What Every CMO Needs to Know About the Buyer's Journey

November 03, 2016

Everything you learned in school and early in your career about marketing and product promotion is now table stakes. It used to be enough to get it right with the product and you’d find buyers. Now, you must get it right with the product AND with the customer experience to be successful in marketing.

This is why the buyer’s journey and customer experience are the big buzz in the industry.

You’re probably doing a lot of research on your customers and attempting to understand what satisfies them with NPS, CSAT, voice of the customer and other types of surveys. But do you really know what makes your customers tick? And more importantly, how you can use this information to improve their experience in a way that positively impacts your business?

The reality is that many of these discrete measures of customer satisfaction answer a very narrow set of questions. They are all important.  But they should be considered inputs into a larger diagnostic assessment around a more holistic view of the customer that can be used to both improve the experience and reduce wasted efforts. If you’re focused only on the parts and pieces, you’re going to miss the big picture. It’s what the buyer wants that drives everything. In order to know what the buyer wants, you have to be crystal clear on the job the buyer is trying to do.


The First Step is Asking the Right Question

In the past, marketers have considered the buyer’s journey to be a linear process. We start with awareness and move through consideration, purchase, retention and advocacy. But the buyer’s journey is not linear at all—it’s a very convoluted, self-directed path based on what the customer is trying to achieve. It is a conversation that happens over time, at the buyer’s discretion. Think of it as a self-directed and opportunistic path through a forest.

The key to optimizing your buyer’s journey is therefore to first understand the problem the customer is trying to solve and how they measure the success of the solution. Every CMO needs to first and foremost be asking: What job is the customer trying to do? Once we know what job the customer is trying to complete, we can figure out what individual steps he/she must check off along the way and identify which improvements to those steps will have the most impact on the customer experience—and on your business. In other words, we can identify where customer needs are not being met and determine the value of working smarter to meet them. We can also identify where customer needs are being overserved and reduce spend in these areas, reallocating the budget to more impactful efforts.

A Closer Look at the Buyer’s Journey Process

Let’s take a closer look at how to uncover actionable gaps in your buyer’s journey through a diagnostic process. This four-step process looks at the journey of purchasing a product or service through the lens of the jobs-to-be-done theory. The same way you hire a drill to put a hole in piece of wood, a customer will hire a product/service that to do a specific job, and a positive buyer’s journey is one that allows him to research, evaluate and purchase most effectively.

1. Qualitative Research

While journeys do have distinct phases, every organization’s particular buyer’s journeys will have nuances. The first step is to conduct qualitative, in-person interviews with prospective buyer audiences to understand these nuances (what we call complexity variables). For example, the journey may be different for a buyer that is purchasing an item for herself versus a gift for her significant other or for her child. A B2B buyer’s journey may be heavily influenced by time and budget. The goals of this step is to understand the universe of potential buyer narratives that may be applied to the journey and to understand every single potential possibility that may affect the journey for that segment or product.

2. Quantitative Research

Once you understand the entire universe of buyer narratives and complexity variables, the next step is to validate this qualitative data with a significant survey sample of your market audience. The data you collect from this survey will help you to understand which variables have the most potential for impact on your business. In other words, take your universe of possibilities and serve it up to a sample to understand which pieces are most relevant.

3. Segmentation

The next step is to use the data from your survey to determine which segments and variables have the most potential to positively impact your business. To do this, conduct cluster analysis to determine the most relevant variables and identify statistically valid segment groups. You’ll also use the data to document key variable identifiers for each segment and identify outcomes that are underserved within each segment.

For example, we conducted this exercise in the retail industry and discovered a subset of the retail audience that accounted for 38% of buyers yet was highly underserved. We were also able to determine which variables were causing the most friction for these buyers and could be improved to help them continue down the path to purchase. Learn more about the underserved audience we discovered in retail.

4. Strategy

At this point, you know which segments have the most potential for positive change and what variables affect their buyer’s journey. It’s time to select which segments to focus on and to and which variables to invest efforts against. Then, you need to develop content and marketing strategies to address these underserved segments.

It’s All About Impact

At the end of the day, this entire process is about understanding which opportunities will have the biggest impact on your business and how to best pursue them. The final output is a data-driven, step-by-step plan to optimize your buyer’s journeys, moving more people through the areas they usually feel friction along to the point of purchase.

Once you really know what makes your customers tick and what problem they’re trying to solve, you can use this information to improve their experience in a way that positively impacts your business. Just a little bit different than net promoter score, right?