We are all consumers and in every purchase made or to be made we go through a process of steps leading up to that final decision. In business, this is called a buyer's process or journey and within the last ten (10) to fifteen (15) years there has been a lot of focus on getting sellers to start having a more buyer-focused approach to selling.
Why? Mainly because of the change in the customer's approach in the way that they buy. Before the internet and even while the internet existed, buyers placed a lot of trust into the hands of their service or solution providers, relying on them to give provide trustworthy information, advice, tips, etc. Now, the customer is way more informed, savvy, confident, etc. in what they want and who they want it from.
While some sellers have focused on this and worked on putting the customer first, many are still struggling mainly because they have not taken the time to understand the buyer's journey and to make the subsequent changes in their approach to business.
In this article, we will break down the different stages of the buyer's journey and how the sales process should align itself to it.
What is the buyer's journey?
Why is it important?
The steps explained
How should it be used?
What is a buyer's Journey?
The buyer's journey represents a series of decision-making stages that a buyer goes through when purchasing/investing in a product, service or solution.
Why is it important?
Within the last ten to fifteen years there has been a shift in control between seller and buyer where the buyer has the more of the control as they are focused on investing in products, services or solutions that provide value to their lives or businesses.
Sellers have had to transition from being product pushers to value-based solution providers. This meant no longer just being very versed on the items they sell, but understanding the value it will bring to their customers.
Because of this shift, a lot of focus has been placed on first understanding the buyer, what's important to them and what's the process they go through in making a purchasing decision. It's here that the deep dive into understanding the
What are the steps involved in a buyer's journey
There are many different iterations of the buyer's journey in this explanation we will
These steps are;
The above illustration and steps represent the process the customer/buyer goes through once they have identified that there's a need.
Let's say a customer is looking to purchasing a new piece of equipment, an appliance for their home or office. The first stage would be the client recognising that there is an actual need based on the current stage or lifecycle of the equipment and what the buyer needs to use if for.
If the item is broken, then that's an immediate need for change, however, in some instances based on things like workload, features, new legislation, etc. These can be triggers where a customer has identified that there is a need for change.
The greater the need will represent the customer's level of urgency customers in addressing the matter or making a decision.
This phase is possibly one of the most important phases that vendors need to understand in the buyer's process. Once a buyer's need has been identified, the next natural thing for a consumer to do is to start "shopping around".
Before, this was not always necessary because buyers would have just called their incumbent to give them what they needed. However, with buyers having more and more choice they now take it upon themselves to start looking at the different options.
Take for instance the process of purchasing a car. Once the buyer has agreed that they need a car, the next thing would be to start looking at their options. Even is they may have a preference, each buy is open to a number of different resources in helping them make a decision.
Some of these resources are;
Internet (Website, YouTube, Comparison sites, etc.)
Opinions from friends & family
Online Reviews/forums (looking at historical data)
For vendors, it's important that they identify exactly how their customers are identifying their products and their purchasing criteria as it relates to making the final decision.
It's important to note that critical decisions are made at the research stage. Customers start shortlisting the product, service, solution or providers they want to do business with and from there they start making calls, email or visits to get more hands-on information on what that item or solution can do.
“57% of the purchase decision is already complete before the customer even calls the supplier.” (CEB)
The demo stage of the customer's buying process can be considered the validation stage. They already have an idea as to what they want, however, there is still information that they may need to get from the supplier. It's important for a sales professional at this stage to really identify the needs of the client at this stage because even though shortlisted, the customer has back up options.
In the sales process, this stage is considered the closing stage and can be daunting for many. However, this stage of the process is possibly one of the easiest stages once the first three (3) are done properly.
When a customer commits at this stage of the buying process it's mainly because the product, service or solution has satisfied most if not all of their concerns. Consider this as a customer checklist where every criterion has to checked off before giving the ok.
It is important to note that a client's checklist may not be checked off 100% but it would be the sales professional/provider that offers the most amount of valuable information that satisfies the buyer's concerns gets the business. In Kevin Davis' book "Getting Into Your Customers Head" he calls these stages the fear and commitment for the buyer and indicated that the sales professional must play the role of the therapist and negotiator respectively.
While understanding each stage of the buyer's process is important, we would stress that the evaluation stage is extremely critical as it represents Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) for your organisation.
Each buyer, post-purchase goes through a process of actually evaluating the equipment or overall service provided to see if they got what they paid for. Consider this the evaluation stage of the buying process where they grade their provider based on their level of satisfaction.
The evaluation criteria can go from how well their problem was solved, how much they enjoy using what they purchased, what was the experience while interacting with their seller or what level of support they received post-purchase if something happens.
As stated earlier this stage has many implications as it represents the future business with this client or those that they decide to share their experience with. Effective follow-up strategies by the organisation's marketing, sales and service teams are important in making sure they get an A-Grade.
How is it used?
Like everything else, the integral part of things learned is in the application.
Marketing and sales must take the time to understand their buyer's process/journey to have a better approach to business. Once the buyer's process has been mapped it should be aligned to the company's marketing and sales process.
The benefits of this will be tremendous for the organisation as they will have a better understanding of their buyer and a sales process that matches their buyer's decision-making process.
In closing, customer loyalty is thin in today's world. Sellers have to work twice as hard to maintain the current base that they have and also acquire new business. Many companies say that they are customer-centric, however, their processes state otherwise. If we pay attention to some of the leaders in business today world, we would realise that how they sell is why they win but they only sold better because they had a better understanding of their buyer/customer.