It doesn’t end when the sale is made: Understanding the complete buyer journey

An oversimplified sales process goes something like this: create awareness, provide a compelling value proposition, close the deal.

This sales process is commonly misconstrued as the buyer journey. In reality prospects and current customers interact with or are exposed to your brand in numerous ways — the sales channel is but one of them.

The buyer constellation map for national chain restaurants, below, was presented during our last Insight2Impact Foodservice Marketing Summit and underscores the vast and complex network of possible interactions.

 

There are a tremendous number of potential points of influence, and it’s crucial for marketers to understand as many of these as possible.

Some brand influence points are easily overlooked, and the majority of a company’s emphasis is on filling its sales pipeline. However, being more diligent about understanding the buyer journey can have a significant impact on the bottom line by retaining and growing existing customers, increasing the effectiveness of the sales channel, encouraging referrals and more.

Let’s walk through a couple of examples.

Example #1: Existing Customer Contacts the Customer Support Center

Say a customer has a challenge with a piece of equipment and contacts customer support for some assistance resolving the problem. If the problem gets solved, the customer will experience some level of satisfaction. If not, he may end the conversation disappointed. Those are the only two options, right? Wrong.

What about the entire experience? Think about something from your own personal experience. Have you ever contacted customer support for something and even if they did not fix your problem, you still left with a positive impression of the brand? That’s likely because the company you contacted invested the time to intentionally think about the entire experience and how to make it positive — whether that was a representative answering the call on the first ring, exercising good communications skills or offering a replacement product.

A number of tactics can provide for a great customer experience. The primary challenge is really to think about those points of influence (points of brand experience) and be intentional about the customer experience. There may not be a way to control the outcome of being able to fix the problem or not, but you can control the experience.

Example #2: Potential Prospect Is Referred to Your Company by a Peer

In this example, a current customer of yours is talking with an industry peer about a piece of your equipment he recently purchased — now a potential prospect for you.

After the meeting the potential prospect decides to learn more about your company. But you don’t know which of several avenues he may take to do so. Talk to a dealer? Visit your website? Enroll in an online training course? Explore your social media channels? Ask other people what they know? Once again, you can’t control the outcome or which path the prospect follows, but you often can control the experience.

Was helpful information intuitive to find and easy to understand? Were those who may speak for your company kept up-to-date on the latest products and services? Do you offer tools or resources to help the prospect solve a problem he faces?

Even if the prospect does not have an immediate need, there are a couple of options to encourage positive engagement, including offering a compelling value proposition to justify a purchase decision sooner or implementing a process to regularly stay in contact.

In many mature markets, replacement programs and roll outs are a larger percentage of the marketing focus than new builds, so the key is creating top-of-mind awareness so that when a need arises, the prospect immediately thinks of your company.

Continued growth is a challenge on its own, but ignoring opportunities that can be created by managing the buyer journey just increases those challenges. Here are some simple steps for optimizing the buyer journey:

  • Map out the process. Understand and document all the touch points a customer or prospect can interact with your company.
  • Perform an audit. This will uncover two things. 1.) The points of influence that have the most impact 2.) Areas that are underserved or overserved to determine where to focus or limit your efforts.
  • Develop a plan. Based on your findings, develop a plan to maximize the buyer journey and overall brand experience.
  • Re-evaluate. After a plan is implemented, continue to monitor. This will essentially evolve into the continuous improvement plan for your overall customer/brand experience.

Those four steps are easier said than done, and the whole process can seem overwhelming, but it is an investment that will pay dividends for years to come. And it is a great way to build and leverage your brand value.

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