During the past two to three years, there has been much focus on understanding the buying process, buying cycles, or as some call it – buyer’s journey – of buyers. Due to shifts in buyer behavior towards research and evaluation before sales interactions, we have seen the idea of mapping content to buying stages and buying journeys. I am not so sure this gets us where we need to go.
There have been many attempts to depict the buyer’s journey and buying process. We have circles, arches, straight vertical lines, wavy lines, and more. My hunch is buyers read these depictions. What they may think is this – we are not all that well in the head. For marketers and sellers, confusion must exist on which of these many depictions should be followed.
While attempting to understand how buying processes takes place is important, it is only one aspect of many when it comes to understanding buying. A narrow focus on “how” is not very predictive. Nor does it give us perspective on the W’s. The 4 W’s of who, what, where, when, and why.
The aim of understanding buying processes and other similar views is to be more effective – when – the actual process of interest and buying is underway. What is at stake in today’s turbulent markets is this question of – when? Having a narrow focus on buying processes or as some prefer – buying journey puts the “when” question in the wrong context. What we really seek is the ability to predict “when” customers and prospect buyers most likely need to buy.
Having the ability to predict as well as have foresight into how buyers will have unfulfilled goals is the new manifesto. It is what buyers expect. Staying in the “when” of buying process alone does not get you there. Buyer predictability will be what separates leaders from contenders.
This response from a recent interview is a case in point, which illustrates buyer expectations:
“What we really want is to work with a company who can give us a roadmap, 5 years out if you will, of what to expect in the future. We need this. We need to know their plans and what they see on the horizon. And that what they offer is adaptable to changes. Because it is a significant investment, we need to not be stuck with something that is old as soon as we implement it.” VP, Business Planning
This case in point has nothing to do with buying process. It has a plenty to do with being in synch with buyers on anticipating the “when” of new needs they will have. And, whether you can be the organization in synch and positioned with buyers to help them anticipate what they will need. The problem many B2B marketers and sellers have today is related to being out of synch with buyers. A way of putting it is this: your “when” is out of synch with their “when”.
Synching up with buyers takes some pre-work. It involves three areas of understanding in order to help customers and prospect buyers:
Understand Buyer Stories
Within organizations today, there are multiple stories taking place. Not understanding these stories and how they relate can leave you out of the Big Story. The Big Story being how a company decides to move forward and transform. For B2B marketers and sellers, you need to be a collector of buyer stories and make sense out of them in order to help customers and prospects accomplish their goals. And, by this I do not mean knowing your buyers “pain” points. This is an old school product marketing reference, which simply needs to go.
Current Buying Scenarios
Companies are being faced with unique situations and dynamics, which equate to a scenario. Do we understand these? A narrow focus on buying process and pain points alone misses what these situations and scenarios are. If you seek a long term and nurturing relationship with a customer or prospect, should you not invest in understanding how these collections of stories, situations, and scenarios are currently affecting customers and prospect buyers?
Future Buying Scenarios
As the quoted case in point demonstrates, buyers can be eager to be in a position to anticipate both technology and market changes. The company who can bring these perspectives will be leaders as oppose to contenders. Only by understanding the first two steps mentioned could you then gain a future perspective. You will be able to plot out potential what if buying scenarios for marketing and sales. And, plot out for your customers and buyers future scenarios they can begin to anticipate and plan for.
These three steps gets you beyond the narrow “how” view of just the buying process or buying journey to the broader perspective of anticipating scenarios buyers are most likely to face. Thus, synching up with buyers when they can anticipate changes in the status quo must be made.
To answer the question of “Can you predict when your customers will buy?” with an approximate yes – building predictability and foresight into your planning as well as relationship with customers and prospects is how you can.
(Schedule time with me and a conversation to help you understand how to gain the ability to predict future buying scenarios. I am very interested in getting your thoughts and perspectives on how this can help you plan. Please share widely – your peers and colleagues are trying to predict what next year will look like.)