The customer journey always evolves. The change can be a slow and steady evolution. Or, the journey can shift dramatically based on sudden changes in market conditions. The recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic certainly qualifies as the latter. When the new normal settles in, one thing is guaranteed: The buying journey will be different than it was in January 2020. Do you know what changes will unfold in your customers’ journey?
Over the past twenty years Isurus has helped clients navigate new customer realities after multiple crashes and recessions. While none of them compares directly to the current crisis, elements are instructive. Capital and market confidence evaporated almost immediately after the .com and housing crashes. The 9/11 tragedy ushered in fear and anxiety that paralyzed individuals and organizations.
When we consider market behaviors in previous crises and economic slowdowns, we see three implications for the changes to the customer journey:
- Triggers and Problems to Address
- Discovery and Identifying the Long List of Vendors
Triggers for the customer journey become more tactical and near-term
The number and nature of the triggers that prompt prospects to investigate new solutions narrows during economic downturns. When the economy is strong, companies and functional leaders find it easier to think and act strategically. They explore solutions and vendors that they may have to grow into. They are more receptive to change.
Economic downturns place rational and irrational pressures on functional leaders. They become more conservative and find more comfort in the status quo. In turn, their outlook and goals become more tactical. They focus on the near-term, and tactical pain-points or jobs-to-be done. And on price.
To resonate with B2B buyers facing tighter budgets and short-term goals, investigate:
- What is triggering prospects to enter the sales funnel? How are these triggers different than in the past?
- How well does the current messaging reflect the new triggers or jobs-to-be done?
- Are buyers looking at different channels or want different types of content (e.g., more likely to attend a webinar)?
Internal budget approval moves to an early stage of the buying process
Many B2B marketing activities and content are built around pulling people into the sales funnel. The goal being to engage prospects with a sales rep as soon as possible and focus on the value the solution provides, not the price. The sales process puts buyers through a discovery process and other steps before pricing and a full demo are shared.
Is this the right approach in a slowing economy? In a recession when B2B buyers introduce the idea of investing in a new solution to internal stakeholders, they face resistance from budget-holders and compete with other teams and functions. This will shift the customer journey. To improve their chances of winning budget approval B2B buyer must make a stronger case for their investment when they are overcoming the first hurdle – getting approval to formally evaluate vendors. At this stage they need to demonstrate to leadership that investment in a new solution would address key criteria (features, integration, etc.) and be within their available budgets. Making this case requires an apples-to-apples comparison between vendors and between a new solution and the status quo. Helping buyers build these preliminary business cases may require more or different information from what many vendors provide today.
We anticipate that prospects will favor vendors that provide them with the details, insights and cost that can help the buyer make their business case. Vendors that force prospects to engage in their sales process too early may be dropped from consideration altogether.
Examine your sales process and content to ask:
- Have buyer needs and behavior changed, and does your sales process align with the new reality?
- What are buyers’ informational needs and goals at each stage of the purchase process, and how well does your marketing and sales content fit those needs?
- Do process-gates in your sales funnel prompt prospects to abandon their journey with you?
The status quo becomes a stronger competitor
Economic uncertainty and tight budgets also exacerbate a common B2B sales challenge that exists even in the best of times – deals lose momentum and die on the vine. The natural tendency among B2B buyers facing uncertainty is to ask vendors for more information from vendors and to hold more internal discussions. To sleep on it, so to speak. Unfortunately, the additional discussions and time typically don’t help get prospects reach a decision – it bogs them down further.
To make your solution more appealing than the status quo, reduce the number of unknowns (even minor ones). Examples of certainties that B2B vendors can create in their sales process include:
- Concrete implementation processes and milestones
- Metrics of how other customers use the solution, e.g., 75% of customers select this approach
- Definitive outcomes, e.g. the ads will stand out from competitors (which is different than saying they will be effective)
- Guarantees / Shared risk models
To understand whether this dynamic is relevant in your market, ask:
- Are deals taking longer to close, and if so, why?
- What new types of questions or requests is Sales hearing from prospects?
- What aspects of your solution contribute to buyers’ sense of uncertainty, and how can that uncertainty be mitigated?
What changes are unfolding in your markets?
Every market and buyer persona are different. The three shifts in the customer journey we describe may or may not apply to your specific product and market. The important takeaway is that change is coming to your customers’ buying journey. Make the time to step back and systematically think through how it is changing and the adjustments needed in your sales and marketing processes.