“67% of the buyer’s journey is completed before sales becomes involved.”
This is a statistic that’s routinely floated by proponents (such of myself) about the importance of content marketing/digital marketing/social media marketing/Inbound Marketing to a company’s overall marketing strategy.
In essence, it implies that a full two-thirds of the sales process doesn’t involve a sales rep.
Though I’ve used it in the past, I always suspected this particular stat to be... problematic. Why?
I've seen the stat promoted as 67%, 57%, & 70%. I’m all for rounding when it is appropriate, but when the three are used so interchangeably, it seems like people are just making it up as they go along.
So, is the 67% (or 57%? Or 70%?) buyer’s journey stat legit?
The short answer?
No, at least in the way it is typically promoted. This one falls under the “lies, damn lies, and statistics” category.
The shortish answer?
While it doesn’t quite reach “pants-on-fire,” it is a statistic that comes from a fairly targeted survey of large B2B companies making large purchases. So the fact that digital marketing firms, irrespective of size and the buyer personas they target, uses it as “evidence” that firms of all shapes and sized need to heed its lessons is problematic, at best.
That said, while the exact stats and percentages might not apply, there absolutely is a high degree of value in the strategy the statistic supports.
The long answer?
In a previous life, I received my Master’s Degree in History. Good times.
Unfortunately, there’s not been much cross over between my academic and professional careers, save one:
I am an absolute stickler for making sure an argument, whatever argument, is factually supported.
The way that training has informed much of what I do for investment management clients today is to pick apart their marketing materials when they claim a differentiated investment process, superior client service, or a unique investment philosophy.
In reality, oftentimes nothing they do or say is any different from a thousand other firms in the industry.
It’s kind of important.
That said, since I transitioned DQCOMM into a full-service inbound marketing agency, I’ve found myself often recycling the same statistics and spouting the same conventional wisdom as many other firms. When you are just starting out, there is a definite comfort in following the conventional wisdom and not reinventing the wheel (yet...)
But that 57%/67%/70% statistic has always stuck in my craw.
So I set out to try and figure out the source of this statistic, and see if it is true, slightly misleading, profoundly misleading or “Fox News.”
- Before we begin, let’s take this stat at face value. It does bear mentioning that, by definition, the “57%/67%/70% rule” excludes any sales process that’s initiated by a vendor. I suspect that’s A LOT of business transactions.
So if you really think about it, this statistic only refers to that percentage of transactions that are initiated by the consumer. As such, there isn’t any warning or anything ominous here. All it really does is give the marketing team a heads up that digital content is growing in importance, which everybody with a pulse should know by now.
- If an investment management firm isn’t offering prospective clients the research they need to conduct basic initial due diligence, their competitors are, and have thus placed themselves in an advantageous position.
That’s just a fact.
- What social media marketing for asset management firms & content marketing for investment managers has actually done is change the dynamics, and scrambled what used to be a fairly straightforward process. Much of the initial discovery that used to be initiated by sales and marketing is now initiated by the buyers who have already identified a need and are going out and searching the marketplace a solution.
I started with a basic Google search, and found several articles which cited the statistic, all of which were sourced to a pair of sources: a 2012 study conducted by the Corporate Executive Board, and a 2013 study by SiriusDecisions.
It is difficult to say just how many times I came across an unlinked reference to the CEB “study,” then have the authors say that their firm’s research supported the CEB study - again with no links, no reports, no evidence whatsoever.
After a thorough search, I finally found and read the white paper CEB wrote (though those links are now gone and the paper seems to have been removed from public access on the CEB site. Good thing I saved a copy, which can be accessed here).
Interestingly, the study was undertaken in conjunction with Google, which then gave me another pause.
What are the chances Google would put its name on a report that diminished the importance of search? That Google’s name is on the report makes me a bit wary of the independence of its findings.
It’s like McDonald’s conducting a survey regarding the popularity of French fries.
It seems self-serving, on the surface.
The CEB surveyed 1500 contacts, which sounds like a pretty large sample – but the actual respondent size came in at only 22 “large B2B organizations” in 10 industries.
First of all, B2B & B2C have some fairly substantial differences which make conflating these survey results across the board problematic.
These are also “major” companies; i.e.: multibillion dollar entities in all likelihood. Are there fundamental differences between the buyer’s journey for a firm with $10 billion in annual revenues, and one with $10 million? I’d say so.
In fact, the report specifically states as a disclaimer in the beginning:
Scope Limitations: This research addresses specific research questions considered to be of greatest shared concern to professionals who oversee digital marketing and demand generation programs at large B2B organizations. As a result, this research may not satisfy the information needs of all readers. (Emphasis mine)
Also these are “major business purchases” How well can we equate the scope and breadth of the buyer’s journey between a $5 million digital printing press for a major publishing house and a $5,000 copier for a law firm?
It’s a 41 page report, and the 57% stat is mentioned once… on page 2… and not again.
Initially, I don’t think the study’s authors lent much importance to that particular finding. It isn't until later, in the CEB’s more recent articles and content and once the "57%67%70% rule" went viral, did they start promoting it more aggressively.
In this context, the “57%/67%/70% rule” is a limited, fairly uninteresting statistic. The importance of digital is in the way it has freed sales and marketing from wasting too-great a share of their valuable time with people who aren’t ready (or aren’t interested) to buy.
In fact, SiriusDecisions, one of the authorities often referenced as a source of the 57% rule, actually wrote a post entitled, “Three Myths of the “67 Percent” Statistic.” It’s not that the 67% rule isn’t true, but that misunderstanding the number leads companies to believe the best results are a function of a pure Inbound approach, when a combination of Inbound AND outbound still is appropriate for companies in a full range of industries.
This is especially true for asset managers of all stripes, as investment management marketing remains a relationship-based one.
And, as I noted earlier, even the CEB has scrubbed the report from their site, in what I would say is a tacit acknowledgement of the widespread misuse of the statistic.
At the end of the day, this stat is broadly misleading. It’s not “Obamacare Death Panels”-level misinformation, but still... So, where does that leave us?
Does this matter? After all, online research does take place on a massive scale, so why be picky about this one statistic?
Because, quite frankly, it’s lazy. And I hate lazy, especially the intellectual kind.
If marketing professionals care about data, analytics, and accurately representing the importance of what we do, it is equally important to not just make stuff up because it sounds good and we can kinda, sorta back it up with some study that may or may not be applicable.
In other words, we don’t need to cite crappy statistics. When we say things, especially when we’re trying to convince firms to take a different approach; in essence, take a leap of faith and join us in this new approach to marketing, they have to be true, and verifiably so.
It’s not an either/or proposition. I can guarantee that investment management firms which maintain strong digital marketing strategies ALONGSIDE a strong traditional sales and marketing function will dramatically outperform those relying exclusively on either alone.
You can wait for the earthquake to start the boulder rolling down hill, or you can walk to the top of the mountain and give it a push:
- Institutional investors need their investment management marketing strategy to help them with the advance legwork of getting preapproved and developing those vital institutional relationships in advance.
When a new placement or replacement comes up, they must be well-positioned to take advantage. Digital marketing for investment managers allows that to happen in ways that are both helpful and unobtrusive.
- For wealth managers, hedge funds, and others serving individual investors, don’t underestimate the power of inertia. Firing an advisor and hiring a new one is a stressful exercise for most people.
Establishing a strong digital presence in advance of cold calling prospects takes much of the mystery and guesswork out of the transition from an underperforming/unresponsive advisor to you.
Regardless of how much research is conducted in advance, know that it is indeed happening, which makes it well-past time for investment managers to step up their digital marketing efforts.