Thursday, October 25, 2012

Start Operationalizing Your Buyer's Journey

I was surprised to hear so much talk about the 'buyer's journey' at a recent Sales 2.0 conference. More talk than I often hear at marketing conferences! Having said this, it was clear that many people who talked about buyer's journeys did not know what the term meant.

A hesitant raise of hands at one sales enablement panel showed that a little more than half the room thought that their company used a buyer's journey framework. The panelists didn't buy that answer. Sniffed one, "Most companies lift the sales stages right out of their CRM system and call that a buyer's journey."

What isn't a buyer's journey? It isn't a sales methodology. It isn't build rapport, uncover needs, identify options, propose solutions, and close the deal. It isn't a product life-cycle. It isn't development, launch, grow, mature, decline. It isn't marketing stages. It isn't build awareness, create interest, engage, and persuade. All of these processes can be useful to guide an important function. However, they all describe vendor's journeys – not buyer's journeys.

So, what is a buyer's journey? A buyer's journey is a framework that describes the cognitive process each buyer must personally traverse leading from Apathy (Do I care?) to Commitment (How can I buy this?).  IDC's Customer Creation Framework highlights three simple stages of this journey: Exploration, Evaluation, and Purchase. You can break these stages into sub-steps if you like.

In the simplest terms, a buyer's journey is really nothing more than a list of questions.  Buyers have different questions at different steps of their journey.  If buyers get their questions answered clearly, positively, credibly, and with relevance, they will take another step. If they do not, they stall or abandon their quest.

Let's take the example of some questions on a buyer's journey towards a new car:
  • Exploration: Is my current car headed for a problem – how do I know? Are there new cars that I would like better? What cars are new this year? What do I really need?
  • Evaluation: Which cars offer the best value? Which do I find most attractive? Is this supplier trust-worthy? What do the experts say? What do my friends think? How can I test drive?
  • Purchase: How much can I afford? Should I buy this now? Do I find terms acceptable?
Operationalizing a buyer's journey
 
1) Collect a list of questions.
 
Start small. Select just one of your products and its most typical buyer. What questions does this buyer have about the problem? About alternative solutions? About acquiring, adopting, and using products like the one you offer? Finally, what questions might a buyer have specifically about your product?  Most companies will need multiple question lists for multiple situations. But don't boil the ocean at the beginning.

Where do you get these questions? Ask your buyers! Ask the people in your company who talk to buyers – sales people, customer support, systems engineers, etc. Listen to social media chatter.  My experience has been that you can collect 95% of the questions you need after you have talked to about 30 people who have a broad range of roles and backgrounds.

 2) Answer the questions.
 
If your company has EVER sold a product, then somewhere, someone has the answers to the buyer's questions. It probably isn't the marketing team – but that's okay. Go back the same people and places from which you gathered the questions.  Some questions can be answered easily. Others will be thorny.  Some questions will have happy answers. Other questions will be evil.

Do not avoid the thorny and evil questions!  I like this quote from Robert Frost, "The best way out is always through."  Every unanswered question is a place where prospects can get frustrated and where leads will stall or fall out of your pipeline.

You can collect both the questions and the answers in a spreadsheet or an FAQ document.

 3) Put the answers on your website and give them to your sales team.
 
Keep your initial content super simple. Make sure the answers to all the important questions are easily found on your website. Make sure that your sales team has easy access to all of the answers.
 
 4) Improve
 
Later, you can explore the best way to deliver your answers to buyers – how should the message be voiced? What content types and media work best at different steps and with different buyer personas? How do I best map the buyer’s journey steps to the sales process?
 But these are secondary issues. If you don’t first have the answers that your buyer needs, all these secondary questions are a total waste of time.
 
 
 

5 comments:

  1. Great thought on starting sales from buyers perspective.

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  2. I appreciate the info in your post, thanks for sharing! My friend has been pretty interested in marketing crm for a while now and I'm trying to help him out. Do you have any advice for us? We would greatly appreciate your help, thanks!

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  3. This buyer journey makes perfect sense about 50% of the time. Many buyers are not on a journey yet and it's out job if we want to sell disruptive or next gen products to convince them a) they have a problem b) the problem is worth solving and c) they need to buy the solution to their problem.

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    1. Michael, You are absolutely right to note that the conversation with a prospective buyer of disruptive or next gen products is a much different conversation with buyer of a more well-known product. Actually, the buyer's journey is somewhat different for every solutions-buyer persona pair. There is no such things as generic buyer's journey.

      We call the first phase of the buyer's journey Exploration and believe that it occurs before the buyer is even thinking about a product. For a distruptive product, this first phase can be quite extended and requires a provocative vision and much leadership from the vendor. For a more well-known product, this phase zips quickly - who needs to be convinced of the need for a refridgerator, for example?

      The buyer's journey makes sense 100% of the time. But with much variation. If this isn't clear, then perhaps your understanding of the buyer's journey is much different than mine.

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  4. Really interesting take on the buying/selling process. My company is in the IT infrastructure management business, and I think sometimes we place too much emphasis on our products and services and not enough time on understanding the buyer's journey. The sales cycle in our industry is particularly long which makes it more vital to understand the customer's perspective.

    Gary

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