Today I want to talk to you about a topic that's crucially important to your customer acquisition, demand generation and sales and marketing strategies. That topic is the buyer's journey, the real buyer's journey.
Over the last 15 months, we’ve reviewed thousands of full cycle buy-sell interactions, advised, debriefed, discussed, and interviewed hundreds of sellers and buyers. We asked them what they expected would happen and we analyzed what actually happened. We reviewed reams of data, metrics, and analytics to identify what was happening, why it was happening (and to find out if what was happening even mattered). We also studied the latest research on the human brain, behavioral economics, and psychology.
We discovered, first and foremost, that just about everything that’s been/being taught about the buyer's journey, not to mention just about every description or visual of the buyer's journey, is wrong. This causes sellers and marketers to become increasingly out of alignment with buyers despite their efforts to do the right things.
In the past, this misalignment wasn’t as much of a problem because the seller could force the buyer into that journey, but as buyers have gained greater access to information and more power, that misalignment is big—and it's getting bigger every day.
Buying is the combination of two different human activities—learning and deciding. When we made that discovery, we realized that when you look at it through this lens, we already know a lot about how humans learn, including how they take that learning and apply it to make decisions and take actions. It's called the knowledge funnel.
The knowledge funnel is a metaphor about how people learn and apply those learnings. It starts in a phase called mysteries. With mysteries, everything is random and unpredictable. Nothing makes sense.
As we exposed ourselves to more to these mysteries, we crossed to a phase called heuristics. We get a hunch. We get a feel. Heuristics are basically themes. There are patterns that have emerged. It's not totally predictable, but it's generally predictable. As we apply these mysteries, we begin narrowing down and simplifying what this all means, and that's where the decision gets made. In the decision process, it never becomes quite an algorithm, but the process is similar.
The Beginning of The Buyer’s Journey
We start off at the phase we call the Epiphany to Awareness phase. At this point in the journey, the buyer is not thinking about anything related to a seller, a product, a solution and often even a problem.
Every human has a conative aspect, aka an MO. This MO creates a mindset that causes some things to be noticed more easily and more likely than others. When this conative mindset is impacted by priorities, the human brain begins to notice things before the human is even aware that something is being noticed.
If you can identify what someone's priorities are, it's a pretty good bet you're going to know where their mind is focused and what they are unconsciously aware of right now. You are unconsciously aware of any number of things that could possibly impact you for good or bad in the coming minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years. Based on that unconscious awareness, you begin seeking.
The old saying goes, “As you seek, so shall you find.” Finding, at this phase of the journey means that it gains your attention and you become consciously aware. You begin to pay attention, and this is the first point where the buyer's journey becomes something the buyer is even aware is happening to them. Note that all of the information, insights, beliefs, and implications gathered in this seeking phase will dramatically influence what buyers pay attention to as well as how they process the information they gain in the middle of their journey.
The Middle of The Buyer’s Journey
The middle phase is a heuristic. The buyer gets a hunch and starts looking to understand what is happening, how things are impacting them, and what might they be missing. It’s in this middle phase where the real journey becomes quite different from how it is typically viewed by marketers and sellers.
We start searching, looking to confirm or deny or understand that hunch. We're also socializing. We're looking at what other people are saying. We're asking questions of our coworkers, our boss, or the people who work for us.
There's this human dynamic that drives all of us. No one wants to look foolish. When we first form this hunch, a natural reaction is that we become concerned that we may be the only ones who think this. It’s the same human emotion that makes me think I'm the only person whose house is messy because every time I'd go to someone else's house for a party or dinner, their house was always clean. I must have the only messy house, right?
As we form our hunch, we want to immediately begin socializing the idea/feeling. More often than not, the idea that is most easily socialized is the one that captures the full attention and activity of a buyer.
The traditional buyer's journey says we go through a defined, linear journey that goes along the lines of:
- Understand the problem
- Determine what solutions could work
- Define the requirements and make a decision
Advisors refer to these three components as separate and distinct phases. It’s a nice model. It’s orderly and it feels good. But, it’s not how it happens.
The reality is that these things are happening all at the same time. As we work to understand our problem, we also start exploring solutions. Our exploration of solutions changes how we're thinking about the problem and the requirements of the right solution. Additionally, everything else that is happening in our lives impacts how we think about all three of these things.
All of this information is filtered through a prioritization and impact schema, to determine what problems/pains have risen to a level where intent is formed, and a crucial decision is made. That decision is that something must be done, something must change.
The End of the Buyer’s Journey
When the buyer crosses the intent threshold, they enter a decision phase. The buyer gets very myopic and task-oriented in this phase of the journey. The decision phase is far more about validation than it is about learning. Humans do not seek facts and data to determine their beliefs, they use their beliefs to determine how they’ll view facts and data.
Driven by the beliefs that formed our intent, the focus moves to build consensus to validate the final selection of what gets done, and who is selected to help the company do it.
The Beginning of the Next Journey
The journey doesn’t actually end with the decision. The fourth part of the journey is the experience. We live with and evaluate our decision. Socializing the decision emerges as an important piece of this phase. This is one of the reasons that demand generation should never end and why content is increasingly important as part of the customer success process.
With the decision made, we begin (in reality we never stopped) seeking again which starts the entire process all over again.