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

August 21, 2019

During the buying journey, companies that deliver a great buying experience grow twice as fast as those that deliver average experiences.

The original version of this article, authored by Scott Albro, was published by TOPO, now Gartner.

Our research shows that delivering a great experience to prospective buyers has the biggest impact on whether or not they will buy something. The overall buying experience actually outranks product and price.

Benchmarking shows that the experience-first approach works — companies that deliver great buying experiences grow twice as fast as companies that deliver average experiences.

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This faster growth is 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 is the buying experience?

We define the buying experience as: How your target buyers perceive the experience of buying a product or service in your market.

The buyer’s perspective

The buying experience should really be understood from the buyer’s perspective. Lots of people in marketing and sales will tell you what they think, 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 the buyer engages in as they move from status quo (before they embark on the buying experience) to purchase (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 e-commerce experiences fall into this category.

Other experiences, however, are complex enough to consist of hundreds of steps. These are often found in B2B markets where purchasing something like CRM software may involve many complicated steps.

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 instead. That doesn’t mean they didn’t have a buying experience, 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. 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 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 a buyer has during the process. These are defined by who the buyer interacts with (e.g., brands, peers, journalists, analysts) and how the interaction takes place (e.g., online, in person, phone).

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.

How is buying experience different from customer experience?

Some people will argue that this definition of the buying experience makes it a component of the overall customer experience, but they are different. For starters, the buying experience is clearly focused on prospective buyers, while the customer experience deals primarily with existing customers.

This may seem like an obvious and somewhat academic distinction, but it 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 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.

Top priority: Deliver a buying experience that exceeds expectations

If you work in sales and marketing, job No. 1 is to deliver an experience that exceeds the buyer’s expectations so they buy your product or service. That’s easier said than done, but there are three things you can do to get started:

  • You need to understand the experience your buyer is currently having versus the experience they want to have.
  • It’s essential that you design and deliver a buying experience that is grounded in what the buyer wants — or buyer-responsive sales and marketing — which focuses on moving the buyer to the next step by providing them with what they need.
  • As you design the buying experience, remember that every buyer wants help making better decisions and an easy way to make the buying decision.

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