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The Buying Experience: The Most Important Thing in Sales and Marketing

The buying experience is the most important thing in sales and marketing. To understand how something you’ve likely never heard of can be so important, let’s look at something Steve Jobs once said:

“You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back to the technology – not the other way around.”

While Steve wasn’t talking about sales and marketing specifically, we can apply his fundamental point to everything a company does. In fact, Steve’s experience-first point is especially applicable to sales and marketing. At TOPO, our research shows that delivering a great experience to prospective buyers has the biggest impact on whether or not they will buy something from you. The overall buying experience actually outranks product and price. It’s a surprising, counter-intuitive data point that got me thinking that the Steve Jobs quote could be remixed into something like:

“You’ve got to start with the buying experience and work back to the revenue – not the other way around.” 

The experience-first approach works. Our benchmarking shows that companies that deliver great buying experiences grow twice as fast as companies that deliver average experiences. This faster growth is just a byproduct of the buying experience’s ability to deliver more traffic, higher conversion rates, larger average deal sizes, shorter sales cycles, lower churn, and more customer referrals. It’s nothing more than providing buyers with what they want – a great experience – and then watching critical revenue metrics improve as a result. What could be more important than that?

What is the buying experience?

If the buying experience really is that important, we need to define exactly what it is so we can understand it and improve it. Our definition of the buying experience is:

How your target buyers perceive the experience of buying a product or service in your market

Like all loaded business terms, our definition needs some unpacking to understand its true meaning. There are a few key words and phrases contained in our definition that we can analyze to help us understand the buying experience. First, the buying experience needs to be understood from the buyer’s perspective. Second, the word “experience” is a big word that covers the process a buyer engages in, as well as the total experience the buyer has during that process.

The buyer’s perspective

The first thing to understand is that the buying experience should really be understood from the buyer’s perspective. That’s what we mean when we use the phrase “how your target buyers perceive”. Lots of people in marketing, sales, and other parts of an organization will tell you what they think, but true north here is the buyer’s perception of the experience. Only the buyer can tell you the steps they must take to get to a purchase, what they need at each step, and their satisfaction levels throughout the experience.

The buying process

The buying experience includes the entire process that the buyer engages in as they move from status quo to purchase. The status quo represents what the buyer is doing before they embark on the buying experience, while purchase represents the final step that moves someone from buyer to customer.

A number of steps sit in between status quo and purchase. Some buying experiences are simple enough to consist of just a few steps. Many ecommerce-centric experiences fall into this category. Other experiences, however, are complex enough to consist of dozens to hundreds of steps. These are often found in B2B markets where purchasing something like CRM software may involve the buyer taking 25 to 30 steps. But examples such as buying a new home or choosing a college can also be found in consumer markets.

From a process perspective, it’s important to understand that the buyer might not make it to a final purchase. Similarly, they might buy something from a competitor, but not from you. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have a buying experience. They very much did – they just didn’t reach your end objective. That sounds like a buying experience that is ripe for analysis and optimization.

The total experience

Our definition includes the entire experience that the buyer has as they move from status quo to purchase. That experience consists of different elements from the buyer’s psychology, to the information they consume, to the interactions they have, during the buying process.

None of these elements is more important than the buyer’s psychology and emotions – their desires, needs, wants, and fears. This psychology governs much of what the buyer will experience. For example, many buyers are motivated by a sense of community. That’s why buying experiences that emphasize a brand’s or company’s community of customers tend to outperform those that don’t.

The experience also consists of the information that the buyer will consume during the process. Most buyers are voracious consumers of information and view it as the currency of the buying experience. Take online reviews as an example. According to a recent study by Dimensional Research, 90% of buyers claim that positive online reviews influence their decisions. That’s just one type of information that informs the final purchasing decision.

The final element is the interactions that a buyer has during the process. These interactions are defined by whom the buyer is interacting with (brands, peers, journalists, analysts, the list goes on and on…) and how the interaction takes place (online, in person, the phone…). When it comes to interactions, it’s critical to know that buying experiences will almost always include interactions that don’t involve you. For example, according to Sirius Decisions, 70% of the B2B buying process is done before the buyer engages with sales.

Different types of purchases

This definition is meant to be inclusive of different types of purchases. For example, it can be applied to the experience that a Director of IT has when purchasing security software. It can also be applied to the experience a stay at home mom has when buying a new car or something as simple as a blender.

Is this any different than customer experience?

Some people will argue that the way TOPO is defining the buying experience makes it a component part of the overall customer experience. But we believe that the buying experience is really different than the customer experience. The starting point for this distinction is that the buying experience is clearly focused on prospective buyers, whereas the customer experience deals primarily with existing customers.

This may seem like an obvious and somewhat academic distinction, but it’s one that has real, practical ramifications for companies. For example, the buying experience should focus on revenue-oriented objectives such as increased conversion rates and shorter buying cycles. That’s really different than focusing on customer satisfaction levels. Another example of the distinction is that companies have less control over the buying experience because it’s about prospective buyers (in most cases, people you don’t know), as opposed to the customer experience where companies already have a relationship with the customer. There are many other examples that highlight the distinction, but these two show just how different the buying and customer experiences really are.

Job number one – deliver a buying experience that exceeds expectations

If you work in sales and marketing, job number one is to deliver an experience that exceeds the buyer’s expectations so that they buy your product or service. That’s easier said than done, but there are three things you can do to get started:

  1. You need to understand the experience that your buyer is currently having versus the experience they want to have. Most people who interact with buyers on a regular basis have an understanding of this. You just need to take time to think about it.
  2. It’s essential that you design and deliver a buying experience that is grounded in what the buyer wants. At TOPO, we call this buyer-responsive sales and marketing and it works. It focuses on moving the buyer to the next step by providing them wth what they want and need.
  3. As you design the buying experience, remember that every buyer wants two things. First, they want help making better decisions. Second, they want it to be easy to get to and make the buying decision.

How you do these three things will be the subject of many, many more blog posts that we’ll publish here. We’ll also look at other principles that will help you provide an exceptional experience to your buyers, as well as case studies of leaders in the emerging buying experience field.

Do you think the buying experience is as important as we do? How would you define it? And how would you get started designing and delivering a world class buying experience? Let us know in the comments below!

About the author:  Scott Albro is the CEO and founder of TOPO. TOPO is a research, advisory, and consulting firm that believes in a really simple, but powerful idea – that the most important thing in business is to deliver a great buying experience. By connecting everything we do back to this core idea, we help sales and marketing organizations exceed their revenue targets. You can connect with Scott on Twitter.

  • Aaron, with Handshakez

    Scott, this may be one of your best blogs yet! Love the focus on the buyer’s experience.

    You’re right to draw a distinction between the buyer’s and customer’s experiences – however, great companies are starting to recognize that both deserve emphasis and attention. Buyers will recognize differentiated salespeople by the way they educate themselves on the buyer’s market and problems (this blog post speaks to that: http://handshakez.com/wanted-the-differentiated-sales-guy/).

    Customers, meanwhile, will appreciate how Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is moving away from impersonal, top-down management towards a more collaborative style of engagement. Both trends benefit the consumers, who in turn help drive up the profits of companies.

    I can’t wait to see the next part of this series!

    • Aaron, thanks for the kind words. Couldn’t agree more on both things being important. Also, love the concept of the differentiated salesperson.

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