The customer buying journey

Who are your customers? Why do they buy (or not buy) from you? Where and how should your brand show up to them? These are seemingly simple questions, but the more complex the purchase process, especially in B2B, the more difficult it is to find answers.

Understanding what triggers the need for your product or service and how that translates into the sale is what customer decision journeys are designed to do.

A customer buying journey is a path that a buyer goes through to make a decision within a category, such as coffee, vs. a brand such as Starbucks. Marketing researchers have for years been studying why and how people buy. Then, in 2009, McKinsey put some research and a framework around it and gave it a name: the consumer decision journey.

Today, marketers have as many names for it as they do visuals to present it. We prefer the name customer buying journey, as it is more inclusive of B2B and it’s more specific to purchasing something. But, it’s not about the name; it’s about what it can do for your company — elevate your marketing to the next level.

How does it work?

The old-school or traditional notion of a sales funnel is dead. No longer can you simply place an ad to tell your prospects that your product is better, that it will make their lives richer, and then watch them buy. With the internet providing quick access to relevant information, buyers are more informed, more mobile and have the ability to quickly compare a lot of competing options. It’s no longer a linear purchase path.

The journey breaks down any purchase into three phases: pre-purchase, purchase and post-purchase. Each phase is further divided into sections that help marketers understand what initially triggered the need, what brands first came to mind, what they did to find potential solutions and so on, all the way through to what they did post-purchase. The post phase includes using the product/service and sharing their experiences. What’s key here is that what happens during the post-purchase directly impacts the brands considered in the pre-purchase phase the next time. Brands need to get this right.

Within each stage, the journey shows what the buyer is doing, as well as what they are thinking and feeling. All three pieces are important when creating messaging for potential buyers. In addition, it is critical to find and document the key moments that matter, which are the most important steps the buyer goes through. It’s what really pushes the decision toward one brand or another.

This is where your brand needs to show up. The journey will outline the specific place in the purchase process, the touchpoint and the messaging.

The result is that your buying journey is now your map. It’s a powerful tool when applied. It uncovers what was hidden behind a complex purchase process. It gives a voice to your target audience and dispels some internal beliefs on how to best market and sell to them. It aligns marketing and sales and acts as a filter for every tactic thrown at a marketing person. If it doesn’t fit the journey phases and the moments that matter, it shouldn’t be done. ●

Sue Stabe is Co-founder of Long & Short of It

Sue Stabe



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