B2B Technology Moment of Truth: Transition from Buying Cycle to the Owning Cycle

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When I first joined Gartner, one of my first research efforts was focused on trying to define a graphical model that captured how B2B enterprises were approaching buying decisions. The model was based on research that we do on a regular basis to understand what influences technology buyers and how the approach the overall buying effort.

The original research still feels valid. Those interested can review it at Tech Go-to-Market: The B2B Customer Buying Cycle for Technology Products and Services (for clients) or read this blog post.

Others have talked about it as well, including Dave Brock who regularly talks about “the squishy buying cycle.” We’ve continued to explore that path in subsequent research that focused on the role of trust in the buying process and more.

Beyond the Buying Cycle

We’ve come to realize that a focus on buying cycles is not enough. We need to focus on the entire customer lifecycle. Why? Well, it’s somewhat obvious, but simply winning business is not enough anymore. You need to work to make sure the customer gets value, then you can retain their business, grow your share of wallet, and ideally create an advocacy relationship with your customer.

Working with a number of colleagues at Gartner (most notably Jenny Sussin, Ed Thompson, Jake Sorofman, and Augie Ray), we’ve developed a new image for the customer lifecycle. We feel that this image captures many (not all) of the nuances of the lifecycle for a variety of scenarios (Ed and I walked through it as a model for deciding what to drink in an English Pub!). And it focuses on what is going on in the customer’s world –not the world of the provider/vendor.

Without further ado, here is our perspective:

CustomerLifeCycle

Let me highlight a few of the most important points we focused on:

  1. The activity stream concept continues. The core idea is that buyers don’t compartmentalize their decision process. Because of free access to information, the explore (consider buying), evaluate (consider alternative options), and engage (decide who work with) at the same time–with one stream being most prominent at particular points in time. The exact “flow” will vary for every buying situation (but we can’t show that with a static image–fyi, Bruce McKenzie once animated our original image). We did remove “experience” as a stream (it was one in the original model. In hindsight, we realized that all of this (and the usage) is part of the experience.
  2. Buying is only a small part of the story, the “owning cycle” is potentially more important. This will be dominated by engagement, but buyers often think about other options. If the experience and value is high, then the buyer is less likely to explore and evaluate alternatives, but that may not disappear entirely. As they reach the period where they need to decide if they need to buy again, that becomes particularly important. The owning cycle has the potential to be cyclical as buyers repeatedly make decisions to buy again, buy more, etc.
  3. The overall experience, as noted above, is a key aspect of moving a customer toward an advocacy relationship.
  4. Time is relative. This lifecycle could be completed in 2 minutes or 20 years. The buying portion could be long and the owning cycle short. Or vice versa. That is dependent on the product/service being considered. As with activity streams, this is not something that can be shown in a static image.
  5. The idea of abandoning is important (and something I don’t see in most other depictions). Buyers frequently decide to do nothing (abandoning during the buying process) or they stop using a product and decide not to buy again (abandoning during the owning cycle). This happens if they aren’t confident they will get value or if something else inspires them to move in a new direction (triggering an inspiration for a new lifecycle). We show abandoning at a point in bothcycles, but again, this could occur at any time in either. A nuance is that a good sign of potentially abandoning is when engagement (if it has started) starts to diminish (that is why it fades faster).

A few things, beyond the more dynamic elements, that the image does not show.

  1. Moments of Truth – Throughout this lifecycle there can be many moments of truth – instances that trigger products to be added to the mix or rejected entirely, situations that accelerate decisions along the lifecycle, or that cause abandoning. Moments are critical, but they are often unpredictable and numerous. They aren’t displayed, but they must be recognized. Providers, or sellers, should be conscious of this and recognize when a moment of truth occurs and seeks ways to create positive moments.
  2. Interim Decision Points – In many customer situations, there are interim steps between inspiration and buying or buying and buying again. Things like securing/confirming funding, receiving a product, onboarding, etc. Those key decision steps are quite varied, so we did not add them either. But once again, it is important to recognize that they occur. They are often linked to moments of truth.

The Critical Moment of Truth

As mentioned previously, the image reflects the conceptual model, but does not show every nuance and activity. Now I want to focus on one area that drove much of the impetus for the expanded view and the need to go beyond buying.

Throughout any lifecycle, there will be a number of Moments of Truth. These are key situations that either push buyers forward, cause them to rethink or abandon, or–after buying, trigger value generation or rejection.

In technology, there is one point in every lifecycle that could be the most important moment of truth. That point is the switch from a buying cycle to an owning cycle — the time immediately after a purchase is made. This is the first step for customers to start to get value, rather than think about the potential value.

To maximize that moment, tech providers need to think about:

  • Installation or Activation (for As a Service) – How to make it easy to start using the product or begin the project. (Some of the most popular product videos on YouTube are “unboxing” videos.
  • Onboarding – Helping everyone involved to understand the path to value and what is available to them.
  • Help Options – Guiding users on where to go for assistance.

None of these activities should be taken for granted. In fact, I’d posit that more emphasis should be placed in all of these. Do it right, and things get easier. Do it wrong, and your steering the customer toward thinking about other options or just giving up.

While all of these sound straightforward, they can be tricky. First, you may be dealing with new players. Many of the people that you engaged with on the buying team may no longer be involved. You’ll have a whole new set of people to engage with. Second, these people may have different interests and motivations–they may not even understand the goals of the purchase (don’t take for granted that they do!). Third, you often have little to no guarantees of their focus and attention–you have to win them over–just like you did with other folks during the buying cycle.

Do you focus enough on the experience immediately (again, this is relative time–could be seconds or could be activities over a few weeks) after the deal is done? Could you improve that experience and set you on a path toward more loyalty, faster value attainment, and advocacy?

I believe that most providers can improve in this area and that it will have a significant impact. Give it a try.

Editor’s Note: With author’s permission, this post was republished from Beyond the Buying Cycle and A Critical Moment of Truth in the Customer Lifecycle for Technology Products and Services, with minor edits for clarity.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for pointing out that time is relative. Each product/service and each industry has its own general timelines for sales and buying cycles. Even with comparable products in similar verticals, there is no “one size fits all” approach for a sales cycle. Each one is unique.

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