Over the years, we’ve made some progress, shifting our focus from our Selling Process to the Customer Buying Journey. We’ve finally recognized the customer is in control—funny, I always thought they were.
We know that focusing on their Buying Journey, aligning our Selling Process with their journey is critical to our success (selfishly speaking.) We know they struggle to buy, often abandoning the process at some point, largely because they can’t align the agendas and priorities of the 6.8 people involved in the buying decision.
We know that top sales professionals create value not just in the value produced by their solutions, but in helping the customer in their Buying Journey.
But there’s possibly something we are missing. I think it’s our focus on the Buying Journey. We treat it as a set of activities separate from everything else they are trying to achieve. We often isolate it from the bigger picture—which is the world the customer lives in and what they are trying to achieve.
Customers don’t embark on a Buying Journey just to buy. They don’t outline their needs and requirements for a solution, just because it’s part of what they have to do to buy. Their goal is not to issue a PO.
In reality, the customer is always on a larger journey—a journey to accomplish something. It may be to address new opportunities. It may be to solve some problems. It’s always to achieve some business and personal goals. This is true for all of our customers, even our friends in procurement.
Buying is just one line item on the checklist of things they must accomplish on this journey.
Reflect, for a moment, on projects within your own company—any project, not just those that involve buying. How many great projects get started, but fail to reach the end? But there are, also, all the projects that do proceed successfully. There are countless tasks, milestone reviews, adjustments, and challenges faced in achieving the goals of the project.
Think of all the new initiatives that come out of executive strategy sessions, the improvement projects different functions undertake to continually get better. Within sales and marketing, there are endless plans and programs, all of which are focused on achieving some goals for the organization. Think of how the project team struggles with keeping on target—it’s usually not the hard things, but the simpler things, agreeing on the project scope and goals, the schedule, identifying critical activities, executing those activities, meeting target dates, adjusting to the rough spots along the way, deciding what to do, how to do it. Getting approval from management, buy in for all those involved or impacted. Finally, implementation, doing all the work to achieve the goals you set out to achieve in the first place, as well as the numerous course corrections along the way.
Often, a very large project spawns a number of smaller projects—all of which must be synced with the larger project plans and goals. In fact, the Customer Journey may encompass a number of Buying Journeys. For example, if I’m designing a phone, I have displays, cases, batteries, active/passive components, shielding, and hundreds of things to “buy” as part of the overall project. If I’m putting in a new manufacturing line, I have all the various tools, systems, transport, sensors/monitoring devices, power, HVAC, delivery systems—possibly hundreds of things to buy.
Where does the Buyer’s Journey fit in the context of the overall Customer Journey?
Even if it’s a large part, for example a major new manufacturing line, a new financial system, a new marketing automation tool, a CRM system, the Buyer’s Journey is just a part of the overall Customer Journey.
Yet our focus, if we’re pretty good, is on the Buyer’s Journey. We rarely touch on the other parts of their journey, often are completely ignorant of those things. If we’re better, we may provide a business case and some justification to facilitate the purchase decision, but often, it’s isolated from everything else they have to do on their journey. They still have to provide the business case and justification for the total project.
To us, however, the Buying Journey is the single most important thing to us, and because of that mindset, we tend to think it’s the single most important thing to the customer. We forget, it’s just a part of what they are concerned about in achieving their goals.
Customers don’t buy just for the sake of buying. They buy because what they are buying is part of what they have to do to achieve their overall goal. But their primary concern is doing all the things they have to do in that Journey to achieve their goal.
Having built this argument, it’s unlikely we will or even should participate or try to “help” in the entire Customer Journey. We may not have the expertise or capability to contribute or create value in every aspect of that journey. We certainly don’t have the time or may not want to take the time to participate in every part of the journey—and the customer probably doesn’t want us to.
But understanding where we fit, where the customer Buying Journey that we participate in contributes to the overall Customer Journey, is critical to helping the customer on that journey.
If we are core to what they are trying to achieve, then we can help them in many areas of that buying journey. We can help them identify things they may be missing, things they should improve on, things they may not know. If you sell CRM systems, as an example, you probably are identifying issues around implementation and training—even though you may not provide those. But what are you doing in advising them on adoption and compliance—probably one of the single biggest issues in CRM success. It has little to do with what you sold, but everything to do with the Customer Journey and their goals.
Perhaps we are a very small part of what they are trying to do. However important we try to make this part of their Buying Journey important, it never will be, nor should it be. What should we do?
I spoke to a brilliant sales manager for a company that sells bathroom fixtures. We were talking about a major deal (for them) in supplying fixtures for a brand new hotel. Clearly, in the overall building design and the construction project, bathroom fixtures were a very small part of the customer’s concern. This sales manager recognized this, adopting a strategy, “How can we take this off your plate? You have so many other things to worry about, let us worry about this for you…”
Understanding the Customer Journey, not just their Buying Journey provides us a much richer context in which to understand what they are trying to achieve, understand where and how we create value, develop and execute strategies that help the customer on their Journey, not just with their buying.