Lately, attempts to visually show buying processes or buyer journeys have come in all shapes and sizes. They have ranged from the traditional funnel to circles, galaxies, maps, rings, and whatever Lego type shapes can be mustered. Names for the different phases and stages seem to be – well – all over the map. I will confess – even I got caught up in doing this a few times.
As I reflect on this as well as the hundreds of buyer interviews I have done over the course of a dozen years – it comes down to this for me:
In B2B buying, there is usually a critical path to a purchase, which can be uncovered through highly skilled qualitative buyer research. Understanding this critical path will enable knowing the milestones to achieve. We call such milestones a Buyer Moment of Truth.
I can tell you this: in hundreds of buyer interviews, no one ever got up and drew me a funnel or circle. What I do believe is every industry has unique critical paths of buying which can be uncovered. While the such frameworks for understanding the buyer journey can be helpful, what is underneath is what counts. In my article, How Buyers Decide When They Don’t Care About Your Competitive Advantage, I referenced getting underneath such frameworks to discover deeper buyer insights. Doing so can reveal the critical path towards knowing how and why your buyers buy.
Finding the Critical Path
One of the principles of buyer persona and buyer insight development is the focus on buying behaviors. A buyer persona is an archetypal representation of a buyer and the modeling of buying behaviors. A modeling tool, which can help model the critical path buyers take towards a purchase decision and beyond to repurchase, is the Buyer Decision Model™.
The model represents a view of the end-to-end Persona Buying Cycle™, which represents buying behaviors and buyer mindsets. There are six elements of the model designed to help us identify the critical path of buying. Let us take a brief look:
Buyer Events: An event can be related to either a trigger event or a strategic imperative such as an initiative or program. There is usually a main driver behind an event. Find out what it is.
Buyer Goals: Very important. Here you are looking for both key business goals as well as personal goals related to a buyer persona. How do these goals interweave? Where is the critical buyer moment of truth?
Buyer Activities: Activity-based qualitative buyer research can be very illuminating. The purpose is to identify the key activities buyers undertake during the buying cycle.
Buyer Think: In this element, oftentimes best obtained through third party expertise, the purpose is to identify the mental models of buyers. What are their attitudes, perceptions, beliefs, and top of mind drivers influencing the purchase decision? Not meeting a buyer moment of truth here can stop your participation dead in its’ track.
Buyer Values: This element covers the ground in understanding the archetypal value ecosystem of a buyer persona. The ecosystem can be made up of both formal and informal company buying criteria, personal values, and external values.
Buyer Choices: Along the buying cycle, buyers are faced with a constant stream of choices to make. Should I proceed? Take an alternate course? Do I need to get others involved? Should I bring in another vendor? Should I buy or build?
The elements do require a commitment to understanding your buyers qualitatively. In order for the model to work well and be a game changer, it needs good input and deep buyer insights. Your output for this model will only be as good as your input.
Connecting the Dots
To help determine the critical path of buying, I suggest assigning critical path values. With a value of one (1) representing a key Buyer Moment of Truth. When you connect the values of one (1) throughout the model, it helps you see the critical path of buying you need to zone in on.
Using this model can be very powerful. It takes a team effort, good facilitation, a commitment to qualitative buyer research, and executive sponsorship. Chief Marketing, Chief Sales, and Chief Support officers should pair up their respective teams for this model. You will be glad you did.
This model is yet another example of how powerful buyer persona and buyer insight development, rooted in deep understanding, can help companies set themselves apart from their competition. It should be noted buyer persona and buyer insight development is not strictly an exercise in developing marketing messaging to buyers. This view seems to be in vogue today and I encourage you as marketing, sales, or support leaders to expand your perspective. True to its’ origins, it is meant to deliver and inform a strategic critical path towards a company-wide customer and buyer strategy, which involves everyone.
(I have made this model available here for you: Buyer Decision Model™. I welcome further conversation if I can be of help in how to use the model to determine your buyer’s critical path of buying. Please share widely – someone is most likely searching for this path.)