The travel poster might read something like this: “Satisfy your thirst for adventure on the newest frontier with a luxury, guided expedition to the latest exoplanet.” Like just about everyone else on this planet, you’ve probably seen, heard, or know something about the film Avatar. What you may not know is that Pandora is based on a very real and recently discovered solar system — Alpha Centauri.

It has about the same mass as Earth. Like Earth, it circles a star. And at a mere 4.4 light years away (just a hop, skip, and a jump in astronomical terms), it’s close enough to make an interstellar journey feasible. While Alpha Centauri isn’t habitable (minor detail), some of its neighbors might be. As intriguing as such a journey would be, it would also be daunting. It would require an in-depth analysis of a constellation of factors. And it would mean asking and answering a litany of questions. What would a successful journey look like? What would it take to reach the destination in terms of technology? What kind of budget would be required? How do you convince early voyagers that a trip to Alpha Centauri would be the best journey of their lives and answer their WIIFM (what’s in it for me) questions?

Sound farfetched? Not so much. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has already signed up more than 500 potential space travelers for a space trip this year. SpaceX’s Elon Musk (regarded in many circles as the next Steve Jobs) is working on warp-drive technology.

Ok, that’s fascinating, but what does it have to do with business-to-business (B2B) marketing? On closer inspection, it just might.

In fact, I’m struck by the parallels with the fast-changing B2B buying process. Sure, the B2B buyer’s journey is substantially shorter than the pilgrimage to Alpha Centauri. However, both should require a fundamental understanding of what a successful journey would look like. Both should also require a pretty serious map. And both require that we anticipate, respond to, and address buyers’ (or early voyagers’) concerns through every stage of the journey.

From here, the new B2B buyer’s journey leaves our Alpha Centauri voyagers behind. Scientists will pave the pathway to Alpha Centauri. However, B2B marketers must face the fact that the days of controlling the buying process are gone forever. Why? Your customers are now defining that journey on their own terms. They’re self-educating online and with peers — and they only want to talk to marketers when they’re ready.

Bottom line? It’s time to remap your marketing strategies, placing your customers at the center of your universe.

My recently released report Rethink Marketing In The Buyer’s Context (subscription required) explores this new reality, where marketers must adapt to B2B buyer behavior by building customer-centric marketing strategies focused on their buyer’s journey. Today, a customer-centered approach to the business buyer’s decision-making experience — from problem identification and comparative analysis to purchase and ongoing engagement — is the right approach because:

  • Buyers are in control. A buying journey begins only when an internal or external disruption triggers the need for a new solution. Buyers advance through the journey on their own terms — from initial discovery through the evaluation, purchase, and engagement stages. The onus is on B2B CMOs to shift marketing strategies so that they are in the right place at the right time, providing purchasers with the information and support they need to make the right decisions at key moments.
  • Building a journey map will help define your marketing strategy. Mapping the buyer’s journey provides insights into key decision points throughout the purchase process. Together with personas that define the unique traits, personalities, and attitudes of buyers, buyer journey maps become the foundation upon which B2B marketing teams construct marketing strategies, messages, and offers tuned to specific customer needs and designed to help customers navigate their decision processes.
  • Customer relevance matters. The speed of purchase decisions depends on the delivery of relevant marketing activities, messages, and content throughout the buying process. Strategically aligning content to each journey stage helps steer the buyer in the right direction.

Those traditional internal sales and marketing funnels that you controlled and loved for so long? Gone forever. In their place is a customer-centric approach aligned to the new way B2B purchasers make buying decisions.

So how do you get started? How do you navigate the universe of challenges and requirements? Read the report for more details on a framework and a three-step road map to help you navigate the buyer’s journey transition in your organization.

How do you see the buyer’s journey affecting your business? Is your organization laser-focused on customers? Are customer insights incorporated throughout your organization? Do you have the processes and tools in place to support a buyer’s journey strategy?

We’d love to hear from you. Share your thoughts via my email, blog, or Twitter account.