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Buyer's Journey vs Customer Journey - Your Start to Finish Guide - VQ Success

Buyer’s Journey vs Customer Journey

The Buyer’s Journey And Awareness-Based Marketing

How do you take someone from being a reader, viewer, or listener of your content, to being a loyal customer? In popular content marketing circles, this process is called the “buyer’s journey.” While the term buyer’s journey was coined by HubSpot, the concept of awareness-based marketing did not originate with them.

I first read about awareness-based marketing in an obscure direct copywriting book most modern marketers have never read or even heard about. I’ve been developing my own version of the buyer’s journey since the early 2000s when I first started writing and testing sales copy. While I think HubSpot’s three-stage model is much better than nothing, I believe you’ll find the five-stage VQ Success Buyer’s Journey (below) more thorough, scientific, and practical. 

What is Awareness-Based Marketing?

It would be nice if our prospective customers woke up in the morning saying…

“It’s a great day to spend money! I’m going to pay top dollar for Seth Czerepak’s Marketing Course today! I know Seth’s competitor has a course that’s only a fraction of the price. But Seth’s course is worth the extra money, and much more! Now, where’s my credit card?!”

Obviously, this isn’t how people go from being strangers to our brand to being loyal customers. In the real world, prospects will be in one of four stages of awareness when they see your marketing messages.

These stages are based on your prospect’s knowledge, assumptions, and/or expectations about one or more of the following four things…

VQ Success Buyer's Journey
  • The PROBLEM your product or service solves.
  • The ALTERNATIVE solution(s) to the problem.
  • The TYPE of product or service you offer.
  • Your specific BRAND of the product or service.

Let’s take two examples, one B2C example and one B2B example. Starting with the B2C example, let’s assume you sell a natural supplement that helps active men between 40 and 55 to overcome reactionary arthritis. The stages of your buyer’s journey will be based on your prospect’s knowledge, assumptions, and/or expectations about one or more of the following four things…

  • THE PROBLEM: reactionary arthritis.
  • THE ALTERNATIVES: prescription or OTC drugs.
  • PRODUCT CATEGORY: natural supplements.
  • YOUR BRAND: your signature supplement(s).

For example, your prospect might have minor pain in their joints but shrug it off as something that will eventually go away. These prospects will ignore any content attempting to educate them about why prescription or OTC drugs won’t fix their reactionary arthritis. They aren’t looking for solutions or even researching the problem because they’re unaware of how personal, critical, and urgent the problem is. The VQ Success model considers this Stage #1 of the VQ Success Buyer’s Journey. We call it the “Indifferent” stage. HubSpot doesn’t include this stage in their model. You’ll realize why this is a big deal soon.

You’ll also have prospects who know that they have the first signs of reactionary arthritis and who know how personal, critical, and urgent it is. These prospects are highly likely to be searching for solutions to the problem. So, they’ll be receptive to educational content about how prescription or OTC drugs will fail to fix their reactionary arthritis. The VQ Success model considers this Stage #2 of the buyer’s journey, which we call the “Curious” stage. HubSpot’s three-stage model considers this the first stage. You’ll see soon why this is an important distinction.

VQ Success Buyer's Journey Stages

You’ll also have prospects who are aware of the risks of using prescription or OTC drugs to treat reactionary arthritis and are shopping for the best natural supplement. These prospects won’t be interested in educational content about how serious reactionary arthritis is or why prescription or OTC drugs are an inadequate solution. They’ve already passed those stages of awareness. 

They will, however, be highly receptive to messages about why your brand is the most relevant, superior, and unique natural supplement for men their age who want to prevent or rid themselves of reactionary arthritis. The VQ Success System considers this Stage #3 of the Buyer’s Journey, or the “Comparing” stage.

HubSpot’s three-stage model considers this the second stage. Most marketing messages (online and offline) only target prospects who are in this stage. This is because most marketers either don’t know about awareness-based marketing or are too busy to build a multi-stage strategy around it. 

This is why online marketing seems so competitive for most marketers. Once you break out of this crowd, you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes in your response rates and your ROI. It’s impossible for me to overstate how significant that last statement is. By defining your buyer’s persona and applying the five stages of the VQ Success buyer’s journey, you’ll connect with your prospects two stages before your competitors even have a chance.

You’ll realize how powerful this is once you start using it. By the time your prospects reach Stage #4 they’ll be much more likely to choose you over a competitor and to be happy about paying a higher price for what they see as a superior product or service. Stage #4 of the VQ Success Buyer’s Journey is the “Negotiation” stage. Stage #4 Prospects have decided to buy from you. They just need a little more assurance to overcome their procrastination. In HubSpot’s model, this is the third and final stage of the buyer’s journey.

After this, the VQ Success Buyer’s Journey has one more stage, which we call the “Committed” stage. Committed prospects are no longer prospects. They’re customers, and your content marketing strategy should include content for increasing the satisfaction, loyalty, and lifetime value of your customers. 

Moving on to the B2B example, let’s assume you sell staff recruiting services to software development startups. The stages of your buyer’s journey will be based on your prospect’s knowledge, assumptions, and/or expectations about one or more of the following four things…

  • THE PROBLEM: high employee turnover.
  • THE ALTERNATIVE(S): in-house recruiting team.
  • PRODUCT CATEGORY: recruiting services.
  • YOUR BRAND: hiring you as a recruiter.

Stage #1 (Indifferent) Prospects either won’t be aware of how costly their high employee turnover rate is, or they’ll shrug it off as just something startups go through. Your job is to get content in front of them that educates them about how devastating this problem will be if they don’t address it soon.  

Stage #2 (Curious) Prospects will be aware of how costly their employee turnover rate is. However, they might be trying to build an in-house recruiting team to solve the problem or researching some other alternative. Your job is to get content in front of them that educates them about the hidden risks of trying to handle this in-house.

Stage #3 (Comparing) Prospects will be actively searching for a professional recruiter to hire. Your job will be to get content in front of them that positions you as the most relevant, superior, and unique recruiter they can hire.  

Stage #4 (Negotiating) Prospects have decided to hire you as a recruiter, but they haven’t actually written you a check, signed the contract, or paid the first invoice. In my experience, the earlier you connect with them in the buyer’s journey, the more likely they’ll be to take this final step.

They’ll also be more likely to pay premium prices, to respect you as an authority, and to write you a positive endorsement and recommend you to others. Finally, you’ll have prospects who have become your clients, and who you’ll continue to reach out to using your newsletter or some other Stage #5 content type.

Once you know how to communicate with your prospects during EACH of these stages, AND to lead them from one to the other, you’ll have x-ray vision into how to create high-converting content marketing messages. I’m talking about blogs, explainer videos, classified ads, podcasts, and any other content-based marketing you can imagine. Best of all, you’ll actually have fun with it. So, let’s summarize the Five Stages of the VQ Success buyer’s journey before we talk about applying them in your content marketing strategy…

Awareness Stage #1: Indifferent

Indifferent Prospects need your product. However, they’re unaware of one of the following two things…

  • Whether they have the problem your product solves.
  • How personal, critical, and/or urgent their problem is.

Because of this lack of awareness, Stage #1 Prospects will be indifferent about any messages about how to solve their problem. They won’t be interested in hearing about the type of product or service you sell, and they definitely won’t be interested in hearing anything about your unique brand of the product. Here are some examples of Stage #1 Prospects…

VQ Success Buyer's Journey Stage 1
  • A 52-year-old man who is 100lbs overweight. He has several noticeable symptoms of early heart disease; one being swollen ankles. However, he thinks these symptoms are just minor annoyances and typical of a man his age.
  • A newly married couple who is having a big fight once every three or four weeks. However, they assume that this is just something new couples go through and that it will work itself out in time.
  • A business owner whose tax records and payroll are a mess but who is too busy to worry about it and doesn’t consider it to be an urgent problem.

Awareness Stage #2: Curious

Curious Prospects know they have a problem. They also understand how personal, critical, and urgent their problem is. However, this doesn’t mean they’re looking for a product or service like yours yet. Instead, they’re researching options for either…

  • Solving their problem themselves.
  • Solving their problem using an alternative solution.

Since Stage #2 prospects are in the information gathering stage, here are some examples of who they are and what keywords they might be typing into search engines…

VQ Success Buyer's Journey Stage 2
  • A 52-year-old man who is 100lbs overweight and having heart problems might type in “heart-healthy foods,” or “exercises for heart health,” “weight loss for men over 50,” or “meditations for a healthy heart.” 
  • A couple having marital problems might type in “better communication in marriage,” or “save my marriage,” or “wife won’t have sex with me.” 
  • A business owner whose tax records and payroll are a mess might type in “best way to manage payroll,” “small business accounting tips” or “how to manage payroll for my small business.”
  • A salesperson who’s only making $40,000.00 a year and living paycheck to paycheck might type in “closing techniques,” or “how to close more sales,” or “how to overcome objections.” 

Notice how Stage #2 Prospects aren’t (yet) focused on a specific type of product or service. This is because Stage #2 Prospects are curious about solutions to their problem and want to keep their options open. This means that if you put a “buy now for a limited time offer” or a “here’s why we’re better than our competitors” message in front of them, they either won’t “get it” because they’re not yet sold on the concept of your product or service, or they’ll dismiss it as just another advertisement.

Sadly, this is how most marketers try to reach ALL their prospects, so they miss out on connecting with Stage #2 Prospects, and most of the time their competitor beats them to it. But, Stage #2 Prospects ARE looking for ways to solve their problem.  This leaves a wide-open hole for smart content marketers to swoop in and start building a relationship with them before anyone else even gets a chance.

Awareness Stage #3: Comparing

Comparing Prospects are 99% finished researching their problem and the array of solutions for solving it. They’ve settled on a general TYPE of solution and they’re making comparisons between specific brands or service providers. 

These prospects are good and bad for the exact same reason. They’re educated about the TYPE of product or service you sell. While may seem good, it also makes them prone to price shopping and other annoyances that I talk about in my other writings on this topic. Your job is to reach these prospects with messages that sell them on…

  • The Relevance of Your Brand.
  • The Superiority of Your Brand.
  • The Uniqueness of Your Brand.
VQ Success Buyer's Journey Stage 3

Stage #3 Prospects are good and bad for the exact same reason. They’re educated about the TYPE of product or service you sell. This makes them prone to price shopping and other annoyances that I talk about in my other writings on this topic. Here are a few examples of Stage #3 Prospects…

  • A couple who has marital problems and has decided that working with a marriage counselor could save their marriage. In other words, they’re sold on the concept of marriage counseling and they’re now searching for the best counselor in their area.
  • A 52-year-old man who is 100lbs overweight and having heart problems has decided to work with an endocrinologist. In other words, he’s sold on the concept of working with an endocrinologist and he’s now looking for the best endocrinologist in his area.
  • A business owner whose tax records and payroll are a mess has decided that she needs a CPA. In other words, she’s sold on the concept of hiring a CPA and is now looking for the best CPA for her type of business.
  • A salesperson who’s only making $40,000.00 a year and living paycheck to paycheck has decided that he needs a good home study course on how to communicate with the four personality types. In other words, he’s sold on the concept of a home study course and is now looking for the best one.  

Awareness Stage #4: Negotiating

Negotiating Prospects have done their research and have decided to buy from you. They simply haven’t taken the final step by putting money into your hand to get the product or service delivered. In other words, they’re negotiating with you or themselves, or someone else (a spouse or business partner) about how and when to make the purchase. Your job at this stage is to market to them using messages that…

  • Address Common Objections.
  • Dissolve Last Minute Resistance.
  • Explain What Will Happen Next.

Here are some examples of Stage #4 Prospects…

VQ Success Buyer's Journey Stage 4
  • A couple who has severe marital problems has decided that working with a marriage counselor could save their marriage. They’ve decided to contact a specific counselor and talk about getting started.
  • A 52-year-old man who is 100lbs overweight and having heart problems has decided to work with an endocrinologist. He’s found an endocrinologist he likes and is ready to talk about getting started. 
  • A business owner whose tax records and payroll are a mess has found a virtual CPA firm that he likes and he’s ready to get started. 
  • A salesperson who’s only making $40,000.00 a year and living paycheck to paycheck has found a home study course on overcoming objections and he’s hoping he can get a good deal on it.  

As you can see, there’s a chance you’ll no longer be on someone’s shortlist once they’ve become a Stage #4 Prospect. But even if you are, it’s important to realize that the deal STILL isn’t closed. You could still lose them to a competitor. Likewise, if your competitor fails to make the right offer to a Stage #4 Prospect, you could still have a shot at earning their business.

Awareness Stage #5: Committed

A lot of marketers completely ignore Stage #5 of the content marketing process. They assume that marketing ends once the prospect becomes a customer. This is a shame, because Stage #5 is by far the most profitable stage of the Buyer’s Journey Stage #5 is where your prospects have become customers, and you’re now marketing to them for one, or more, of the following reasons…

  • To Earn and Ask for a Positive Review
  • To Earn and Ask for Referral Business.
  • To Earn Repeat Business Through Personalized Offers.
VQ Success Buyer's Journey Stage 5

This is exactly where we want to get all our prospects. Once the customer is sold on the offer though, the sale still isn’t over. Next, comes the most widely neglected marketing strategy in the world. I call this “Customer Service Marketing.” I talk more about this in other articles and in my books. But before we move on, let me expose a dirty little secret for selling to Stage #4 and #5 prospects:

“The best time to sell a Stage #4 Prospect is BEFORE they become one.”

This is the most profitable principle of content marketing. You need to distribute messages that engage your prospects at the earliest stage possible AND which guide them to Stage #4 with YOU as the ONLY name on their shortlist.

Best case scenario, you want to grab them at Stage #1 or #2 and use angle selling to pull them through to Stage #4. Once you start doing this, you’ll discover just how much money you can make by building a marketing machine that consistently gets ALL FOUR PROSPECT types lined up, credit cards in hand, begging you to close them.

Of course, this can be harder than it sounds. It demands that you choose your media channels and your audience wisely. Most importantly, it demands that you know exactly how to write advertising messages that are irresistible to your prospect at EVERY stage. Now that we’ve had a solid tour of the five stages of awareness in The VQ Success Selling System, let’s talk about which contents you’ll be using to reach them…

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