Many commercial leaders have already developed a buyer’s journey map. Commercial organizations see these maps as an essential tool to better understand buyers and their needs. Plus, it helps commercial organizations improve the buying experience and sales process. However, over the past year or so, the pandemic has been extremely disruptive to B2B commerce. Yet, it’s not the only cause for change. Digital transformations – including sales technology innovations and digital outreach – are triggering changes to buying behaviors and preferences. Therefore, it’s time to remap the buyer’s journey. However, this time, commercial leaders should recognize the common buying preference of digital-first interactions.
Gartner data reveals that one in three B2B buyers prefer to transact in a rep-free experience. This is their preference. It’s not a signal that sellers have been disintermediated or that sellers aren’t a necessary part of future B2B transactions. Instead, it’s a call to action that the selling process needs to change.
Leaders often design the sales process to be linear. Unfortunately, the buying process is anything but sequential. Most buyers iterate and revisit previous steps. This nonlinear journey has likely influenced more buyers to use more digital content later in the process – then again, perhaps the digital content helps trigger the nonlinear process. Either way, buyers continue to use sellers and digital content to build their confidence in making a buy decision.
Commercial leaders must recognize this evolution and remap the buying journey, even if they did it only a couple of years ago. Buying has changed too much to think the old journey map reflects today’s process. As leaders remap the buying journey to account for digital interactions, they should also apply a value stream mapping lens to the effort.
Value Stream Mapping
Value stream mapping is a common technique in lean six sigma to visualize and improve an end-to-end process flow. The illustration displays all critical activities and information flow to:
- Reduce cycle time
- Decrease “non-value-added” steps
- Eliminate waste
Admittedly, there is some six sigma jargon here. First, what are non-value-added steps? These are any steps that the buyer would not find valuable or progressive to completing the buying journey. As an example, reconciling conflicting information would be seen as a non-value-added step. Deconflicting information is increasingly common as buyers increasingly leverage sellers and digital-content to make decisions.
Waste is a little more obvious. These are things that cause delays, rework, and quality issues. From a buyer’s perspective, waste extends purchasing decisions and erodes confidence. Simply, it’s frustrating and diminishes the buying experience. This all occurs while commercial leaders actively seek to:
- Turn prospects into mobilizers and customers
- Become a favored vendor or supplier
- Communicate the value of products and services
Sometimes the challenge is knowing where to start. Commercial leaders should begin by gathering or documenting:
- Current performance data
- Key inputs and outputs
- Critical buying activities
- Information flow
The key is to include decision-makers, stakeholders, wait times, activity durations, etc. A buying journey timeline will likely show how non-value-add activities and waste greatly extends the process. It’s common to see activities that take hours to prolong to weeks or months because of waiting, delays and rework. Once the buying journey has been remapped, an ideal or future state journey can be created to help with a gaps analysis. From there, commercial leaders can focus on the areas causing the most harm.
Updating and improving the buying journey – accounting for digital interactions and value stream mapping – is simply good business. It helps buyers and should improve win-rates and cycle times. That’s a win-win.