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The Buying Experience

We’d like to think that the buying process is linear, meaning that your buyer moves neatly from one stage to the next. But this isn’t exactly the case. Your buyer interacts with your company in a dynamic way, especially if you have multiple products and services to offer. A customer may be at the end of the process for one problem, while not yet aware of another problem. In addition, if a buyer is unsatisfied with the information available as s/he learns more about their problem, s/he may become stuck at a particular stage, or even move backwards until gaining a solid grasp on the issue.

It is important to point out that both marketing and sales have a role in understanding customers and their journeys. Marketing will utilise this information to produce more compelling and relevant content that helps to bring customers through the door, while sales will use this information to aid their customers along the journey toward a solution.

There are numerous frameworks out there to describe the buying process. Our model (Fig. 6.2) assumes your buyer goes through five major stages as s/ he decides to work with you.

1. Awareness

First, your buyer has to become aware of a problem that exists in his/her world. Generally something has to happen for the buyer to move from ‘unaware’ to ‘aware’. This could be something small, such as a colleague pointing out a problem, or it could be something large, such as complete failure of the current solution. The buyer is seeking to learn more about the problem and to ultimately determine whether or not the problem is big enough to fix.

For example, let’s say your customer is an IT (information technology) director responsible for deciding which laptops to deploy to his organisation. He starts to get complaints from employees about the unstable operating system and poor battery life of the current brand of laptops. At the same time, there are numerous laptops that are old and need replacing. So now he needs to decide

The buyer's journey

Fig. 6.2 The buyer's journey

whether or not to continue to deploy the same brand/model of laptops, or seek an alternative solution.

2. Education

Once your buyer becomes aware of his/her problem and has made the decision to solve it, s/he starts to seek more information about how to solve it, using generic web search terms, talking to peers and tapping into social networks, to see if anyone has encountered a similar situation. The buyer starts to develop a list of criteria based upon research and determines the most important factors of a solution.

Carrying on our example, the IT director may talk to his peers or look at review boards to see if others are having the same type of problems with this particular brand of laptop. If he’s had a positive experience with the laptop company, he may call directly and see what the company recommends. Perhaps he will seek input from other organisations regarding the brand of laptops they use and how happy they are with the support they receive. In addition, he may need to bring in other decision-makers to make sure everyone understands the problem and is weighing all the options.

3. Comparison

Once the buyer has a basic idea of what he/she needs, s/he starts looking for specific vendors/products/services to fix the problem. Educated on the features/benefits, s/he compares your pricing with that of your competitors. Your buyer may also ask to talk to some of your other customers to see what their experience has been like, also looking at the option of continuing with business as usual (maintaining the status quo). If the buying process seems too cumbersome, expensive and overwhelming, a buyer might make the decision to wait it out.

By now the IT director has a good idea of what he needs and the laptop brands that can meet his criteria. He has done all of this research up to this point on his own, without involving the vendor’s sales team. He finally calls to talk to a sales rep in order to learn the pricing, support and billing options. (As we’ve pointed out in earlier chapters, the buyer is about 60 % through his decision-making process at this point.) He then compares all this information with his current solution and presents a compelling recommendation to his manager (and others involved in the decision) about switching to a new brand of laptops.

4. Purchase

The purchase phase is generally short. Your prospect may request a trial of your product or service instead of the full-blown solution, wanting to make sure the right choice is being made. At the end of this stage, your buyer makes a decision to go with your solution or a competitor.

Despite the learning curve involved in deploying and supporting a different brand of laptops, the IT director and his manager make a decision to switch. Their procurement team gets involved to negotiate the details of the contract with the new vendor.

5. Confirm

This is a critical moment for your buyer. Immediately following his/her decision, s/he looks for confirmation that the right decision has been made. The buyer will begin to evaluate whether or not the full benefits your solution promised to deliver are being received. Depending on how quickly these benefits, buyer’s remorse may set in. On the other hand, if the onboarding experience is pleasant and pain-free, the buyer may start to refer your solution to friends and peers.

So far the experience has been satisfying for the IT director. He seamlessly replaced the older laptops with the new equipment. As he was configuring the new laptops he ran into some problems, which were easily resolved by the vendor’s customer service team. In addition, the vendor provided him with a ‘Getting started’guide to pass along to the users, helping them to become proficient as quickly as possible.

Exercise Now it’s your turn. Using this framework, document how a prospective buyer goes through his/her journey to decide whether or not to buy from your organisation. Identify the questions your buyer asks along the way to determine how/when to move forward through the journey. Remember that buyers may jump back and forth between the stages if they don’t feel they’ve found the right information or salesperson to help them along. This framework can be used for all of the products/ services that you offer.

 
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