Let’s start with a quick focus on why mapping the buying journey is important. Simply put, in today’s world the concept of trying to pull a prospect through your sales process, or even your lead nurturing process, is sadly outdated. That’s not the way today’s buyer buys. The role of sales and marketing in today’s world is to support, navigate, and manage the buyer through their buying journey. That simple notion is almost impossible to achieve if you are not armed with the map of that buying journey. Now, sadly, to make matters more challenging, buyers don’t go through a simplistic buying journey that we used to be taught. They now go through a maze, rather like Chutes and Ladders. Their journey bends and twists as multiple players come and go with differing agendas and priorities. They must align far more folk at each stage and must compete against other priorities. Thankfully, though, buyers in a particular market, when buying a specific product, buy in remarkably similar ways (see another article in this edition of Epicenter). Thankfully we can decode the buying journey and then, armed with the map, can support and lead our customers along the optimal path through the maze.

Given that, how should we go about mapping a particular buying journey? Here we have some more bad news. We very rarely see any company that can successfully map their own market’s buying journey. The good news, though, we can spell out why and perhaps help others to be successful. The challenge is that companies massively simplify how they think their prospects will buy. This is borne from optimism and a strong belief in the inherent value that their offering delivers to organizations. The most feared words we hear, and the pinnacle of optimism and myopia, is when we hear, “Only a fool wouldn’t buy it.” Unfortunately, there are many sane people every day that stall or stop in their buying journey even when they know the offered product will bring unarguable value to them or their organization. The starting point for mapping the buying journey then is to cast aside the optimism and open the aperture to see what really happens across a buyer’s end to end journey.

The secret, which seems less of a secret but obvious, is to go ask customers how they bought. In terms of widening the aperture, though, it starts here. It’s not about the buying or purchasing, the end-to-end buying journey started somewhere way back with an acorn being planted. We need to trace those first footsteps to discover what the true start of the buying journey was. We then need to decode the full journey, what happened, who got involved, and how decisions were made. We recommend that anyone wishing to undertake this research, talk to multiple roles, across multiple organizations to fill in the map. And, of course, you would be mapping the overall buying journey, not how and why they bought from you. It’s hard not to turn such research into a competitive analysis or a customer experience survey. It is incredibly important to remain independent, as if you’re a third party, to truly discover the buying journey. The research must be open ended questions, not leading in any way, and should focus purely on the story of how they moved through their buying journey. You will know you are getting close to the truth when you start hearing the same story from many buyers.

Here are the six elements of the buying journey that we consider key to unlocking the code.

1. Triggers and Dependencies

What started the buying journey and what are the dependencies for such a buying journey to start and then successfully compete.

2. Activities and Touchpoints

What were the activities, and in what sequence, that the buyer and their organization went through. This can be challenging as, just like in Chutes and Ladders, buyers can loop back or leap ahead. Overall, though, a pattern should start to emerge of the optimal path forward.

The touchpoints are any activities where buyers reach out to third parties, perhaps suppliers, to gain information or validation. These may include trade shows, websites, or consultants. These activities then can be grouped into logical clusters that represent the steps of the buying journey.

3. Key Players

Often called Personas, who gets involved. Discover when they got involved and what their roles and agendas are.

4. Decision Style

The decision style is two simple questions that have a profound impact on how you go to market. In terms of decoding the buying journey the two questions are: how they know what to buy, and how did they determine who to buy from.

5. Value Drivers

What do the buyers, and each persona, value; both in terms of their end goal and from a supplier.

6. Buying Concerns

What concerns or anxieties come up that can stop or stall the buying journey.

There you have it – the six dimensions that we believe can decode the buying journey. We should stress that when we refer to the buying journey, we are focusing on the entire buying journey, from first awareness through to full adoption or satisfaction. The activity of purchasing is only one stop along the way, and it is invariably more important to the seller than the buyer. The other point of note is that elements three to six in the above list will likely all change by the step of the buying journey. This is an important and often overlooked fact. The players, what they value, how the make decisions, and their concerns will likely change, in a predictable manner, at the various steps of the journey.

The final test to see if you have truly decoded the entire end-to-end buying journey is usually the extent to which you are shocked, as a selling organization, of all that must happen. Our research has shown that sales folk are usually engaged in less than 10% of all the activities across the buying journey. Thus, 90% of the buying journey is hidden from day-to-day selling activity. Yet, it is this 90% that represent the opportunity. It is this 90% where the buyer gets hung up in their progress and it is indeed this 90% that leads to lost sales and sales not closing as expected. If you develop the map of the entire journey, and then the strategies to engage meaningfully with the buyer across that journey, the results will invariably prove that the exercise was well worth it.  

Written by Martyn Lewis
Posted September 28, 2022

The Latest From Market-Partners Inc.