Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mapping the Buying Process - A Framework

One of the recurring themes in this discussion has been the concept of thinking in terms of a buying process not a selling process. Many times when I speak about this topic publicly, there is general agreement in the audience, but the question of how to map a buying process often comes up. In some industries, it is significantly easier than in others, but some common techniques can be used across all industries to best understand how buyers ultimately arrive at a buying decision.

Mapping this process is more art than science in most cases, but the following question framework can help analyze how your buyers buy and if there are opportunities for better facilitating their buying processes. In each main stage of the buying process, one set of questions (below) looks at understanding whether there is a problem at all in this stage of the buying process, a second set looks at understanding how current buyers make it through that stage, and a third set looks at how your overall marketing performance could be improved in that stage.

Awareness and Education

Is there a problem: Are prospective buyers generally aware of your solution category and what it can do for their business?
- Ask industry analysts their opinion on the general knowledge of the market among likely buyers
- Survey your sales team on their experiences with initial calls
- Perform some first-hand survey research with likely buyers

What currently happens: How do existing prospects become educated about your category?
- Survey existing customers and prospects on where they read about topics in the general area of business you are in
- Analyze the traffic sources to any of your educational or thought leadership content
- Become an avid reader of industry newsletters and sites to understand their content topics and whether messages about your solution area are included

What are the options: How would prospects become aware of your category if they were not already aware?
- Look at the search results that are returned for searches on some of the terms related to pains that you solve (not terms that describe your category)
- Survey your marketing team on what events, tradeshows, and publications are well attended/read by key buyers in your industry
- Discover which industry sites discuss you and/or your competitors frequently
- Analyze which sites are referring web traffic to your site

Vendor Discovery

Is there a problem: If prospective buyers are going to find vendors to look into more deeply, are you on their list?
- Review competitor wins to understand whether you had been in consideration
- Look at the percentage of search phrases driving traffic to your site that already contain your brand or product names
- Poll your sales team on the frequency with which they were added as a last minute option, based on a cold call or chance encounter
- Analyze the percentage of leads that are originally sourced by marketing or arrived as inbound leads vs being generated by a cold call

What currently happens: How have prospects typically found you?
- Analyze the non-branded search terms that drive traffic to your website
- Poll your inside sales team on how their inbound leads heard of you
- Report on the breakdown of inquiries by source to understand what is driving early-stage inquiries
- Understand the percentage of leads in your marketing database that have been nurtured prior to becoming a qualified lead

What are the options: How would prospective buyers likely build their list of potential vendors?
- Determine whether the key industry comparison charts and analysts list your company
- Search for terms related to your category to see if your content is featured in the results
- Listen to webcasts, videos, or talks from key industry influencers to see if you are mentioned
- Act as a potential buyer and do your own "research" into solutions for the problems you solve to see if you are findable

Solution Validation

Is there a problem: When a buyer evaluates your solution, do they select you?
- Look at win/loss ratios for deals over the past few months or quarters
- Compare growth rates of your business vs competitors
- Build a discipline of analyzing losses with the sales team to understand buyer reasons
- Determine if you are ranked poorly in industry comparison charts

What happens now: How are buyers currently making their selection of a vendor?
- Analyze competitors positioning of your organization and your solutions
- Conduct third party win/loss surveys to obtain deeper information on buyer decision criteria
- Scan search phrases that include your brand or product names to look for objections or decision criteria
- Look at the marketing resources (whitepapers, case studies, free trials) currently being actively used by buyers to understand their current experience

What are the options: How can buyers’ decision process and decision criteria be better influenced?
- Identify key analysts and influencers who guide the market on how to think about key decision factors
- Map buyer objections to changes in buying criteria or positioning that can be inserted into nurture marketing efforts
- Audit common objections against current marketing assets to determine if gaps exists that would be better filled with a different marketing asset such as a free trial

This is, of course, just a framework for thinking about the problem. Every organization, and every industry, deals with a slightly different set of buying challenges. However, this framework can be quite useful for identifying gaps, challenges, or opportunities in the way your audience currently buys.
Many of the topics on this blog are discussed in more detail in my book Digital Body Language
In my day job, I am with Eloqua, the marketing automation software used by the worlds best marketers
Come talk with me or one of my colleagues at a live event, or join in on a webinar


Karen McPhillips said...

Finally! As Tweeted - I am putting my team right on this! Thank you.

Kathleen Schaub said...

Steve, your point about needing to understand the real buying cycle is so true. I like the way you distinguish between the customer buying questions and the fact that these questions get asked repeatedly but for different purposes.

I would suggest starting this analysis even farther back than you have it. I think that there are "3 Battles for the Customer's Mind". The 1st battle is "do I have a problem?", the 2nd is "how do I want to solve that problem?" and the 3rd is (finally) "which competitor/brand do I select?". Many marketers and sales people, especially those who have worked exclusively with mature products, have rarely been exposed to the first two battles.

With mature products, Battle 1 and Battle 2 were fought ages ago (for example, who needs to ask why someone might need a new printer?). For mature products, marketing tends to do a fairly good job with brand promotion and product features and benefits. These are Battle 3 strategies. For mature products, buying and selling aren't as highly mis-aligned.

Where the dissonance between the buying process and selling process becomes most pronounced is during a disruption to the status quo - the need to sell an innovative product or a competitor enters the market with an aggressive business model. Suddenly, things don't work anymore. That's because we have to return to Battle 1 and Battle 2, something most companies do not know how to do.

Anonymous said...

Such a cluttered website that I don't even want to stay and read an article that could provide value to my company. Might want to rethink the top and left bars, and all the blue text and graphics.