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    What you think you know about the buyer's journey is wrong

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     These days, there’s a lot of talk about the “buyer’s journey.” We’re all supposed to be mapping it so that we can align our marketing and sales with it. Supposedly this is going to make us exponentially more effective.

    But what if I told you that generic “buyer’s journey” messaging does not apply to your sales environment? That following the common wisdom to map and align with the buyer’s journey is going to be virtually useless to your sales team working more complex B2B deals?

    What the history of the “buyer’s journey” tells us

    The terminology, “buyer’s journey,” widely used now, is relatively new in relation to the history of the industry. Until a few years ago, very few in the sales space was talking about it.

    Sales automation tools can kill deals and create conflicts between stakeholders and the selling company.
    George Brontén

    The term appears to have gotten traction about six or seven years ago, in the marketing industry. It arose along with a push from marketing automation companies to market their own products and services. The theory goes that if you understand the “journey” your buyer takes from the moment when they first become aware of a problem, to the moment that they make a decision about the problem’s solution, then you can align your marketing with the buyer’s journey, and automate your response to their needs throughout the journey.

    This assumes that your potential customers are actively pursuing a solution to a known problem. It also works best if the purchase is relatively straightforward, including just a few buying decision makers, or if similar purchase decisions are made frequently enough to have a formalized buying process in place. And it primarily applies to new customer acquisition, not so much to expand existing customer relationships. In these scenarios it can be quite simple to match a marketing campaign to a buying journey. 

    Thus, marketing automation became all the rage. Then, building on that success, companies like Hubspot and Salesforce are working to translate the concept to the sales space. Here, it gets murkier. Again, if the sale is simple and most of the buyer’s interactions follow a set pattern based on a defined need, it can work great.

    Not so much when the sale starts to become complex and your offerings include some level of customization and business development.

    Why the idea of “the buyer’s journey” isn’t effective in complex sales

    The idea of a “buyer’s journey” presupposes that a decision makers will follow a path that is in its essential elements exactly like that of other similar decision makers at other companies (or even within the same company), and that this path can be predicted and “aligned with.”

    There are several reasons why this is simply not the case in complex sales:

    • A complex purchase generally involves multiple decision makers, influencers, and stakeholders, each of whom has different levels of awareness for, concern about, and interest in the investment at hand.
    • These many stakeholders may not even agree on the problem that they’re trying to solve, let alone the solution to it or which vendors to speak with.
    • A complex purchase such as a new ERP system or investment in expensive machinery might only be made once every five or ten years. Because of the rarity of its occurrence, there is no standardized process for making the purchase.
    • The investment is often a part of a greater initiative that different stakeholders have a varying degree of connection to.
    • Each person has different skill sets, needs, and goals related to the purchase. And each company has their own "decision culture".
    • At any given time, any one of the buying influencers may move toward or away from the desired investment, and this movement is often not in tandem with other buying influencers.

    Unfortunately, many sales organizations are making the mistake of drinking the “buyer’s journey” Kool-Aid. The result is often an over-simplified and ineffective sales process that tries to match the buyer’s journey while actually disregarding the customer’s true needs and the most effective path to the sale. I also see an over-reliance on marketing content (persona-adapted, or not) as the primary driver for these initiatives. If content (information) alone was the recipe for sales success, most companies would be performing much better.

    What you need instead of a generic buyer’s journey

    You can’t expect the buyer’s “journey” to fit a nice, neat profile that will allow you to tidily come in beside them and “match” their pace. A deeper understanding for your buyer is critical.

    In complex sales, it’s helpful instead of a buyer’s “journey” to talk about how buyers will make decisions and why. This means understanding what major initiatives your customers are looking to achieve, how your solutions can be aligned to help achieve those, who is involved in the process, how they collaborate, what the different needs of each stakeholder are and which risks they perceive.

    Your sales strategy must be based on that understanding, rather than a simplistic idea of a point-to-point journey. Furthermore, sales team members need much more than to understand the stages of a buying journey. They need skills and tools to shape the buyer’s decision-making process toward a desired outcome, while aligning with the main initiatives.

    Automation tools can kill your deals

    Once salespeople are working a well-qualified opportunity, selling begins and “automation tools” based on a generic buying journey should not be used, as they will kill deals and create conflicts between stakeholders and the selling company. The messaging, communication and actions from this point needs to be focused on understanding the specific client’s decision-making process. It’s not a buying journey, it’s a journey to jointly understand and start working towards creating business value and aligning everyone on the same wavelength.

    Of course, we believe Membrain is the right tool to help your organization execute on a customer-focused strategy. Our software enables a dynamic sales process that fits directly into the salesperson’s daily workflow, guiding them through the stages, milestones, and activities that fulfills your sales strategy. It also allows you to serve up content, training, and coaching when and where it is needed, to assist your sales team in executing on that strategy professionally.

    Contact us today to see if Membrain is the right tool for your team.

    George Brontén
    Published November 22, 2017
    By George Brontén

    George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.

    Find out more about George Brontén on LinkedIn