The buyer's journey - a term first coined by Hugh Macfarlane in 2003

How to make your strategy more buyer-centric

All businesses strive to recognise the needs of buyers when developing strategies for sales success. Well, at least you should.

You research met and unmet needs, teach your salespeople to understand business requirements and take pride in meeting those customer demands. How, though, can you more fully acknowledge buyers when shaping your strategy?

Remember that businesses buy products and services, in essence, to solve problems. They may have too much of something that is undesirable, or too little of something that is good. The problem is the gap between where they are now and where they want to be.

The problem faced by the buyer is something of a tipping point. If they are aware of the problem and are troubled by it, they will act. If they don’t – no sale. So how do we incorporate the buyer’s problem into our strategy? And how do we choose the ‘right’ problem to begin with?

There are four steps:

  1. Start with your assumed strategy: what are you going to sell, to whom do you plan on selling this, and through whom will you reach these buyers?

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  2. Consider the problems behind this strategy. The challenge is to identify a buyer problem, or problems, for which you have strong solutions. Make a long list and then prioritise that list.

  3. Rationalise this list down to your ‘best’ problems. Now comes decision time.

If you are good at solving buyer problems that offer little reward, you will major in the minors. On the other hand, if you are focusing on the right problem but are not in a strong position to fix it, the competition will eat your lunch. So choose from this list the one problem that will reward you the best, and you have the best skills at solving.

  1. Now ditch your strategy, and rebuild it around the problem. If you’ve chosen the right buyer problem, you should let it guide your future strategy.

Judge which businesses suffer most from this problem, and will be most prepared to pay money to have it fixed. This is your new market. Select which channel can do the best job at uncovering this problem, and that’s your new channel. And determine what a complete solution to this problem looks like. That is your new offering.


Having recast your strategy, we now need to help our prospective buyers to act. Business buyers don’t just wake up in the morning and decide to purchase something. They take a journey:

  • first, buyers have no problem;

  • then they do;

  • then they know they need a solution;

  • then they consider their options;

  • then they choose between those options;

  • and finally they receive the benefits for which they had hoped.

We refer to this progression of thought as ‘the buyer’s journey‘. Depending on the business, it may take months or even years for the stages to play out.

But the selling process does not – and cannot – precisely follow this path. There are steps the seller must take that are important for the seller but which are not part of the buyer’s journey. So how do you align the journeys of the buyer and seller?

Marketing is a crucial means of identifying and managing the steps in the journey. Begin by identifying the problems your best customers faced before they came to you – what was the pattern? Then set out to find more businesses that match this pattern, and position your business with this new group.

Incisive marketing helps deliver to sales departments the information and tools to convince buyers that the pain of inaction will be greater than the pain of action. You need to help sales people to spell out the repercussions for the buyer if they procrastinate.

Use avenues such as seminars or articles in trade journals to alert buyers to their potential troubles and let them know that you have experience in solving the chosen problem. Your tactics need to help buyers take each step in their journey.

It all boils down to the fact that businesses pay money to have their problems solved. Choose the right one, help your buyers see it – and profit.

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