Understanding Your Buyer’s Journey
April 19, 2016
When it comes to selling customers, there’s no overestimating the importance of focusing on your buyer, on truly understanding their needs so you can win their purchase and increase customer satisfaction. It’s also important for capturing that potential customer as early as possible and getting to the sale quickly to limit limit your overhead and resource consumption. Although most salespeople intuitively understand this, that doesn’t mean they know anything about the buyer’s journey. This ignorance could cost your sales dearly, though. In fact, it could put your company out of business.
What Is the Buyer’s Journey?
Buyers don’t just show up on your company’s doorstep and make a purchase. Sure, that would be great, but that’s just not the way it works, especially if you sell products or services that come with significant investments.
The buyer’s journey is s tool that describes the status of the buyer as they move from a prospect to actually becoming a customer. This framework has become an essential part of marketing sales for a number of reasons. While it can vary significantly from one industry to another, we’ll do our best to cover it here in broad enough terms that you can get an idea for how it would work in yours.
The Four General Stages of the Buyer’s Journey
The buyer’s journey will vary by industry and product, so there is no standard template. In fact, the intent of the buyers journey is for each company to understand their customer well enough to develop their own. However, the following example focuses on B2C, so if you work in B2B, you’d need to adjust a bit.
That being said, here are the four main stages in the buyer’s journey:
- Develop Interest – in the very first stage of the buyer’s journey, the customer is just beginning to identify and understand what their problem is. Perhaps they recognize that they need a new smartphone for their son or daughter. At the moment, they’ve become aware of this issue and know they want to do something about it.
- Information Gathering – next comes information gathering because they’re trying to figure out what it will take to get past their current challenge. In this scenario, they could be looking up information: what options are best for kids? They might read up on what other people have purchased or talk to their friends. This is the earliest stage of connecting with customers. At this stage, a white paper on the options, ins, and outs of kids using smart phones might be a great piece of content that would interest them.
- Seeking Options – now that they have a better understanding of the challenges they’re up against, the customer is ready to start looking for options they can spend money on to solve their need. In this case, they may want to search for the latest phones, or start looking on eBay for used phone prices. Perhaps they will look up different plan options at various carriers. This is where your marketing and sale force can step in and really spell out the benefits that your product or service brings to the table. The information gathering they did has sufficiently primed them to spend money.
- Justifying and Making a Purchase – at the end of the buyer’s journey, they will make a decision. If you’ve done your job correctly, they will understand the justification of making that decision will be ready to buy, hopefully from your company.
However, while this exercise sounds easy, a purchase is only going to happen if you handled all the other steps in the buyer’s journey correctly and adequately guided your prospect along the path.
Even if you’ve never heard of this concept before, chances are that the above steps in the buyer’s journey made complete sense. You may not have thought of buying in that way, but you probably recognized that you’ve taken those very same steps before.
Why the Buyer’s Journey Is Important
Hopefully, this is obvious by now, but companies that fully appreciate the buyer’s journey are much better prepared to beat out competitors that don’t. Just by reading the above, you should be in an improved position to look at problems your customers face and what their information needs are at each of the generic stages provided.
Understanding the buyer’s journey also helps you appreciate your customer’s mindset, which is always a valuable asset. Imagine if your buyer is ready to make a decision about what to purchase, but you’re still feeding them information as if they’re stuck on the first step. Meanwhile, one of your competitors is explaining why their product is the perfect solution. Who do you think is going to win that sale?
Most of the Buyer’s Journey Takes Place without You
With the ubiquity of information available, the reality is that your customer has made much of the journey long before your sales rep ever gets to them.
- According to CEB, for example, B2B customers are already 57% through their buying process before a seller engages them.
- By 2020, Gartner and Forrester has suggested that over 80% of the buying process will happen without any human interaction taking place.
Think about those data points…unless you’re actively leveraging an understanding about the buyer’s journey, and figuring out how to engage with potential customers before they speak to your sales team, you stand a pretty low percentage chance of winning a customer’s business. The reality is you may be losing customers before you even had them.
The good news is that, if you were unaware of the buyer’s process before now, it’s not too late to begin using it to your advantage. The bad news is that time is running out, so you need to start doing so today.
How to Catch Your Customers Early
You may be wondering how you can hope to win the day when customers are strolling down their buyer’s journey without you. The answer is to become a source of the information they’re looking for during that initial step.
Once again, the exact steps will differ depending on what your industry and business. No matter what, though, it begins with the process of gathering information. It starts with meeting with your customers, understanding their processes and needs, how they have gathered information, and what approvals and information requirements they have had along the way.
Then, you need to spend time digesting that information, laying it out, identifying common themes and information needs at each stage.
Next, you need to start mapping how you can offer them content–information that maps to their needs. Whether it’s in a blog, article, video, eBook, etc., you make the information available to them.
Generally, you want to make the information less centered around your product in the beginning (hopefully not at all) and more focused on justifying the decision and specifically the decision on purchasing your product at the end of the journey.
This kind of free information—much of which is immediately actionable—helps build trust, but can also attract prospects to your website. By providing them with info that really helps, you’re also encouraging their decision on what to buy – in your favor.
The buyer’s journey is one of the most powerful concepts your company could possibly leverage. It’s also a great tool for your marketing and sales team to work on together, as both hold equal footing when it comes to influencing your customers here. Start putting resources behind understanding your unique customers’ buyer journey, but never assume you ever completely grasp it either. This is a subject you should constantly be under review. If you do so, you will better understand your customer and his or her needs.