Shaping the Buyer’s Journey

Last week I attended Martech USA in San Francisco.  Organized by my friend Scott Brinker, Martech showcases marketing technology from over 100 vendors.  I learned a lot, both from wandering the show floor and talking to vendors, as well as from the high quality presentations. Perhaps my favorite presentation of the entire conference occurred early on the second day: David Edelman, global co-leader of McKinsey’s Digital and Marketing & Sales Practices, discussed the Buyer’s journey. Unfortunately, his slides are not available online, but he has written on this topic over at the Harvard Business Review in an article titled “Competing on Customer Journeys“.

I’ve been writing and thinking about the buyer’s journey for some time (see The Buyer’s Journey part one and The Buyer’s Journey part two), but David expanded my thinking considerably.

Optimizing Your Buyer’s Journey

Like any consultant, McKinsey has their own diagram of the buyer’s journey (see the image above).  They describe not only a classic buyer’s journey, but also what they call the “New Journey”, which includes both repurchases by loyal customers and shortened purchasing cycles by new customers who find the buying experiences so streamlined that they never consider other purchasing options.

David gave as an example his experience with Sungevity, a solar electricity company. After sending David a mail flyer with a customized URL, they took him smoothly through the process of answering all his questions about solar energy, estimating his savings, connecting him with a leasing company, connecting him with an installer, and managing the entire process of buying solar panels for his home.  All of his questions were so completely anticipated and the whole process was so smooth that David never considered other competitors. That’s an optimized buyer’s journey!

We’re all familiar with eCommerce sites optimizing the shopping cart process to make it as as easy as possible, with the ultimate example being Amazon’s 1-Click Ordering. David’s insight is that we need to optimize every stage of the buyer’s journey to make it as seamless and easy as 1-Click ordering from Amazon. By doing so, customers are more likely to buy our products and services without considering competitors, and are more likely to stay loyal to our brand because of the incredible shopping experience.

Understanding Your Buyer’s Journey

Before you can optimize your buyer’s journey, you need to understand it. David suggested several techniques and tools to gain a greater understanding of your buyer’s journey.  The first technique is probably the most obvious: go out and talk to buyers. Include people who have bought from you previously, as well as people who bought from a competitor or who didn’t buy at all.

Again, David illustrated this through an example, although this time he wasn’t able to name the company. One of his clients manufactures and sells commercial and industrial lighting. David and his team went out to talk to around fifty customers (note the number; talking to 2 or 3 customers, or even 10, isn’t enough) and they discovered that the buying cycle for commercial and industrial lighting has changed dramatically with the advent of LED lighting.

With conventional lighting, the decision on brand and bulb was generally made by general contractors, who bought in bulk. Their buying criteria revolved around price, availability and delivery. With the advent of LED lighting, these decisions were made upstream, during the design process, by architects and lighting designers. They needed to know much more about the specifications of the lighting, and they needed to have the latest information available at any time, day and night, and it had to be easy to find. They also used applications, which needed access to the latest specifications and real-time data feeds.

This change to the buyer’s journey completely changed their website, their concept of their “customer” and how they interacted with them. Rather than a web site that was a product catalog, architects and designers needed the specifications to be integrated into the tools they used through APIs and data feeds.  The buyer needed story led journeys that helped them understand how other architects and designers were using LED lighting in new and inspiring ways (case studies designed to inform and inspire). They needed someone to be able to talk to when they got stuck, so the company initiated a chat feature, which allowed the architects and designers to get real-time answers to their questions at almost any time of day or night.

David also suggested several tools: NorthPage and ClickFox. I’m not familiar with either tool, but if you don’t have a budget for these kind of tools, use Google Analytics (GA).  GA has a function called Users Flow that will tell you how people enter your web site and where they go to after that initial page.  It can be very useful, both to help you understand the existing customer flow on your website, and how you might improve it.

Setting up the War Room

David also encouraged the audience to follow two of our favorite principles here at the Agile Marketing blog: learn through iteration, and trust testing and data over opinions and conventions.  I recorded several quotes that supported these principles:

Set up a war room for non-stop test and learn

Drive an endless punch list

Identify the real battle ground moments in your buyer’s journey

I really liked his concept of “battle ground moments”. As he put it, in every stage, but particularly during the evaluation stage, some brands drop out and others get added.  You want to make sure if you’re an established brand that you don’t get dropped, and if you’re a challenger, that you get added to as many evaluations as possible.

Thanks David for a great presentation.  Readers, what do you think? How are you shaping your buyer’s journey? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments.

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