Understanding and Documenting the Buyer Experience
The buyer experience—which begins before buyers recognize a need to the time they complete their purchase—contains valuable information you can use to grow your business. It’s a critical part of the Planning component in the Pragmatic Framework. Understanding and mapping it can show you where your funnel and conversion process is strongest and, perhaps more importantly, where you need to improve.
Keep in mind that the buyer experience is related to, but not the same as, the customer experience. Buyers often begin the process without your knowledge, and they won’t all convert to customers. With buyers, you’re focused on closing more sales and tightening the time it takes to complete them. With customers, you already have a relationship. You’re focused on maintaining that relationship and keeping your customers satisfied.
Learning the importance of the buyer experience and how to harness its power is central to your company’s success. It’s important to understand the true definition of the buyer experience, why it’s important and what you can implement once you define and document it.
What is the buyer experience?
The buyer experience is your buyer’s perception of the process of buying your product or service, from start to finish. The process starts at the “status quo,” or before they begin, and continues until (ideally) they make a purchase and become a customer. Some buyers will begin the process and leave before making a purchase—they either don’t purchase anything, or they choose a competitor’s product or service.
The buyer experience includes the buyer’s mindset throughout the process, the information they receive about your product or service and their interactions with your company and other customers. You want to design a buyer experience where you understand what the buyer wants so you can deliver that and more.
Depending on your market and your product or service, the buyer experience could have just a few steps or hundreds of steps. And up to 70 percent of these steps can happen before the buyer interacts with your company. Generally, these steps fall into seven stages:
- Identify need
- Determine solution
- Explore options
- Select vendor
- Justify internally
- Make purchase
- Build business value
Keep in mind that the buyer’s journey doesn’t end when they become a customer. While that’s an important milestone, your customer might be testing your product and still exploring other options. Especially with software as a service (SaaS), it’s easy for customers to try a new company and product if they aren’t satisfied. How many times have you downloaded an app, realized it didn’t meet your needs and downloaded another instead? With SaaS, it’s that easy. Don’t make the mistake of assuming your customers will stick with you. The buyer’s journey is never over.
You want to design a buyer experience where you understand what the buyer wants so you can deliver that and more.
The importance of the buyer experience
Research shows that the buyer experience is more important than your product and your price. And providing a great buyer experience could double your company’s growth compared to an average buyer experience. There are many points along the way where you could either delight or disappoint your buyer.
And remember, emotions underscore every buying decision. How your buyer feels and whether they trust you will tip them toward you or your competitor. And in B2B settings, where your buyer isn’t typically your end-user, your buyer is still your key advocate within their organization.
When you understand the questions and objections your buyers will raise—and when in the process they will raise them—you can be prepared to deliver the right message at the right time. With a better buyer experience, you’ll have more engaging conversations with buyers, improve your branding and time and effectively target your marketing campaigns.
For example, in one survey, TrustRadius director of research Megan Headley found that buyers find product demos, free trials and hearing from end-users helpful and trustworthy, and they also found case studies useful. They often find websites are less valuable—they believe corporate sites overpromise, inflate return on investment and are designed to get your contact information. And they felt that the best vendors acted more like partners, with positive interactions beyond sales.
Once you have a solid understanding of your buyer experience, you’ll likely find new opportunities arise. You might find new ways to generate leads. You might develop content strategies in multiple channels that resonate with your buyers. You might give your sales team the information they need to have better conversations that convert more buyers to customers.
Signs you need to map your buyer’s journey
If you haven’t mapped your buyer’s journey yet, these signs can point to problems that mapping could help solve:
- You’re not finding leads. If you’re struggling to produce leads or you’re not sure where to look, that could mean you don’t understand your buyer or your target market.
- Your message isn’t connecting with buyers. If you’re finding leads but you’re not ultimately converting them to customers, it’s time to evaluate whether you’re targeting the right buyers.
- You can’t identify the stages in your funnel. You need to define each stage of your funnel so you can deliver the right information when your buyer needs it. That way, you can move them along to the next stage.
- Your prospects enter your funnel but don’t buy. If your prospects engage with your process but don’t convert, there’s something about them you don’t understand.
- You don’t know why your customers choose to buy. If you can’t define why your customers purchase your product or service, it’s a sign you don’t understand your product’s strengths.
Who is responsible for the buyer experience?
The responsibility for the buyer experience falls to the marketing and sales teams. Marketing is crucial as a large part of the buyer experience happens before the buyer interacts with anyone in your company. The marketing team needs to manage the overall message about the company and product so buyers have a favorable impression from the start.
Once buyers connect with your company, your sales team works with them as they move through the rest of the process up to the time of the sale. It’s crucial for the marketing team and the sales team to work together to create the best possible buyer experience.
How the traditional buyer experience has changed
You’ve built your sales process with what you knew. In the past, you could find buyers through advertising or connect with them through public relations. In traditional models, sales reps did most of the work, and they could control a lot of the information your buyers received.
Today, your buyers can access information everywhere, from websites to blogs to social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. In most industries, buyers have a lot more choices than they did in the past. Your prospects can find out about you and your competition with just minutes of research. They might not feel as though they need or want a sales rep. And even B2B buyers are doing more research and acting more like consumers.
So, you need to have information everywhere. Your website should be rich with details, guidance and resources and include a call to action. You want to be making web impressions with your own blog as well as blogs for your partners and industry, and a strong presence on YouTube, LinkedIn and Facebook will be helpful. You may also want to automate lead nurturing with marketing automation partners. In addition, consider encouraging positive reviews and addressing negative reviews on crowdsourcing sites like Yelp.
Plus, today’s buyers have expectations from the minute they walk in the door or click through to your website. So in-person, online or both, you need to have a clean, easy-to-navigate design and ways for your buyers to quickly and easily find the information they need.
For a deep dive into strategies, you can use to connect with today’s buyers, check out our webinar, The New Rules of Marketing: Strategies and Tactics for Reaching Your Buyers Directly.
How to define and document the buyer experience
To understand the buyer experience and make the most of opportunities to convert those buyers to customers, you want to map your buyer’s journey:
- Determine the phases in your funnel
- Outline the key actions the buyer takes in each phase so you can deliver the right message at the right time
- Recognize the questions and objections the buyer might raise in each phase
- Understand the actions buyers take that signal they need more answers or that they’re ready to move to the next phase
Your thoughts and opinions about what your buyers want and need are not enough. Most companies believe they have a solid understanding of their buyers’ needs and wants. But there’s often a disconnect—buyers want different things, or prioritize things differently. You need to research your buyer to understand their process. Ideally, you should conduct four customer interviews per month, per product. You want them to answer to questions such as:
- What do your buyers want to accomplish?
- What plans do they have?
- What’s their timeline?
- What obstacles do they face?
- What’s their budget? And what return on investment do they expect?
- Who’s the final decision-maker?
You also want to connect with prospects who didn’t end up buying your product or service.
You can take this data, match it to quantitative data and create buyer personas you can share with your sales team. Update your strategy every year since buyers change their processes. If you don’t keep up with these changes, you can fall behind.
For a closer look at documenting your buyer experience, check out our webinar, Making the Perfect Match: Adapting to Your Buyer’s Process.
-buyers want different things, or prioritize things differently. You need to research your buyer to understand their process.
Buyer experience in action
Once you understand and map the buyer experience, what happens next? You can use this information to improve the buyer experience going forward. The buyer experience should be comfortable, efficient and pleasant from start to finish. Here are some strategies that might make the process smoother:
- Answer common buyer questions on your website
Give your salespeople the information they need to address concerns
- Let your customers post reviews—while no one likes negative reviews, they make the positive reviews feel trustworthy
- Encourage discussions among your customers and address issues they raise
- Include valuable information in your calls to action
Learn more about how to optimize the buyer experience
By understanding and mapping your buyer’s journey, you can give your buyers an experience that delights them—and turn them into loyal customers and advocates for your business.
Register for Pragmatic Institute’s Market class today to learn more about using the buyer experience to help your business thrive and lead your industry.