The digital economy continues to evolve at a fast clip. New technologies are being introduced nearly every month. Startups are ascending while long tenured organizations suddenly find themselves on shaky grounds. New services and product introductions are falling flat. Making the pursuit of understanding why customers are buying or not buying most difficult for many companies today.
What we can be certain of is the buying behaviors of customers are changing. Companies today can no longer sit on the sidelines and watch these changes from afar. In essence, risking they will be left entirely out of the new digital playing field customers will engage in. Such a pressing issue raises important questions for executives leading organizations today in marketing and sales:
- How do we understand the new customer and buyer of today?
- How do we adapt to newfound customer buying behaviors?
- Why are customers buying or not buying?
- How do we gain critical customer insights needed to be informed?
- Where should we allocate precious and limited resources to engage customers?
- How do we redesign our organization to meet the new expectations of customers?
- How do we redesign and align our marketing and sales to respond to changing as well as new buying behaviors?
These are just a few of many questions business leaders are keeping top of mind. What they have in common is businesses today are confronted with having gaps in understanding changing and new customer buying behaviors.
How Do We Understand New Customer Buying Behaviors?
I have seen firsthand, through hundreds of qualitative buyer interviews, how rapid changes in customer buying behaviors are taking place. What is becoming evident is business organizations can no longer be content to a point of thinking they understand. To understand must be a constant endeavor for the new digital world continues to spin on its axis and become anew at each turn.
The implication for businesses is the need to have capabilities in place to make understanding customers and buyers a core competency. To date, some are building this core competency. Yet many treat understanding customers and buyers as a one-off study they can use for the next decade. This approach can prove to be fatal.
Let us take a look at seven new capabilities and approaches business organizations today will need to stay informed of new customer buying behaviors:
1. Immerse Yourself In The Business Of Your Customers
Companies today can no longer be content to just get to know customers via quantitative data or through win/loss oriented phone calls. Nor can they rely on the reports of their sales people entirely. Most cultural shifts (and we are in the midst of a big one) come with behavioral shifts, which must be observed. Meaning, organizations today need to find ways to immerse themselves in the business of their customers. One way is through immersive qualitative buyer research and ethnography. Whether using internal or external resources, a business will never truly understand until they walk in the shoes of their customers.
2. Return To Segmentation
Somewhere in the ballyhoo of excitement over content marketing, inbound marketing, and etc., business leaders in marketing and sales may be glossing over needed segmentation. This is fundamental to at least understanding the clusters of buyers and customers most representative of a segment. When it comes to understanding new customer buying behaviors, seeing how new behaviors differ between segments becomes of vital importance.
3. Get To Know The Many Situations Confronting Your Customers
There is much fluidity in terms of the situations customers and buyers are confronted with. Meeting customer expectations today means understanding the various situations and scenarios they are most likely to be in the midst of or see in the future. Scenario planning is a core element of buyer persona development and it should most certainly be a core competency of organizations intent on understanding changing and new customer buying behaviors.
4. Know How Customers Think And View The World
Every day, how customers think is influenced by a new vision of the world they live and work in. New thinking and a new view of the world ultimately reshapes the buying behavior of customers and buyers. Understanding the qualitative means of mental modeling, associated with buyer persona development, is important to getting at this crucial element. More important now than ever as executives are putting more weight on subjective human factors than on functional factors such as buying criteria, performance factors, and etc. when making decisions.
5. Understand The Customer Narrative
Customers and businesses today have unfolding stories about who they are, what they represent, and where they hope to go. It is important for businesses to understand the clear narratives of their customers and how they can contribute to the still unfolding story. More importantly, producing clear Persona-Based Customer Narratives help employees to understand their role in satisfying customers.
6. Follow The Different Paths They Take Towards A Decision
The shortcomings of the buzz around buyer’s journey are rising to the surface. When you start calling something the indirect or the circular buyer’s journey – it is no longer useful. Customers today take different paths to a purchase decision, depending on each unique scenario and set of goals. These paths can include digital and collaborative paths towards a purchase decision. An analogy would be this – if you are a hiker, depending on your goal, you will choose from among the 2-mile path, the 8-mile path, or the 20-mile path. You decide the 8-mile path fits your goal of hiking strenuously yet feasible to finish before it gets dark. You return a month later but bring a friend along. To accommodate your friend, you choose the 2-mile path in order to not overwhelm your friend on the first hike he takes with you. The problem with the “buyer’s journey” approach today is it presumes the buyer takes the same linear journey each and every time in a very physical world. In the digital and collaborative economy, this is not the reality.
7. Make Your Buyer Personas An Authentic Representation
Buyer personas created via the use of functional and factual profiling language such as buying criteria, key success factors, initiatives, and the likes are not providing an authentic representation of the very insights needed to understand customers and buyers – their changing and new buying behaviors. The purpose of buyer persona development is to get at the heart of goal-directed buying behaviors and not customer profiling. Many buyer persona development efforts have failed due to being led down this course of functional factors-based profiling as opposed to understanding buying behaviors.
Building A Clear Picture Of Customers
The above outlines seven points to consider in order to gain deep insights into new customer buying behaviors. An important point is they are interdependent to each other. To get the clear and graspable simple picture of changing and new customer buying behaviors, these elements help you to build upon each other so the picture emerges with bursting colors. If you stay on the path of older conventional functional profiling, you will have a picture, which slowly fades away.
(What follows is a talk given by Rachel Botsman, which touches upon the new collaborative economy and the rise of reputation capital. Getting to know how customers think includes the intangible of reputation. A recent Forbes Knowledge Group study points to nearly half of business executives surveyed relied on reputation in their decision-making. Although oriented to the consumer marketplace, it is a fascinating talk in which some of these ideas will crossover into the world of business-to-business before too long. Enjoy.)