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What Pisses Me Off About Gartner’s “Spaghetti Chart”

by David Brock on April 5th, 2019

My friends at Gartner published a really important chart a couple of years ago. It looked at the real buying journey and the difficulty customers have in buying. In some circles, it’s become known as the “spaghetti chart.” (Actually it gives spaghetti a bad rap). For those of you that don’t know about it, it’s pictured below.

The Gartner research shows, vividly, that the customer buying journey is not linear. They don’t move in a disciplined fashion from problem identification to solution exploration to requirements building to supplier selection. Instead the wander, start and stop, change their minds, go backwards, start and stop some more, eventually reaching a buying decision.

I still stare at that chart. The more I look at it, the more I get pissed off! Not at the chart and the insight it provides us, but on the tremendous wasted efforts and resources both on the customer side and on our side in trying to respond to this buying journey. Think of the person hours wasted in this chaotic buying process! Think of how much opportunity the customers lose by taking so much time with this!

The real issue, it doesn’t have to be this way!

This journey is not what customers want, ideally, they want a fast, linear process. But this is what happens in complex organizations, complex problem solving, and the dynamics of aligning differing agendas and priorities.

We in sales, contribute to this, some would say we even are partially the cause of this (I’m not sure). Rather than guiding the customer through their buying process, we respond and react. So they wander, waste time, and we waste time.

Our customers are desperate to simplify things, to get greater clarity in their buying journey. But they don’t know how to–nor should they.

This is where great sales people help their customers. They help the customer understand how to buy, they help them navigate their buying process, reducing the complexity, helping make sense of things and what they want to achieve.

The buying process will never be “simple.” It will always wander a little, but great sales people provide great leadership in helping customers more effectively and efficiently navigate this process–creating huge value in that interaction.

So the number one thing that pisses me off is that it doesn’t have to be this way! But there’s something bigger, much more tragic, that outrages me! It offends me as a business person and a sales professional!

The biggest thing that bothers me is that over 50% of the customers that embark on this chaotic buying journey never reach the end, they never buy!

This is a tragic loss of opportunity–both for our customers, and ourselves!

Think about it!

First there are the thousands of person hours wasted by customers and sales people in trying to buy and achieving nothing.

More importantly there are the billions of dollars in lost opportunity for the customers by not solving their problem. Just because they can’t make a buying decision, doesn’t mean the problem has disappeared. In fact, the reality is that it is probably getting bigger. This is a huge impact, measured in $10’s and $100’s of billions of dollars. Our customers are struggling to grow, to become better, but their inability to buy stops them from achieving their goals and dreams!

Now, the clincher, if the customer part isn’t compelling enough. This represents $10’s and $100’s of billions in lost opportunity for us!

Over 50% of the customers that want to buy and intend to spend money on us, don’t! They don’t simply because they don’t know how to buy!

All our clients are looking to grow, they are looking to sell more, to find customers that want to buy. But the answer is slapping us right in the face. We have the potential to drive tremendous sales growth, simply by helping our customers learn how to buy! Imagine if we could reduce the number that want to buy but don’t by 50%. Effectively, it can grow our sales by that much (actually more for those that provide that leadership).

Perhaps the answer is not finding more opportunity, but really helping customers with those opportunities that are already in front of us!

Are you as pissed off as I am? There is so much waste built into this process. So much lost opportunity from a customer point of view and from our point of view. Yet the answer is so simple. All we have to do is help our customer become much more effective and efficient in their buying processes. All we have to do is help them simplify and more effectively navigate that process. All we have to do is provide clarity and help make sense of what they face and are trying to achieve.

It’s staring at us, there is so much opportunity!

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One Comment
  1. Joel Lyles permalink

    Ha ha, I love how passionate you are about this topic. I even brought this up in a few conversations I had with other sellers.

    One corporation I worked with was a firm that did contracts for civilian and military firms. The military buying process was strictly defined, as in ‘you are required by procedure to have this meeting this far from Step 12 with these people attending the meeting and agreeing to move to the next step’. It was slow, but unless something catastrophic happened there was rarely any ‘no decision made’ about our customer’s (in most cases the government’s) buying process.

    Of course, the downside to that is that certain decisions could literally take years. This was a problem, because when the slow pace of change causes large changes in requirements, it was easier to just, uh, ignore the changes in requirements than reorient the buying process. Which was a tragedy, because we (the sellers to the government/civilian firms) could have easily changed things to meet these requirements if the buying process was more flexible.

    Just something to think about.

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