The Seven Phases of the Buyer Experience Journey

Updated: October 27, 2010

Mapping seven experience phases of the buyer journey can be one of the most significant undertakings an organization can do to gain deep rooted knowledge about their markets and buyers. Mapping the buyer journey provides a basis for making informed decisions on how to align strategies, structure, and go-to-market processes with enhanced relevancy to buyers. It also will set the stage, along with buyer insights and buyer persona development, to lead the organization through the efforts of Buyer Experience Design to create highly memorable and fulfilling buying experiences.

The seven experience phases of the buyer journey can be labeled as:

  • Initiative
  • Research
  • Assess
  • Decision
  • Implement
  • Support
  • Renewal

Often times, when "inside-out" views of the B2B buyer journey, buying cycles, and buying processes are used, the focus conventionally has been on the phases leading up to the decision. Buyer Experience Innovation calls for viewing experiential phases beyond the decision. I had a wonderful mentor, now residing with the experts in heaven, who had a mantra that the "sale" begins when you get the signature. How many "won" deals have gone south falling off the precipitous cliff of poor implementation and support experiences? B2B executives can lead by giving the same attentiveness to implementation, support, and renewal as they do B2B marketing and sales tactics leading to a decision. Evolving strategies and technologies also are paving the way for an important role that B2B marketers can play in creating experiences that resonate with buyers throughout the entire buyer journey. Let's take a brief journey through each of the seven experience phases:

Experience Phase 1: Initiative

There are two tiers of thinking in this phase. The most common has been around a term that has existed for several years in mapping the customer or buyer journey. That is the concept of "triggers" or "trigger events". This thinking implies that an event triggers a customer or buyer to begin the search for a resolution. In many situations, this will undoubtedly be true that an event will create a response to find a resolution and an opportunity for the seller. Equally, if not more important, is to recognize that many B2B organizations have a yearly set of strategies, initiatives, and goals by which a planning process is put into place. Part of the planning process involves preliminary thinking on how to achieve initiatives and how much should be allocated to an expense or capital budget. Initiatives are often accompanied by buying strategies and policies. Insights into initiatives and the planning process can yield monumental clues for content marketers on how to map to the buyer's mindset during this phase.

Experience Phase 2: Research

In the B2B buyer journey, researching potential solutions or even ideas are often delegated to a person, a team, a task force, a committee, and numerous other naming conventions that can be assigned. At any given time, you may have multiple people researching on the same initiative but from different perspectives. This no doubt causes challenging assignments for digital and content marketers. Understanding this phase in detail can lead to creating consistent research experiences yet tuned to the potential different perspectives.

Experience Phase 3: Assess

B2B complexity has a robust chemistry of sales, content marketing, partners, and channels that all provide various touchpoints in the assessment phase. How buyer companies go about availing themselves of interacting with this robustness and the experiences they encounter can shape their opinions about whether to place a considered organization in the running for the decision phase. This is the phase that a potential buyer can encounter support for the very first time. How? As is often seen pricing, billing, and implementation questions can get routed to the "back office" and can be a road filled with craters if support is not designed with buyer experience in mind.

Experience Phase 4: Decision

The higher the stakes, the greater the need to create a confidence building decision experience for the buyer. Insight gained through mapping can reveal the process by which buyers follow establish policies for decision-making that often involve multiple stakeholders. Is their buying experience aligned well with what they must comply with internally? While facts, figures, and ROI are heavy components in this phase, selling organizations can be attentive to the emotional side of the decision process. The higher the stakes, the more emotions you can bet will be involved.

Experience Phase 5: Implement

This phase consist of the many experiences that can be related to delivery, packaging, on-site implementation, and roll-out. An important factor in this phase is to recognize that the buyer is still "buying" at this phase. Ensuring that the buyer's goals related to an initiative are achieved and that this particular phase of the buyer experience stays "on message" throughout becomes paramount. How many times after a purchase decision is made in a B2B context has the implementation experience felt starkly different than those leading up to the decision? Insight into the buyer's expectations as well as established processes in this phase are critical.

Experience Phase 6: Support

Is support embedded into the entire buyer experience? Or, is support an adjunct department outside the buyer's sphere of experiences with the organization? B2B complexity can make support a critical component of the overall buying experience. As mentioned before, support can be called upon in the early phase of Assess. If support is not embedded into the entire buying experience and positioned as an adjunct function, there can be a severe disconnect in the buyer experience. There have been many good advancements in support related capabilities however there appears to be a tremendous upside potential for digital content marketing to play a role in enabling support to enhance the overall buyer experience. B2B marketers today can view support enablement, in addition to sales enablement, as an important element of a buyer experience strategy.

Experience Phase 7: Renewal

Renewal, in the experience sense, refers to not only annual renewals of services but renewal of the buyer experience that involves new initiatives and challenges. Does the buyer undergo a vastly different buying experience because he or she is in the renewal category versus the new account category? Insight gathering respective to the buyer's practices and processes for renewal consideration can yield establishing buyer experience strategies aimed at customer retention and customer loyalty.

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