Buyers go on lengthy journeys. So did Tolkien’s hobbits. What can we learn from the Shire-folk about the importance of mapping the B2B buyer journey and taking our prospects on an adventure?
In marketing circles, our buyers’ problems are often likened to the hero’s journey. But these explanations quickly get theoretical. Sometimes, things are a little clearer when you can see an actual example. What better to illustrate the hero’s journey and its similarities to the B2B buyer journey than J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy adventure, The Lord of the Rings?
Bear with me. If you’re unfamiliar with one or the other, the parallels might not be immediately obvious, but when you consider the average B2B reader reportedly consumes 13 pieces of content before they make an enquiry, you begin to see why the journey can feel a lot like an epic footslog (for you and your buyers).
Whether you’ve read the books or seen the films, Tolkien’s stories can teach us a surprising amount about the way people purchase. Let’s look at what we can learn and how we can apply it to our own organisations.
Short on time? Find everything you need to know about the buyer's journey in our free guide, 'The Inbound Buyer'. (No forms, no cost, just helpful advice you can save and share with your sales and marketing teams to better reach, engage, and delight your customers.)
What is the hero’s journey?
Also known as the monomyth, this archetypal story pattern appears time and time again. You can spot it everywhere, from ancient tales right up to modern movies. It’s a great template for fledgeling storytellers. And, as you’ll see from this article, you can also use it to better understand the journey your prospects go on when making a purchase.
Stage 1: It all starts with a problem
After almost 2,500 years of relative peace, the One Ring has been discovered. For the people of Middle-earth this is a problem, because if the Enemy gets their hands on it, it’s game over. News breaks at the Council of Elrond. But no one is quite sure what it all means.
- Is this really the One Ring?
- Where has it been all this time?
- Who found it?
- Why is it so bad?
- Can’t we use it ourselves, to defeat the Enemy?
As the council kicks off, no one is asking how they destroy the ring or who should be the one to do it. They’re just trying to understand what’s going on and how they’ll be affected.
This is the awareness stage.
Your buyers at the awareness stage
Your buyers’ problems might not literally spell the end of the world, but when they’re new to a role or a big budget’s at stake, it can certainly feel that way. It's a tough time to be in B2B.
Perhaps they’ve been tasked with improving efficiency or the rules and regulations governing their industry are updating. The market might have shifted or there could be some other external factor (say, a climate crisis) driving change. They might just want to hit a KPI.
- What is holding them back?
- Why is X so important?
- What are the trends showing?
- Why is this happening now?
- How is their industry impacted?
At this stage, the buyer isn’t actually a buyer. They’re a person with a problem that they don’t quite understand and they’re looking for information to help them frame it, to provide context.
Stage 2: Considering what to do about it
Back to Middle-earth. Through the process of chatting with the wizard, Gandalf, and discussing their initial questions, the council now understands the problem: they need to destroy the ring to stop it falling into the wrong hands and save the world!
Their questions change:
- How do we destroy the ring?
- Can we do it ourselves?
- What’s stopping us from destroying it today?
- Why won’t our swords and axes damage the ring?
- If we can’t destroy it ourselves, what next?
They’re starting to look for solutions to the problem. Naturally, those tend to be DIY solutions first. The ring needs to be destroyed? Let’s destroy it now, then. (Good luck with that.) Only when they realise they can’t solve the problem so easily do they consider alternatives.
This is the consideration stage.
Your buyers at the consideration stage
Your buyers might not be wondering how to destroy an indestructible ring, but when the clock’s ticking and the pressure mounts, their problems can feel just as impossible.
- How on (Middle) earth can they get the team to be more efficient when the software just doesn’t work that way?
- How can they adapt their operations in line with those new regulations?
- What are the best ways to improve efficiency/hit their KPI/generate more leads?
- How could an external provider or a new product help?
- What qualities/features should we look for from a product or service solution?
Consideration often starts with the buyer wanting to learn how they can solve the problem themselves. As Gimli puts it, hopping from his seat, hoisting his axe, and approaching the pedestal when he learns that the ring needs to be destroyed, “then what are we waiting for?”
But the ring is not so easily destroyed, and nor are your buyers’ problems. Through the process of educating them about the different options available, some buyers will realise that expert help — in the form of an external provider or a new product — is the best solution.
Stage 3: Deciding who can help
Back at the council, there’s only one thing for it: the ring must be taken deep into Mordor and cast back into the fiery chasm from whence it came. But, as Boromir is quick to point out (say it with me): “One does not simply walk into Mordor”.
With orcs and trolls and all manner of other foul creatures standing in their way, an A-team is required to make the long journey.
- Aragon and Boromir are brave, with plenty of experience fighting orcs and roughing it in the wilds
- There are no deadlier archers in all Middle-earth than the elves (and their stunts are pretty cool, too)
- The dwarves’ stubbornness and physical toughness would surely be an asset on a long, tiring quest of this kind
Having realised the best (and in this case, only) real solution is to take the ring to Mount Doom, and that stealth is preferable to marching down there with an army, the council must decide on the best-qualified person or people for the job. Who should join the fellowship?
This is the decision stage.
Your buyers at the decision stage
Your buyers might not be assembling a crack team of elves and dwarves for a covert mission to save the world, but tell me you haven’t sat with two competing products or services to choose from (and the Eye of Sauron… Sorry, Finance burning holes into your skull) and felt that pain?
Typical questions at the decision stage include the following:
- Which company’s product/service has the best features for me?
- Which one meets my price points?
- Which one is easier to use/handle/install?
- Which one integrates the best with our other products/processes/technologies?
- Which company offers the best support/aftercare?
The buyer has become aware of the problem they’re facing. They’ve considered all their options. They might even have unsuccessfully tried to solve the problem using internal resources, and along the way they’ve realised that to do this quickly/cost-effectively/well, they need help. All that remains is for them to decide on which product/service to invest in.
From Middle-earth to marketing plan: what next?
When you understand the journey your buyers go through on their way to making an enquiry with you, you understand how to better influence them along that journey.
- You might be able to speed up the buyer’s journey, turning visitors into leads, prospects, then customers more quickly
- You might be able to generate more leads altogether
- You might be able to increase the percentage of leads that go on to close
In fact, understanding the buyer journey is key to developing an effective B2B inbound marketing strategy that attracts visitors to your site, engages them to the point where they become leads, and delights them with products, services, and experiences that solve their problems.
We call this inbound marketing and it’s our (lembas) bread and butter here at BabelQuest. But that’s all I’m going to write about us, because you’re likely at the awareness stage. You’re not here to buy a service. It’s unlikely you’re looking for an inbound marketing agency or HubSpot Solutions partner right now. But you have jumped into Google or clicked this article for a reason. You’re here to learn. To solve a problem. We can help you that much.
You might also be interested in: Is This Why Your B2B Marketing Strategy Isn't Working?
3 key takeaways for mapping your B2B buyer journey
Think about your own marketing strategy and how it aligns with your buyer’s journey:
1. Does your activity support your buyers across the whole of their journey, or just certain parts?
Back in the day, people used to talk about the buyer’s journey in terms of a funnel. You get a certain number of people through the door and a small percentage of them might progress far enough down the funnel to one day become customers.
Today, we understand that people just don’t buy like that — at least not anymore.
- Prospects might search for answers to their problems and discover your awareness-level content, written to help them understand those challenges
- They might already understand their problem and be looking to solve it. Your early-consideration guide on how to help them do X, Y, Z is their first touchpoint
- They might have spent a year trying unsuccessfully to solve the challenge internally. They’re looking for help and your late-consideration articles on service provider ROI, external vs in-house, and 10 questions to ask before contacting an agency really help them to move forward
- They might have known about you for years and now that they’re deciding who to partner with, your case study highlighting your approach and value is the perfect piece of decision-level content to encourage a call
Your buyers can appear at any stage of the buyer’s journey. They can move back and forth along it, too. So make sure you have content ready to help them, wherever they are.
3. How well do you understand your buyers and the journey they go through on their way to choosing your solutions?
It’s an easy oversight to make but not all your buyers go on the same journey. Different products or services will attract different buyers. Understanding who those people are is fundamental to understanding the different decision-making processes they go through.
If you haven’t got documented information on your target buyers, consider creating a series of buyer personas. These sem-fictional accounts detail everything you need to know about the people you’re trying to reach and engage, from demographic information helpful for targeting them online to behavioural traits, motivations, and other characteristics essential for creating resonant content that really speaks to who they are and what they want to achieve.
Related read: How to Create a B2B Buyer Persona in 7 Steps
3. Have you validated your B2B buyer journey, either with customers or using your CRM?
Most buyer journeys are pieced together from your detailed understanding of your markets, your solutions, and the problems they solve. In effect, you can reverse-engineer the journey your buyers go on from final purchase to first touchpoint and get a pretty sound ‘map’ of the route they take.
But it’s one thing to make these conjectures and another thing entirely to validate them. There are two ways you can go about this to make sure your buyer journeys are accurate:
- Speak to your existing customers. What journey did they go on to get to your company and your solution? Does it align with the journey you’ve mapped out?
- Refer to your CRM. Platforms like the HubSpot CRM, which integrate with all your marketing, sales, and service systems, offer detailed insights on how your contacts interact with your website. This isn’t just limited to your customers; watch in real-time how your leads and prospects move around your site, browse articles, watch videos and click demos. You will quickly build up a picture of the journey they take.
If in doubt... be more Gandalf
This is the part where an article talking more generally about the hero’s journey would tell you that you’re not the hero. I’m here to tell you to ‘be more Gandalf’.
The most successful B2B campaigns are built on the understanding that your buyer is the hero of the story. You? Your company is the Wise Man, the Mentor, the Wizard. In Harry Potter terms, you’re Dumbledore. Prefer a Star Wars analogy? Be more Kenobi. You get the picture.
It’s natural to assume you’re the hero, but putting your prospects and customers first means giving them the limelight. This is the buyer’s journey we’re talking about, after all. It’s a small shift in mindset but as implications go, you might find it helps your entire organisation to reframe the way they think about, talk to, and serve the people your business needs to grow.
Your buyers are the Council of Elrond. They’re confused. Anxious. Bickering. They each have their own agendas. (You’ve sat through enough corporate meetings to know the vibe.)
You? You’re Gandalf, nudging the decision-making process in the right direction, guiding the fate of your buyers’ worlds with helpful content and sound advice. They might not need you every step of the way. They might even try to go it alone first. But when the time comes that they need a little magic to make their problems go away, your brand will be there, staff in hand, to set off some fireworks, beat down some demons, and take them on an adventure.
- What HubSpot’s ROI 2021 Report Means For Your Future B2B Business Strategy
- How B2B Leaders Are Using Inbound to Adapt Their Operations (Part 1)
- How B2B Leaders Are Using Inbound to Adapt Their Operations (Part 2)
To learn more about the buyer’s journey, click the image below and download your copy of our free, flagship guide, 'How to Generate Leads That Close' — available now.