How Customers Buy… and Why They Don’t

Companies try to be customer-centric -- but that's not enough. They must look to the external reality and dig into the DNA of how customers actually buy.

The following is an excerpt from, "How Customers Buy, & Why They Don't: Mapping & Managing the Buying Journey DNA." I can assure you that this is not another sales process book. It is rather a book of uncovering and decoding an enigma that plagues too many commercial organizations. It introduces a concept I have developed and named Outside-In Revenue Generation. This concept posits that instead of focusing on their own internal view of how to position and sell their offerings, companies must look to the external reality of how their customers actually buy. It is important to realize, and what is in fact the underlying foundation of this book, how Outside-In Revenue Generation differs from the much-used (to the point of clichéd) notion of “customer-centric” marketing techniques. For decades, it has been touted that commercial enterprises can gain the world by being customer-oriented. This probably started with the wise idea that customer satisfaction differentiates one provider from another. From that starting point, few functions of organizations have been left untouched by the movement to consider the customer. From R&D to after-sales service, organizations have adopted more customer-oriented approaches and processes, and no doubt this represents sound thinking. And I’m not suggesting that business initiatives that put a priority on the customer don’t yield results. They should, and they do, but they could be doing so much more. I must say that more recently I have heard people starting to talk about the buying process and buying journey. However, when I dig a little deeper, what I really see and hear are the selling organizations’ thoughts (and hopes and prayers) about what the customer is doing or, more precisely, what the seller would like the customer to be doing. A vendor-centric buying process, if you will. In some cases, I have even seen organizations take their own sales processes and graft on what they imagine or wish their customers would do at each step. Although somewhat laudable, these attempts to define the customer buying journey from the selling point of view have proven to be myopic. They look no further into the customer’s world than laying out the hoped-for reactions that result from their own sales and marketing actions. I call this an inside-out approach because it centers internally on the selling company, its offerings and its own sales and marketing initiatives. This all seemed okay to me until we talked to hundreds of customers about how they buy. It was only by going behind the scenes of the buying process that I found the truth. The Outside-In approach has nothing to do with imagining what customers should do when you sell to them; it defines precisely what customers will do when they are engaged in a buying journey. Our research has proven again and again that a clear and perilous dichotomy exists between these two ways of thinking about how customers actually buy. The basis of Outside-in Revenue Generation is founded on decoding the “DNA” of the target market’s buying process, which then allows us to ultimately map the entire customer buying journey. It lays out exactly how the supplier can apply that DNA mapping to understand how customers will buy a specific offering and what may cause them to hesitate or stop in their overall buying journey. Perhaps for the first time, we fully reveal and discuss how and why customers don’t buy in the manner sales organizations would like them to. Because they certainly don’t follow a buying journey that echoes any sales process I have ever seen. Traditional ways in which to look at the equation of creating customers have simply been too superficial. They may have worked in the past, but in today’s world where customers have unprecedented access to information, where customers are faced with an endless spectrum of offerings, where decisions are no longer made by a single decision maker but by a dynamic network of decision influencers, traditional approaches fall very short of the mark. Arthur “Red” Motley famously said, “Nothing happens until somebody sells something.” Many, including me, have embraced this as a business mantra. But I suggest that we tip this on its head and change it to “Nothing happens until somebody buys something.” Perhaps that sounds a bit chicken-and-egg-ish, but I would maintain that the implications of this mirror inversion of thinking are far from simple and do merit attention. Organization after organization believes the path to sales excellence is to design, implement and manage a great sales process. However, I now realize that no one buys anything because of a sales process. Customers only buy because of their own buying journey. I must make one thing very clear. In flipping Motley’s comment, I do not for one moment want to leave any impression that sales and marketing and indeed salespeople themselves have any less of a role. In any situation other than selling truly commoditized offerings, the salesperson plays as important a role as ever. What I am suggesting though is that, by understanding the customer buying journey, companies can then develop an overall market engagement strategy. This results in an approach that is exponentially more logical and focused than simply turning a sales force loose armed with little more than product information, value propositions and “a smile and a shoeshine.” One of the most enlightening results that our research turned up was finding that buyers within a target market for a specific offering will behave in remarkably similar ways. This meant that we could decode the DNA of that specific journey and then map the complete customer buying journey for that target market. By mapping the buying journey DNA and discovering what is really going on behind the scenes of the buying process, we could see how many organizations were woefully unprepared to engage in creating and keeping a customer. It is also maddeningly ironic to see so many organizations diligently operating and investing in all their other business functions. The vast majority of businesses invariably show constant and careful attention in their manufacturing, operations, finance, distribution and research activities. But when it comes to creating a customer—that is, sales and marketing—they are anything but deliberate and mindful. Perhaps it is because sales functions are often viewed more as an art—often a black art, by non-sales folks—than a science. The underlying malaise, however, is the mistaken logic that the customer will buy the offering based on the seller’s belief in its inherent value while paying scant attention to the buyer’s wants, needs and the real world in which they exist. Throughout the course of this book, I will show how faulty this logic is and consequently how incomplete and wasteful most sales and marketing investments have become. As you will see, the secret to understanding business success in any market lies in closely mapping the target market’s end-to-end customer buying journey. Anyone charged with conducting business must fully understand what it takes to create and keep a customer, and, in today’s world, that means far more than providing a superior offering. "How Customers Buy, & Why They Don’t" is based on many years of research and analysis into how customers really buy. I wrote it to help those concerned with revenue generation and to uncover what they need to move a customer into a buying journey through all the steps to the acquisition and successful adoption of a particular offering. With this book, organizations, probably for the first time, can have a navigation system by which to design and implement truly effective sales and marketing endeavors that will lead to a predictable, scalable and consistent approach to creating and keeping customers. You can purchase the whole book here.

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