The Buying Journey Defined and Explored

As a result of more than ten years of research that included in-depth conversations with several thousand buyers, Martyn Lewis of Market-Partners has uncovered, defined and documented exactly what goes on in the customer buying journey.

We are now seeing reference to “buying journey” more and more, which is not surprising. However, two worrying aspects have become apparent. For starters, much of the general understanding that suppliers have of a buying journey is shallow and simplistic. At the same time, the importance of gaining a comprehensive understanding of that buying journey is woefully underestimated.

In his book How Customers Buy …& Why They Don’t, Martyn Lewis makes the argument that anyone wanting to sell anything in today’s business world has to start by gaining a profound knowledge of their market’s buying journey, and he provides the ingredients and recipe for mapping and managing the very DNA of a specific market’s buying journey.

Questions Answered

  1. What is a Buying Journey?
  2. What are the stages of the Buying Journey?
  3. How has the Buying Journey changed?
  4. What is the “DNA” of a Buying Journey?
  5. Are Buying Journeys logical?
  6. Why is the Buying Journey important?
  7. What changes across the stages of the buying journey?
  8. Mapping the buying journey?
  9. Friction in the Buying Journey?
  10. The role of Sales and Marketing in the Buying Journey?

What is a Buying Journey?

The Buying Journey is the sequence of all the activities a buyer is likely to engage in while making a buying decision, plus all the factors that could impact upon those activities. The buying journey starts from the first awareness of having to respond to an opportunity or challenge, through to the acquisition and use of any required products or services that will enable their success.

It is important to note that the buying journey is not the activities that a supplier imagines or hopes a prospective buyer will engage in. Too often, suppliers map out their market’s buying journey from the standpoint of what they believe the customer should be doing as a result of their sales and marketing efforts, in other words their own internal – and outdated – sales cycle. Outdated, because buyers now live and work in highly complex and dynamic worlds. They have many other things to do and think about. And when they do decide to instigate a buying journey, they have unprecedented information, choice, independence, and access to all markets.

What are the stages of the Buying Journey?

Contrary to traditional ways of thinking, there are no set “stages” of a buying journey. Although it may be tempting to think in terms of macro stages such as Awareness, Evaluation and Purchase, there is an inherent danger in such implication. This is an example of that afore-mentioned suppliers’ myopia which leaves many questions not only unanswered, but un-asked. For instance, what started the Awareness, what goes on during Evaluation, what happens after Purchase? These are all questions that must be answered if an organization truly wants to understand their market’s buying journey.

How has the Buying Journey changed?

Buying Journeys have changed dramatically during the course of the new millennia. Up until the end of the 20th century, the sales person held the keys. The buyer had to come to them to gain information, to understand the product, and how and if the offering matched what was required.

This has all changed. With the advent of the internet, the buyer now has all the information they need at their fingertips. Surveys have shown that buyers don’t even contact salespeople until that are already well into their buying process. In a recent Forrester survey, 74% of business buyers said that they conduct more than half of their research online before making an offline purchase.

It is a revolution in the buying/selling equation – the power has shifted from the seller to the buyer. The buyer is no longer at the mercy of the seller to get information and pricing. It is the buyer who now has the information that the seller needs. The buyer now has the dominance in the parallel processes of buying and selling. It is the buyer who sets the cadence and moves the process forward. This is why the very notion of a sales process is outdated. It is no longer the sales process that sets the pace. It is no longer the sales process that dictates what happens next. It is the buying journey.

What is the “DNA” of a Buying Journey?

In their research, the Market-Partners team developed a model to effectively decode and create a map for any particular buying journey. What they had uncovered was the Buying Journey DNA, which they decoded and classified into six major strands.
The nature of these strands can vary greatly between different markets, but a very interesting fact came to light in their investigations. The buying journey for a particular market when buying a specific offering will share the same DNA. In fact, a similar DNA code will define a single market, and conversely if two buyers purchase the same offering but in a different manner, that will denote two distinct markets.

Here are the six strands of the buying journey DNA:

  • The Triggers (and dependencies) that will initiate a buying journey.
  • Steps – the activities and stages that a buyer will likely engage in.
  • The Key Players across all the steps of the buying journey.
  • The Buying Style which is how a buyer determines what to buy and where to buy.
  • The Value Drivers that motivate the buyer.
  • The Buying Concerns – the inhibitors that can slow down and/or stop the buying journey.

It is the DNA of that particular Customer Buying Journey that forms the basis of a successful market engagement.

Are Buying Journeys logical?

It could be considered logical to expect a buyer to buy when they are faced with the opportunity to do something better, cheaper or faster. Much of business, sales and marketing is based upon this notion. Position your offering, show the value to the prospect and surely, based upon sound economic reasoning, they will buy. In today’s world, not so. It may therefore seem that there is no logic in how customers buy, yet there it. Once you have mapped the Buying Journey DNA, the logic becomes obvious. This is a big point, because much of today’s sales and marketing approaches are still based on the (logical?) notion that if a potential buyer understands the offering and sees value in it, they will surely buy. But we know they don’t. It is when the DNA for a particular market is mapped that the true logic of How Customers Buy…& Why They Don’t is revealed. Because as illogical as they can seem to be, buyers within a specific market purchasing a specific offering will behave in remarkably similar ways.

Why is the Buying Journey important?

Buyers only buy as a result of their own buying journey, not as the result of somebody else’s sales process. Anyone whose livelihood and/or success is dependent upon somebody somewhere buying something must understand the process by which their customers will actually buy. And they will only buy because of their own buying journey.

This means that we have to redefine the role of sales and marketing. The singular role for sales and marketing must now be to trigger a buyer into starting (or engage with a buyer who is already in) a buying journey, and to then manage and support them so as to positively influence that journey to its successful completion.
Once that role is accepted, it is then clear to see how the primary focus for all revenue generation must be placed on understanding your market’s buying journey.

What changes across the stages of the buying journey?

One of the most important dynamics of mapping a buying journey is understanding that things can change throughout the buying journey. For example, the buyer may gain new knowledge and as a result of which bring in different players or change their priorities. Another important factor would be to know when these different key players get involved. What about procurement or technical resources? The permutations and combinations may seem endless. But once again, if the DNA has been decoded and mapped, you will know that this particular market buys in a remarkably similar way and the variables across the buying journey can be anticipated and managed.

Mapping the buying journey?

Mapping the DNA of the buying journey is Job #1 for any organization that is interested in selling to that particular market. Without understanding how the buyer is going to buy, you are essentially leaving everything to inefficient process and luck. Sure, shoot enough bullets and one of them might hit the target, but the wasted effort in most sales and marketing organizations is significantly more that it could be if the target was not only visible, but you also knew what its next move was going to be.
There is no substitute for talking directly with buyers and prospective buyers about what happens across their buying journey. This can be trickier than it seems, because if asked many buyers couldn’t tell you much in actual detail. They may well have documented their purchase process, but not their end-to-end buying journey.

This is where you have to rely on listening to them, find out how different players across the organization perceive events, and look for benchmarks of how they typically progress through their buying journey. You must figure out why they do what they do, where and when they get hung up, and why. It’s all there, but it takes real detective work with a patient and unbiased eye to pick up on the underlying logic. And when you start hearing the same details, the same sequences, the same reasoning – which I assure you will happen – then you will know you have cracked the code.

Friction in the Buying Journey?

Buying Concerns are probably the most important facets of the DNA. They are widely overlooked, often trivialized, and the least understood aspects. These are the inhibitors, the pinch-points that can slow down or even stop a buying journey. They come in all shapes and sizes, yet we found for a specific offering in a given market there was great commonality of buying concerns across a particular buying journey. After much analysis, we were able to define nine categories of buying concerns, any one of which can stop a buying journey in its tracks.

  1. Process. This refers to the actual process – purchasing, sourcing, and so on – within a buying organization set up expressly for the acquisition of products and services.
  2. Priority. We found numerous examples of potential purchases that the buyers believed would bring value, but they just weren’t a priority at that time.
  3. Individual. This concern focuses on the individual who is “carrying the ball” at any stage of the buying journey.
  4. Organizational. This could just as easily be described as “political” and includes all the various agendas, objections and concerns that are likely to arise across the organization.
  5. Alternatives. This refers to any and all alternatives an organization may consider before they move forward with a particular acquisition.
  6. Business. This is the fiscal side of the equation – the business case. Is there a complete and compelling business reason to trigger and complete the buying journey.
  7. Implications. This focuses on the implications of acquiring a certain offering – what actually happens when someone buys something.
  8. Fit. This has to do with how a potential acquisition aligns with how and what that company would usually buy.
  9. Change. This concern can be deadly and is potential deal-breaker territory. It has to do with the change that will occur, or even the perception of change that will occur, due to the adoption of the new offering.

Some buying concerns are highly tangible and objective, while others are intangible, subjective, and emotional. The list may seem endless, but if the DNA has been mapped, you will know to expect.

The role of Sales and Marketing in the Buying Journey?

The role of sales and marketing must change, because the way buyers buy has changed. The buyer is no longer dependent upon the sales person to deliver them the information about a company’s offerings. The sales process that used to supposedly “control” the buying process is sadly out of date. We used to say that nothing happens until somebody sells something, but it can now be said that nothing happens until somebody buys something. The buying journey is now the dominant process.

That isn’t to say that the craft and skills of good selling are dead – far from it. But professional sales must be redefined. The role of sales and marketing is now to initiate and support the customer through all stages of their buying journey and positively influence that journey to its successful completion.

Learn more about the Author, or how Martyn can help you with your business needs, or visit our Buying Journey Resources.