Reality check: is a customer’s buying journey as linear as we think?

Organisations massively adopt customer journey thinking in understanding and serving their customers better. This way of thinking is powerful because it helps organisations creating insight into what customers want in each step of their journey and from this explore possibilities for improvements. Still, organisations often underestimate how such thing as a customer’s buying journey aligns with internal sales processes. This article proposes learnings for organisations how to align internal sales processes with the customer’s buying journey to eventually become more customer centric.

The customer’s buying journey is messy
The customer’s buying journey knows quite some challenges. Customers’ needs differ and they usually do not buy products or services in a linear fashion. Their buying journey is often chaotic and sometimes even unpredictable. In B2B contexts even more than in B2C because amongst other things more complex sales processes. This brings along challenges with organisations that depart from a ‘classical’ customer journey approach which does assume that a customer buying process is linear. In this approach a journey often starts with a trigger followed by orientation and the actual purchase.

Misalignment in buying journey and sales processes
Nine times out of ten, organisations follow the above-mentioned buying journey. They align this with their internal sales processes. This combination of two linear processes is exactly where the problems arise. The buying journey as well as the sales journey are often messy and non-linear. So, how do we intertwine these two journeys?

Learnings for organisations

Acknowledge the customer’s buying journey is chaotic
Customers do not tend to follow the sales funnel step by step. They may jump from trigger to purchase without orientation on the alternatives. They might even repeat steps a couple of times or jump back and forth between them. This makes their journey unpredictable and chaotic. Thus, it is important for organisations to acknowledge the customer’s buying journey is non-linear, sometimes unpredictable and chaotic. Even though it is hard to accept, organisations cannot always predict the steps customers make.

Understanding the customer forms the point of departure
Even though organisations cannot always predict the steps customers make, trying to understand customer behaviour and needs helps a lot in serving the customer as best as possible. Especially when focusing on how users create value with the service of organisation may lead to new and valuable customer insights. This perspective is known as ‘value-in-use’ and states that customers create value during usage of an organisation’s service/offering. In this view, it is necessary to place the customer at the centre.

An example how value-in-use leads to new insights in the customer’s buying journey and affecting an organisation’s sales processes is one we brought to light in the Value Proposition Research Program. We focused on an organisation in a complex B2B environment. Through investigating the value-in-use of customers, we uncovered that customers look for inspiration and information provisioning from sales managers in early stages of their journey. Where organisations often use sales managers sec for sales, value-in-use positions sales as a service. This brings serious implications for improvement for entire sales departments. For example, organisations could position sales teams as advice/sparring partners instead of sales clerks only. Through this, the organisation’s sales processes are better aligned with the customer’s buying journey.

Do not straitjacket sales processes
Finally, sales processes are or could be different per case. For full anticipation, sales teams should position themselves flexibly towards their customers. Through this, they are more agile in acting upon what customers do. In short, implies that organisations should not straitjacket their sales processes.

Concluding this article, we first recommend organisations to acknowledging the customer’s buying journey is chaotic. Secondly, understanding your customers forms the starting point in which value-in-use may create new customer insights. Finally, sales processes differ and should not be moulded into one standard process.

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