about such a consequential intervention, that’s courageous (and not in a good way). And it’s the wrong intent, or an unclear intent.

So [not having the right tactics for a specific action] would be the biggest barrier to conversion optimisation.

The one thing that should guide your marketing

It’s clear that one of the biggest blockers to conversions is using the wrong tactics – and this can also bleed into the way we try out and experiment with new tools. So what do marketers need to focus on when it comes to trying new tools and tactics?


For your next couple of months in marketing, what would you focus on? The rollback, trying out new growth initiatives, messaging, or deep dive into your reporting? What is your pick?


I choose the fifth one: audience.

I just feel that we often start one step too late in such a thinking cycle. We assume what we’re going to do and we don’t think about the audience. To whom am I going to [target] one of [the above tactics]? And then I would think of path after that.

Hugh’s Recommendations

One of the benefits of working with Hugh is he often inspires our marketing, sales, or copy ideas with a simple comment. His extensive experience with marketing and sales funnels is instrumental to helping our clients reach their goals.

So we loved this opportunity to take a deep dive into how Hugh learns, what he’s listening and reading to, what his advice for a new marketing agency is, and more:


How do you pick what type of content to consume? How do you filter? Where do you read these days in order to continue to educate yourself further?


Like many people, I have switched from physical books to audiobooks, by and large, and as a part of that switch, I’m a significant podcast consumer. I’m now getting a lot of my information in formats that allow me to consume when I’m driving, when I’m exercising, when I’m in the garden.

And so to an extent, the menu from which I can draw is limited to those who’ve turned their books into audiobooks and have turned their blogs into podcasts. That somewhat gates what I can consume.

I tend to read probably only one book every two months, give or take, but I’m listening to around about an hour of podcasts every day. [Like many others] I’m somewhat shortening my attention span and consuming a lot of bite-sized content. The typical podcast might be 20-25 minutes, and so I’m consuming at least two of those a day.


Since you mentioned the books, what’s the last book that you read?


Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss.


What is one thing or the thing that your company is focused on the most at the moment?


Growing the sales and marketing planning software we call Funnel Plan. So growing the relevance of that for people who already know quite a bit of marketing planning, but they need a tool to make them more efficient. So, growing our ability to serve that audience better.


If there would be no boundaries in technology, what’s the one thing that you would want it to have fixed for your company today?


The integration between CRM and most of everything. There are integrations, most of them are just awful. Many of them are lacking, I would say that.


What’s the last thing that kept you awake at night about the company?


Finding and keeping the best talent. We’ve had a really stable period, and we worked really, really hard to keep the team together and to keep them happy and engaged [in 2020]. And right now that’s just my biggest focus: finding and retaining the right people.


If today would be your very first day starting align.me, what’s the one piece of advice that you would give yourself?


Read Eric Ries’s book, Lean Startup. The whole notion of rapid experimentation, rather than trying to get it right from the beginning. I think that cost me five years. I would go very fast, and pivot often.

Loved this?

Have you found Hugh’s insights valuable? Let us know if you agree with him (or not!) in the comments below.

If you would like Hugh to appear as a guest on your own podcast, you can get in touch with us here.