Sales and marketing, Channel markets

Guiding Our Customers On The Wrong Buying Journey


I have to start this post with a story. I’m an obsessed reader. At least once a week, I sign into Amazon to feed my reading habit. I’m immediately fed suggestions of books I should buy. Always, they’re in similar categories: The latest in sales/marketing/leadership, biographies, history. Yes, there are also the mystery/spy novels (Daniel Silva, Lee Childs, Vince Flynn, John LeCarre, and so forth).

This selection of recommended books makes sense. Roughly 70% of the time, the books I buy are in one of those categories.

Changing Things Up: But every once in a while, go to Amazon, without providing any clue of who I am. I use a private browser, I make sure there are no cookies, I don’t sign on. What happens then is absolutely amazing. I get fed a completely different set of recommendations. Books in categories I don’t normally peruse. Inevitably, I find wonderful books that broaden my horizons and give me completely different perspectives.

In reality, recently, I’ve started my searches anonymously, because sometimes the Amazon recommendations get in the way of helping me learn things I should be learning, but didn’t realize it.

Analytics: Creating Problems for Customers?

Moving to the point of this article, I think much of our use of web and other analytics creates a similar problem for our customers and how we engage them. Increasingly, the best marketing organizations are using very sophisticated analytics to understand the interests of prospects and customers, constantly serving up the content they are most likely to want.

For example, I may download certain white papers, I may go to certain parts of the web site, I may look at certain articles at the site. All the time, my activity is being tracked. Based on that activity, I am being served up content that’s aligned with my journey and search. It’s exactly like Amazon serving up recommendations based on past purchases.

It makes a huge amount of sense. We want to get the right content to our prospects and customers. We want to make sure it is easy for them to find the things they are most likely to be interested in.

Here's the Problem: But there’s a huge risk to this. All of this is based on an assumption about the digital search habits of our customers.

The assumption is, they know what they should be looking for.

But the challenge is, at least very early in their buying cycles, they don’t know what they don’t know. As a result, they may be missing very important things in their digital journeys. Their searches are constrained by what they think they should be looking for, and what they think their problem may be.  But they are constrained by what they don’t know.

In trying to be helpful and responsive to our customers, in trying to engage them, we feed them content based on what they want and what they are looking for. As a result, however well intended, we actually may be leading them astray. We may not be helping them understand the questions they should be asking but aren’t, the things they should be researching, but were simply unaware of.

It’s the root of insight, helping our customers learn things they should know/need to know, but simply didn’t know they should be looking for those things.

As sales people, we immediately recognize this problem. We recognize when customers are missing something really important about the problem they are trying to solve. We engage the customer with things like, “Have you ever considered looking at things in a slightly different way?” or “Most organizations addressing similar problems have found these issues to be important, have you considered how they might impact you?”

Leveraging CEB’s mantra, we need to “teach, tailor, take control.”

They Don't Know What They Don't Know

We need to engage our customers in their digital journeys in a similar fashion.  We absolutely need to provide the content and information they are looking for.  But we also need to find ways to serve up the information they should be looking for, but aren’t, simply because they didn’t know.

We can track their digital footprints and we can make recommendations. We can serve up content they wouldn’t normally have looked for because they didn’t know. We can say, “Other customers have found this to be very useful, in addition to the other things you are looking at.”

The same tools we use to personalize customers’ digital buying journeys can be leveraged to help them expand their journeys, teaching them things they need to know, but didn’t know they needed to know.

By doing this, we create greater value and enhance their digital buying journeys.

David Brock is president of Partners in EXCELLENCE, a management consulting firm focused on sales productivity, channel development, strategic alliances and more. Read more blogs from Brock here.