There Is No Buyer’s Journey in B2B Sales. There Are Journeys.

Dave Brock writes an excellent piece on the hyper-focus on buyer’s journeys here. Here is another reason one must be careful in the way they use this concept.

The traditional idea of a buyer’s journey starts with awareness, then moves to interest, then to consideration, then to purchase, then re-purchase. If you want to throw in other stages, like “delight” or “evangelist,” you won’t be the first or last to do so.

I’ve always believed that the buyer starts when they are unhappy enough about something that they are compelled to change, at which point they start to explore what they might do differently, explore their choices, resolve their concerns, and then decide. Now, we compel that change by helping them to recognize the greater results available to them. We do that by helping them recognize and the dissonance they are experiencing.

Whatever the process, you are likely to see it displayed as starting on the left side of a PowerPoint slide and progressing towards the right side of the slide. The way that the journey is displayed indicates that it is a linear process, and that it progresses from one stage to the next, each moving the buyer closer to a purchase. But the truth is that the buyer’s journey is non-linear, and in B2B sales, the non-linearity is non-linear (which is to say, it’s a mess)

One contact inside your dream client company is unhappy with the results they’re producing. You can call this pain or dissatisfaction, or maybe it’s just dissonance, something just not working right without being understood. But her peers don’t agree that there is anything wrong, nor are they close to being compelled to do anything about the dissonance she’s experiencing.

Two levels above her, the senior leadership team is not only unaware that there is a compelling reason to do something different, it isn’t something that is going to make their priority list if they were aware. The leadership team is working on what they believe to be their two most strategic initiatives.

There is no buyer’s journey in B2B sales. There are buyer’s journeys (plural). Not every constituency within a company is going to be neatly aligned with the main contact, or what I call the CEO of the Problem. Not all stakeholders are going to reach the same point in their journey at the same time, and this process isn’t one that is easily managed or controlled. The misalignment, disagreements, and resistance to management make this a difficult challenge for salespeople—and the people trying to pursue change.

I dedicated a chapter to this concept in The Only Sales Guide You’ll Ever Need titled Managing Change. I also included a chapter in The Lost Art of Closing on Building Consensus. If what you sell requires consensus and requires the support of different constituencies, knowing that the process is non-linear, meaning that it isn’t likely a straight line, and knowing that it’s non-linear between individuals and departments gives you a fighting chance of finding a path to consensus – even if you have to slow down the hard chargers and work on bringing the laggards up to speed.

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