It seems in recent months, the sales and marketing world is suddenly waking up to the fact the buying process/journey is not a linear process. That customers don’t go through an orderly process of: 1. Define problem, 2. Identify priorities, requirements, 3. Assess solutions, 4. Select solution, 5. Implement.
It seems we are suddenly recognizing that customers struggle in buying, they wander, they start/stop, the majority of buying decisions end in “no decision made.” Even though people have been writing and talking about this for some time, it seems to be sinking in and many organizations are recognizing we need to engage our customers differently, acknowledging this chaotic process.
One is tempted to throw one’s hands up, thinking, “What do we do?”
To some degree, while I believe the buying process is chaotic, and I believe customers struggle with buying, things aren’t as grim as one would believe. There is “light at the end of the tunnel.”
1. Customers—companies/organizations—get a lot done! Somehow companies manage to keep their doors open, growing, innovating. They have the ability to get things done within their own organizations. They design/develop/launch new products, they manufacture them, they market/sell/service and support them. They keep their books, pay their bills. They even manage to buy.
2. Rather than focusing on the difficulty customers have in buying, perhaps we serve our customers and ourselves better by learning how our customers get things done. What do successful projects look like within our customers? How do they manage projects, how do they achieve their goals and become successful?
If you have an account based strategy, one of the most important things to learn is how they get things done. Once you understand this, the buying process should mirror the same things they do to successfully manage other projects. In reality, buying is just a small component of what they are trying to achieve with a project anyway. We can help them buy by leveraging their past experience in successful projects.
3. For new customers, we may not understand how they get things done. But we have the collective experiences of other customers in similar industries, we can leverage what we know as a starting point to helping them organize their buying process.
4. I believe there are differing layers of “chaos,” depending on what customers are buying. Certainly, for major new investments–perhaps capital equipment, new software systems, significant outsourcing efforts, there may be a high amount of chaos. If they’ve never done it before or it’s been many years since they made a similar purchase, they don’t know how. They don’t know what to look at, how to organize themselves, how to put in place a project plan to manage the difficulty in dealing with the unknown,
But at the same time, the majority of purchase might fall into a different category. If we sell embedded components/products, customers do this much more frequently. While your product may be new and different for the customer; customers develop/design/launch/manufacture/service and support new products every year. They know how to do this, they just may not know how to do it with this particular project. Again, we leverage their past experience in in buying other components/parts to help them achieve success with this project.
5. By now, you may be breaking the code, buying is nothing more than a specialized application of project management. Customers with relatively high success in managing internal projects are likely to be more successful (read less chaotic) in buying. The converse, customer with very low success with internal projects will be no more successful in buying. But these customers are likely to be “customers from hell,” and we may choose to exclude them from our ICP.
It is important to recognize, there may be important differences in past project success and future project success. Organizations and markets going through massive disruption/change will struggle. Companies that are changing, for example through mergers/acquisitions/divestitures/restructuring may have to re-learn/re-invent these processes. The rate of change, increasing complexity, all contribute to increasing difficulty.
Buying—all project success—is more difficult, but it is not hopeless! More often than not, people can figure this out, their companies will grow and survive, and some will thrive. We overcomplicate things by separating out the buying process from other things customers do to get things done. We must leverage their success and past experience, if we want to help them simplify their buying process.
6. There is an interesting corollary to this, we are only as good at teaching/helping our customers achieve project/buying success, as we are with our own internal project success. If we have high internal project failure rates, we will struggle to help our customers successfully manage and execute their own projects/buying journeys.
And what we learn internally in driving high project success, gives us great experience and learning in helping our customers.
As a result, if we want to help our customers, perhaps we need first help ourselves.
Buying is tough, but if I don’t believe it is/need be as difficult as the chaotic buying process may make us believe. Leveraging customer successful experience in managing projects will help they and us more effectively and easily navigate their buying journeys.
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