12 Apr 2024 Strategy

What your own habits may tell you about your customer’s journey

Woman in a hardware store looking at washing machines

When thinking about how your target customers go from becoming aware of who you are to then buying from you, it can be helpful to think about how you, as an individual, make purchase decisions. Because the process is surprisingly similar. Let’s consider what these similarities are in this article.

Does it matter whether it’s B2B or B2C?

First, let’s back up a bit.

In all my time working with organisations to understand the journey their customers take, the questions I pose have been fairly consistent. I ask about the background to the business, the process of purchasing from them, the objections they receive and what a great customer looks like. I also ask them about the people they deal with and how they interact with them.

Not once has anyone said that either they or their customer acts in anything other than a human way. Even when decisions look very cold and emotionless – the staring at a spreadsheet to calculate pros and cons – ultimately a human being has to make a call.

Just like you and I in every purchase decision.

We research, find information, talk to someone, get crippling anxiety about making the wrong decision and worse. And that’s just when you want to go out for dinner and need a restaurant that suits everyone’s needs and dietary requirements.

Think back to a recent purchase you made that required some consideration (although even buying a chocolate bar has a journey: you’re hungry, you’re at a service station and only the WH Smith concession is open). Try thinking about purchasing a car or a washing machine or computer.

Now see if any of these formed part of that journey.

Creating a trigger

Most purchase decisions start with a trigger. It could be a need that has developed. If your current washing machine broke down, and you don’t fancy pootling along to the laundrette every week or washing everything by hand, you’re going to need to replace it.

The need has been created by something you already have breaking down – that probably means time is of the essence and a decision has to be made quickly.

Let’s say your current washing machine is fine but you grow your family and you need a larger size. It’s a different trigger.

Occasionally, a trigger isn’t created by a need, but by something interrupting your current thinking. Take the smell of fresh coffee coming from the café as you walk past. Or, as a more contemporary example, your favourite patisserie posts a story featuring your favourite sweet treat. Now you want it.

Replace ‘washing machine’ with ‘CNC machine’ or the pastry with a new accountancy service and you can see the differences aren’t all that great.

Your customer will have a trigger. You need to work out what they are (because there could be many). Does your customer need to buy an updated version of whatever it is you sell? Do they need your new service because of a legislative change? Or is this so new that they didn’t know they needed it until you introduced it to them?

Building confidence in the decision

Let’s return to the washing machine example. What do you do once you’ve decided you need a new one? Do you go straight to the retailer and buy the first thing you see? Maybe, but I feel you would not be the norm.

If you go online, you’re presented with a wealth of options of different machines in different colours (ok, white, black or maybe grey). Different drum sizes holding maximum loads. A choice of programmes and RPM, and multiple brand names for you to recognise (or not).

Selecting one of the products, you’ll see a description and possibly some data for you to interpret, such as dimensions or weight.

Most manufacturers produce videos demonstrating their product for the online store selling it to consumers. It replaces the shop assistant in some way – after all, you can’t physically try it online, so a video of an actor using it will have to do (and is a decent substitute).

If you’re still unsure, you might choose to search for ‘best washing machine’ or similar in a search engine. You see what comes up and read an article where a journalist or blogger as road tested many and makes a recommendation.

We are evaluating what our needs are and what is available to meet them.

We naturally look to others to compare what their views and their own experiences are, if they’ve bought the thing we’re considering. That can come from face-to-face interaction, like a recommendation from a friend. Or it can come from the reviews section of the website, or from what others are saying in public review sites.

Ultimately, we don’t want to make the wrong decision, especially on a large purchase. If you’re responsible for buying on behalf of your family, the impact of making the wrong choice could have severe consequences, namely the earache you’ll get as a result. Not too dissimilar to you purchasing something for your business.

We look for proof, whether we buy as a consumer or for business. Reviews, testimonials, case studies. We want to feel like we know what the outcome of our decision is going to be; we’re hoping for a positive result.

Choosing who they want to work with

Ultimately, when the choice of product or service is identical, wherever it can be taken from, there’s another factor at play that forms part of the decision – how we feel about the company we’re buying from.

Have you ever decided to change supplier because the service you received was terrible? Or you feel like you can’t buy from a certain company because of its approach to how it does business or treats its workers? Or even boycotted something because of a company’s connection to certain regimes?

More positively, have you ever chosen to buy local, even though it was more expensive to do so? Many people are willing to pay more for their washing machine from their independent local retailer because of the personal touch they will receive. They feel a connection with the owner, who’s shared a story about their reason for starting the business in the first place.

When all things are equal, what steers people to make your organisation part of the final few they are looking at? Or even make you the winner of the decision? The people? The feeling that you are sharing the same values as your customer?

The journey may be short or long

There are many ways a customer of yours can travel to the point where they buy from you. With a bit of luck, it will be just as easy as buying a washing machine. Even so, there are different points of consideration and comparison, evaluation and assimilation along the way.

Your job, as an organisation looking to stay close to your potential customer, is to understand the different paths they may take to get to you and to create content that shepherds them along the way.

This process doesn’t need to be complicated, but it starts with an understanding of how they make decisions – just like you or I when we make any purchase, whether as a consumer or for a business.

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