March 29, 2018
by Carla Johnson
Just what is a “buyer’s journey?”
Do our customers really go through some kind of predictive path on their way to buying a product or service?
Has this really changed over the last decade?
It’s certainly no secret that the methods and tools that customers have at their disposal have changed more than we ever could have imagined. Buyers are definitely more informed than they used to be. But have the reasons why they make the decisions about what they buy fundamentally changed?
No, they haven’t.
To be successful, marketers still have to appeal to the personal values and purpose of customers. And yet, marketers still focus on segmenting buyers by things that lack real relevance to the purchase decision.
As marketing professor Theodore Levitt used to tell his students, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”
The practice of segmentation has only gotten more complicated. Marketers are now targeting “audiences” by using the same flawed practice of targeting buyers by demographic. They are separating them by physical profile rather than by their purpose, or by what they find valuable.
Customers – Please Behave
Part of what’s hardest is that we can’t “peg” how customers would really like to behave. Any sale we make, or any success we have comes from the experiences we’ve already designed. In other words – from the first day we open our doors, or launch our web site, every lead we create, or sale we facilitate will be through the series of experiences we previously delivered. We spend our time trying to improve the effectiveness of these experiences and then creating new ones to replace the old ones.
To improve them, we break the experiences up into layers of our sales funnel, and how the customer makes decisions. The logic goes, “We got x many leads from this initiative, we should do more of this.” But we don’t take into consideration how valuable it was to a customer.
This certainly makes it easier to manage from our end as marketers. And in a world with a small number of ways for us to design experiences, this was a capable strategy. But, because today’s omni-channel world offers an astronomical number of ways for customers to go through their buying experience, focusing on the traditional sales funnel isn’t realistic any longer.
For starters, the idea of the sales funnel is incredibly outdated. In 1898, Elias St. Elmo Lewis came up with the idea of the purchase funnel, which we call the sales funnel. To get to this conclusion, Lewis spent a lot of time studying the advertising profession. What he saw was the need to create sound practices in advertising that could apply to many industries.
Lewis’s musings led to the AIDA model – attention, interest, desire and action – that many marketers still use more than a hundred years later. There’s just one problem: Buyers have changed in the last hundred years.
Add to this Philip Kotler’s point from the late 1990s about marketing requiring a complete re-engineering so we can think differently about how we identify, communicate and deliver customer value. In a nutshell, this means that, at best, marketers and companies are working from mid- to late-20th century hierarchies, strategies, and processes.
With mountains of information instantly available at a buyer’s fingertips, customers now create their own journeys. They educate themselves because whatever they want is readily available. But here’s the thing: self-educated audiences don’t necessarily mean well-educated audiences.
In the last few years we’ve changed how we think about the process of creating experiences for customers. SiriusDecisions introduced us to their Demand WaterfallTM model, giving us a framework to measure and benchmark demand generation from a B2B buyer’s initial inquiry up to the close of a sale. The Demand Waterfall ™ brings together the efforts of sales and marketing in the process.
McKinsey has helped us change our thinking from a funnel and linear process into looking at the complete picture of the journey that customers take when they make a buying decision. They showed us how messy, complex and interconnected it really is and why buyers don’t logically flow from one decision to another. The circular buyer journey meant that marketers could no longer “check off” buyers as they passed from one stage and flowed to the next. Instead, we realized that buyers make decisions and then revisit them, adding and deleting the brands they consider along the way. One of the big advantages of McKinsey’s model is that it’s circular, rather than linear. Prospects don’t come in the top of a funnel and drop out the bottom. Instead, they move through an ongoing set of touchpoints before, during, and after a purchase.
The good thing about the Customer Decision Journey is that it recognizes the back-and-forth and repeated efforts that buyers go through when they make a decision. We’ve all seen buyers who seem indefinitely stuck in a particular stage, fearful of making any kind of a decision, including saying, “no thanks.”
So, what’s the bad?
In a Harvard Business Review article, authors Mark Bonchek and Cara France lay it out quite well:
“The problem is in the name itself. Brands may put the decision at the center of the journey, but customers don’t. Jonathan Becher, CMO at SAP, believes that for customers, “the pivot is the experience, not the purchase.” The Customer Decision Journey might be circular, but if the focus is still on the transaction, it is just a funnel eating its own tail.”
This is the critical point:
People now experience a brand in many different ways and times – and certainly exponentially more than the brand itself will have the ability to create.
That’s the most critical thing that marketers forget about how customers buy today: It’s the experience that matters most. And, it’s the experience that creates the pivot point. So, we also have to look at the fact that people can be huge fans and significant influencers and advocates when they’ve never even been, and perhaps will never be, a customer. They will create the experiences and influence that the brand simply cannot.
Take Tesla, for example. Today the starting price of a Tesla Model X car is around $81,000. Equipped with location-based suspension, real-time traffic-based navigation, commute advice and a smart calendar, it’s not a brand you’d tap if you only need a vehicle to get from point A to B. But, unlike other luxury car manufacturers, Tesla has a huge following by people who will never buy one of their models. Why? It’s because they believe in creating a long-term, sustainable society that’s weaned from fossil fuels. And they’re delivering value to various audiences by creating not only a high-end driving experience, but also one that weans people off of our dependence on fossil fuels at the same time.
Do these people matter if they’re not buying a car? Absolutely they do.
In fact, Tesla believes so much in the need to build a sustainable society that they’ve accelerated the development of technology for the industry. How? One way is that they allow anyone who wants to use their patented technology in good faith to do just that. They realize that their biggest competitor isn’t the small amount of electric cars on the market. Instead, their competition is really the huge inventory of gasoline-powered cars manufactured every day.
Missing the big opportunity
Marketers who focus on just the people involved in the buying process miss a huge opportunity to create influence and emotionally engage large audiences. If you think that brand advocates are only customers, then you’re missing out on the opportunity of social influence. This influence matters a great deal in our digital world, because companies can no longer actually guide buyers by the hand and expect them to end up with their product or service. Marketing has to “set the scene” for buyers and influencer audiences to have delightful experiences at every stage of their journey. Not only is the new customer journey nonlinear, rarely is it the same twice.
Are you interested in mapping your customer journey so you can understand their needs, and where and when you can deliver value? Contact me and let’s talk about how we can help. You can also follow me on LinkedIn, and Twitter, and if you like what you see, Subscribe here for regular updates.
Photo credit: Pixaby