Let's start with some definitions: What exactly is a "client purchase path"?
You may have heard or read about the main idea behind it associated with different names, such as "customer journey," "sales funnel," or "conversion path." It's nothing more than a specialized framework that boutique consultancies use to map out the journey a potential client takes. From initial awareness to final engagement.
But there's a reason why professional marketers have named those terms differently. Traditional "marketing funnels" used in other industries, especially in B2C markets, are often linear and transactional. They aim to guide a large number of prospects quickly through stages like awareness, interest, decision, and action.
A client purchase path is much more nuanced. It takes into account the unique features of consultancy services, such as the need for deep trust, the often long sales cycles, and the importance of demonstrating expertise. This makes it a better framework for us in consulting.
The typical path of consulting buyers is rarely linear and involves multiple touch points, in multiple channels. It's not just about making quick sales; it's about building a relationship. And designing a client experience that differentiates your consultancy and strengthens your brand.
Understanding that path matters because it allows us to test, measure, and analyze marketing initiatives. It allows us to improve the way we build trust and visibility, and do so while making the best of our limited resources.
Now, things are easier said than done. Developing an effective client purchase path includes a number of practical challenges. Here, I'd like to highlight three of them.
First, there are no ready-made templates you can quickly copy. Generic client purchase paths can be useful as starting points, but they fail to address industry-specific differences in how consulting buyers buy. For example, a consultancy focusing on healthcare may require a longer and more educational approach to client engagement than one specializing in retail.
Second, we need to make sure the client purchase path is aligned with your brand and area of expertise. This is often overlooked but can have a big impact on your client experience. For example, if your consultancy is known for its data-driven approach, but you completely neglect analytics and data points when designing your marketing initiatives... this communicates to your market you can't "walk the talk.
Last but not least, it's impossible to design an effective client purchase path without measuring things. And this presents its own set of challenges. Consultancies who do it right keep track of both input/leading and output/lagging indicators, and can tie these metrics to top-line growth, estimate the ROI of experiments, and scale up the successful initiatives.
The way we help consultancies solve these challenges is, again, simple but not easy. We run strategy workshops to design purchase paths and tailored metrics. Use an iterative approach to analyze the data and identify trends and patterns. And adapt the paths to their specific niche by customizing the language, offers, or even the channels used.
If you never did it before, investing time to do the same for your consultancy will probably translate into a huge improvement in your marketing effectiveness.
"The sales funnel approach may be a useful approach for products with a high volume of prospective customers, but it's not terribly helpful when you are a credence good and when the entire universe of those you wish to serve may be represented by a few dozen organizations. When selling consulting or professional services, the goal is not to identify prospects and process them like corn flakes; it is to identify a community and position yourself to serve it over time."
Based on our internal research that surveyed 74 consulting practices under $1 mi/year, only 5 of them (6.7%) had some kind of client purchase path documented, with frequently updated KPIs to inform marketing decisions.
“How did your previous and existing clients hear about you?”
If you don’t know it, try to call or send a survey to them this week. The insights won’t be 100% accurate since some time has already passed from the moment they hired your services. But it’s better than nothing.
This gives you a great, practical starting point to start sketching your client’s purchase path. The next step is analyzing the full journey to identify the highs and the lows, what experiences added the most value to them, and friction points at each of the stages.