Forget About “The Buyer’s Journey”

By January 19, 2011Process Thinking

Don’t get me wrong. The notion of “The Buyer’s Journey” was a great leap forward – was. It remains extremely useful as a concept to prevent a “blinders on” focus on your sales process. Yes, you must have and follow a proven sales process; one that by definition is based on the customer’s decision process.

The trouble comes from a too-narrow focus in the definition of the word buyer. A better watch-phrase is “The Buyer Network’s Journey.” (I don’t know if Christian Maurer hatched the idea, but the significance of the distinction between buyer and buyer network first hit me while I was reading his stuff.)

Here’s a very simple example of a buyer network. The circle on the right represents what we traditionally called the “decision maker.” The other two represent the good old “decision influencers.” The first, and I trust obvious, value of thinking in terms of buyer network is the fact that in this example, the two influencers are not directly connected. In most cases, the sales rep will benefit by helping to forge that direct connection. At a minimum, the rep should consider and make a conscious decision about working or not working to connect them.

For most B2B situations, more (sometimes many more) individuals will be involved in the customer decision process. Maybe 4, or 5, or… The more who understand my value, the better my odds of winning the deal. The more discussions about my value flowing through direct connections, the better my odds of winning the deal.

For every major opportunity, map out your buyer network; get the right nodes communicating with one another.

The next thing to consider is the influence/power of each node in the buyer network. Some individual customer personnel have more influence than others. Sometimes they should have that influence. Sometimes they shouldn’t.

For each node, think through how much actual power it has and how much power it should have, it’s optimal power.

Let’s say Mr. X in the diagram to the right is the decision-maker. He has a lot of actual influence. (You might wish he had some more since he favors your recommendation, but hey, you can’t have everything.) Mr. X, unfortunately, is strongly influenced by Mr. Y, who never did like you very much. Uh-oh… Mr. Y has lots of power. He shouldn’t in this situation, and in a perfect world, wouldn’t, but the situation is what it is. You’re in trouble.

The good news is that Ms. Z sees the bigger picture and understands why your recommendation is the right choice. Whoops! X & Z don’t interact. Y can therefore easily screen out Z’s important perspective.

The rep’s job here is clear. Broker a direct relationship between X and Z. Demonstrate clearly to X why Z’s perspective needs to be much more heavily considered; why her influence on this particular decision needs to be greater. Also articulate why Y’s perspective while relevant, is not nearly as critical.

Got the picture? Build on your “Buyer’s Journey” best practices and knowledge base. Map your Buyer Networks. Judge the actual and optimal influence/power of each node. Connect the unconnected. Plan your sales strategy considering the “Buyer Network’s Journey.”

Anybody know of any tools out there to help map this stuff out? Maybe one that integrates easily with some CRM systems?

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