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The Customer Journey, Is It Really That Predictable?

by David Brock on April 4th, 2016

I saw the Princeton Marching Band for the first time in the early 80’s.  I was working in Manhattan, a few of my colleagues were Princeton grads, so every once in a while, we’d take the train to Princeton to watch a football game–and the “memorable” Princeton Marching Band.

Take a few minutes to watch this video, contrasting Lehigh and Princeton.  Lehigh is first, very disciplined and orderly.  If you want to skip to just past the mid point, you’ll see Princeton (just past 7 minutes).  They’re chaotic, they’re all over the place.

It’s sheer comedy to see them try a “formation.”  When I went, they’d try to do a spell out, but either wouldn’t have enough members to complete spelling the word, or would misspell it.  For the most part, their formations were hopeless–which made it so much fun.

Recently, in “rationalizing” their style, the call themselves a Scramble Band.

You’re thinking, what’s the Princeton Marching Band have to do with the customer journey (buying through implementation.)?

A disclaimer before I go further.  I think understanding our customers’ journeys is important–both their buying journey and their experience/journey in implementation and utilization.

Most articles portray this journey as structured, disciplined, perhaps predictable.  Using the video below, it looks much like the structured and disciplined performance of the Lehigh Marching Band.

But is this reality.  We know our customers struggle mightily.  We know a majority of customer buying journeys end in no decision made.  Primarily because of the proverbial 5.4–or whatever number you prefer.  The more people involved, the more difficult it is to align agendas, priorities, motivations, goals.  Too many buying decisions end in a whimper with no decision made, simply because the buying team isn’t as organized or disciplined as we think they are or would like them to be.

For those that make a decision, the journey to implementation and results is often equality chaotic.  Think of how many CRM or Marketing Automation, or other projects you’ve seen fail.  Think of how many projects get derailed, never achieve the desired outcomes, or are very late, or are stopped part way through and the customer goes in a new direction.

While we try to identify and map, with precision, the customer journey.  In reality it is seldom that structured or precise.  It looks a lot like the Princeton Marching Band.  There are moments, when they have a great formation, then it falls apart as people scramble to the next formation.  Sometimes they are successful, sometimes, they don’t quite make it.

What’s this mean to us?  We’re trying to get our customers to buy, we’re trying to get them to have a successful experience.

In order to efficiently support the customer in these activities, we try to simplify them, to map the journey’s, to develop models of these journeys so that we can organize our own resources to support them as well as we can–creating huge value in the process.

I think it’s important to do these.  It’s critical to model the buying journey and their subsequent implementation.  It provides us a framework and a starting point to engage, support, and create value for the customer.

But there’s a danger rigidly structuring what we do to match these journey’s.  The problem is they don’t represent any single customer’s or all of our customers’ journey.  In reality, while they are only an approximation, and we have to understand each customer’s journey, aligning ourselves with them.

There’s a huge opportunity for those who understand this.  They have a framework and a starting point—it’s terribly ineffective and inefficient to start everything from scratch.  These frameworks (for example a selling process) give us a starting point.  But as we engage the customer, we have to learn what their journey is.  Perhaps it’s very structured and disciplined, like Lehigh’s Band.  It’s very easy to align ourselves with their journey.

More likely, it’s a mess.  Like Princeton’s band, there may be moments of structure and discipline, but there’s an awful lot of “messy stuff” going on.  It’s not because the customer wants to be undisciplined and unstructured–in fact they are hungry to make the process easier, to put a structure in place.  It’s just the challenge of getting groups aligned, focused, “marching in the same direction,” in cadence, on the same beat, with the same song.

This presents a huge opportunity for leadership and value creation for sales.  We have rich experience in supporting customers in making decisions, having successful implementations, and realizing the value we claim.  We can provide a lot of leadership, direction and support.  We can help the customer align themselves, structure their approach, develop and execute their plan, whether to buy or to implement.  We can help them avoid the mistakes, avoid going the wrong direction.  We can help them become successful.

Enjoy the video, make sure you hang in long enough to watch Princeton’s band.  It’s hilarious!

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2 Comments
  1. Dave, you nailed it! In reading all the sales books, we focus on how we are to “teach, taylor and take control” . . . and sometimes, there is nothing to take control of . . . yet! I am working with a prospect now that has an ambitious and eccentric CIO that challenges his team to do projects, yet doesn’t give them control to own the projects. This is causing attrition among the ranks, so there is an ever-changing staff among the mid-managers. Yet, the CIO will not meet to hear new ideas or discuss what his initiatives are. But, the CTO will and wants the project to move forward. My experience tells me this is not a good prospect, but the problem is that I am finding more companies similar to this than not! And, yes, they consider themselves to be on a journey to eventually buy a solution!

    • Patrick: It’s a tough situation, I wish I knew a way around it. I’d tend to go to a more receptive customer 😉

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