Required Reading: Understanding How Customers Buy…& Why They Don’t

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Customers today have access to more information and choices than ever before. This, according to the book How Customers Buy…& Why They Don’t, has created a disconnect between companies’ selling processes and customers’ buying processes. Associate Editor Sam Del Rowe spoke with author Martyn R. Lewis to find out why companies need to shift their focus from how they sell to how customers buy.

CRM magazine: Can you elaborate on the disconnect between how companies sell and how customers buy? 

Martyn R. Lewis: Let’s start with a fact: Nobody buys anything because of a sales process; they buy because of their own buying processes. I call this process the Customer Buying Journey.

We used to have a saying back in the day that “when the brochure is delivered, the selling stops,” inferring that once the customer got the knowledge, we reps were no longer necessary. But now, thanks to technology, the largest brochure in the world is on the desktop or smartphone of everyone. Buyers can, and indeed do, move through the early stages of their buying journeys without the need to talk to salespeople. Research has shown that most buyers, even in the B2B world, only reach out to an actual supplier when they are well into their buying journeys. By that time, they are likely already set on the direction they wish to pursue: They have evaluated various alternatives, reviewed case studies and testimonials, and are in the process of looking for confirmation and final proposals. And yet selling organizations, burdened with outdated approaches abetted by dog-eared processes, mistakenly assume that they still control the situation. They don’t; the customer does.

How did you come up with the six elements of the Customer Buying Journey DNA? 

When I started my company, Market-Partners, and consulted salespeople, it took me a while to figure it out. I knew something was wrong, because, for the most part, these were good salespeople from good organizations marketing good products. People were selling and selling hard; the problem was that nobody was buying. It finally struck me, and it was nothing less than an epiphany: I stopped looking at how things are sold and started looking at how things are bought. 

From a decade of studying how thousands of customers buy, two major discoveries were made: First, buyers within a specific market for a particular offering will approach their buying journeys in remarkably similar ways. Second, within each journey there are six discrete elements that can be mapped and managed when engaging in any marketplace. We call this the Buying Journey DNA, and it is these six DNA strands that define a market:

  • Triggers: What initiates a buying journey, as distinct from window shopping, browsing, and information gathering?
  • Steps:What are the activities in which a buyer engages along the overall buying journey and in what sequence do these occur?
  • Key Players: Who gets involved in the buying journey, at what point, and what role do they play?
  • Buying Style: How do buyers make their decisions?
  • Value Drivers: What motivates the buyer to invest in the buying journey and potentially acquire and adopt a certain offering?
  • Buying Concerns: What are the often-overlooked friction points that can cause a buying journey to slow down or stop? These include things such as priority, alternatives, and implications (the consequences of a purchase).

Armed with these six elements, how should companies go about shifting their focus from selling to buying? 

There are only four things they can do to influence and manage that journey: I call these the Sales Imperatives, and they are Initiate, [or] start a journey; Complete [or] finish it; Expedite, [or] speed it up; and Augment [or] increase the spend. With the intelligence gleaned from mapping the buying journey DNA, organizations can develop and implement an overall market engagement strategy that dictates the optimal sales and marketing activities for each stage of the buying journey. This strategy will define the way in which to address all the key players, harmonize to the customer’s buying style, accentuate the value for which the customers are looking, and overcome all the friction. 

Is there anything else you want to add?

If a selling organization is to succeed in today’s business world, it must look beyond the internal view of its offering and instead focus on the external reality of how customers actually buy. It must decode and derive the DNA of the target market’s buying journey. It is only then that the organization can start to understand how customers buy and why they don’t.

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