Each buyer, or buying organization, can appear to be totally unique, adopting random behavior across their path from first consideration, through acquisition, and then use of a particular product. The product in question may be a laptop, and business service, a medical device, or an aircraft. After conducting over 3,000 in-depth interviews with buyers, across a wide breadth of industries and around the globe, I can now attest to the fact that buyers, in a particular market, when buying a specific offering, buy in remarkably similar ways.
Our research has repeatedly shown that buyers worry about the same things, the same roles get involved, bringing similar agendas and concerns to the table, they engage in similar activities, and make decisions in a similar way. However, many people would like to think they, or their organizations, are more unique rather than be accused of behaving in a similar manner to others. And, for sure, there are outliers, but, overall, they behave in a similar manner. When you step back and think about this, it makes sense. If business engaged in totally random activities in random ways, there would be no best practices, no professional certifications, and no interesting business books.
If we go with the premise, for the moment, that buyers do buy in a similar manner, that holds great news for sales and marketing folk. It implies that we can predict and map out what buyers are going to do, what roles will get involved, what they will value, and their concerns. This then affords us the ability to not only identify where a buyer is in their journey but also be able to precisely target market messaging and sales tactics to help them move positively though their buying journey. In fact, we think that is one of the most significant opportunities facing today’s organizations, that is, focusing on helping their buyers buy. This is a far cry from the steam-aged approaches of telling them all about your product and why they should buy it, to instead focusing on the “how to” buy it.
Let’s look at the two factors that may lead the casual observer to think that buying journeys are more random than they are.
Firstly, buyers, especially those that are buying a particular product for the first time, may get lost in their process. They seldom have a map of how to buy, so they meander along with various roles jumping in and out and learning along the way. For these buyers their journey is one of learning and discovery. They may even loop back to an earlier stage of the process based on new knowledge they have gained. This is a trial-and-error type of progression. For the sales folk that may be engaged in such journeys the result is delays and missed forecasts. Such behavior can appear random, but the buyer is working their way through their buying maze, full of traps and different players, learning as they go. If they had the map, or the chance to buy again, invariably you would see that they follow a more straight-line path.
Secondly, and for those that read the opening paragraph closely, I wrote that buyers in a particular market all follow the same path. Not all the folk that go buy coffee every morning belong in the same market. Those who stop at any convenient coffee shop are one market and then those that insist on going to Starbucks, despite the lines and complicated ordering process, belong to another. We can now state that the very definition of a market is a collection of buyers that buy a particular offering in the same manner. Since we adopted this thinking, many things have become more focused. We no longer entertain the idea of sub-markets or different personas; we simply see a market as buyers who will follow a similar buying journey.
I also mentioned that there are outliers, but that is not what of great concern with our sales and marketing approaches. We should not be betting on the 10% chance, but the 90% chance of what will generally be the case.
If you still don’t believe me, ask your own customers what they went through to buy and utilize your offering. Ask them what roles got involved, what they were looking for, what their concerns were and how they made their decision. I guarantee you are not going to hear different stories, you will hear commonality, unless of course you are selling to different markets. If that is the case, it is extremely valuable to discover that, and then likely just focus on one market – but that is the topic for a future Epicenter article!