The customer journey: Finding the buy signal

By Denis Pombriant, Beagle Research Group

Consider this: Has your family been loyal to something for generations?

Maybe it’s a handed-down recipe, cars from a certain manufacturer or even a brand of toothpaste. If you think about it, you can probably come up with several examples. Everyone can. When we find something good, useful or tasty, we tend to stick with it and share it with others. That’s true loyalty.

But customer loyalty has had a rough time of late. While it’s making a strong comeback, in many ways loyalty has suffered in our digital age. The challenge is to respond in new ways to encourage customers’ loyalty.

The loyalty experts at COLLOQUY conducted research this year that revealed US loyalty program memberships grew an astounding 25.5 percent from 2012 to 2014. The average US household is enrolled in 29 loyalty programs, but is active in just 12.

Yet almost 60 percent of customers aren’t even engaging in these memberships. That’s a good news/bad news message. The good news is that there’s exciting work to be done that can lead to some impressive rewards. The bad, or rather the challenging, news is that you’ll need to uncover new ways to attract and keep customers.

Why is loyalty so slippery these days?

The reasons are numerous – increased competition, concerns with data privacy, homogenous offerings just to name a few. To survive, customer loyalty must be like breathing; something that is not just automatic but autonomic.

This means organizations must rewire how customers think about their brand. You can do this by melding data analytics with emotional brand experiences to provide nuanced interactions that strengthen brand advocacy and loyalty.

In a recent Argyle Executive Forum webcast, SAS Global Director of Customer Intelligence Wilson Raj discussed the crucial strategies and techniques to become a loyalty-infused company, not a company with a loyalty program.

A buy signal might be subtle and it might not be exactly aimed at your company.

When is a customer not a customer?

Of course, many prospects never become customers and you can spot them fairly easily. At one point or another in the customer journey they lose interest, it becomes hard to reach them on the phone, they don’t answer emails. There’s a long list of things that failed prospects do or don’t do. Sooner or later you weed these prospects out of the pipeline.

Fortunately, customers also show buy signals.

A buy signal might be subtle and it might not be exactly aimed at your company. A buy signal is just what it sounds like. It’s an intention to make a purchase but not a promise to do so. It’s what makes your sales and marketing processes valuable. Depending on what you sell, a buy signal could be as simple as a C-level officer spending time on your site, an increase of activity on your site from people at the same company, or the number of times a piece of content was shared throughout an organization. It could also be something said or implied in a press release or an executive’s speech.

Looking for the buy signal

We spend a lot of effort on analyzing markets and territories. We build target lists of prospects that should be interested in our solutions because they resemble our existing customers. They have the right number of employees, have a specific SIC code, or have other products that yours work well with, and so forth. If you collect all the obvious data and analyze it, you might be struck by the realization that all of those attributes are the same whether a company is in the market for a product like yours or if it has just bought from your competition. The critical difference is the buy signal.

All of the data you collect is valuable of course, but it becomes actionable information when coupled with a buy signal. So the less obvious data trail that prospects leave behind is very important and it should not be forgotten.

Identifying the buy signals specific to your business can be as easy as analyzing how your existing customers bought previously. Retrospective analysis makes it easy to identify buy signals and to build them into your marketing and sales processes. You might find that a particular program or set of content or channel is successful at eliciting buy signals from the customers you care most about reaching. That’s great, but remember this is just a starting point – simply because one approach worked before it might not work forever.

Analytics' role

So it’s important to capture and analyze data from websites and to optimize web pages and content. To ensure your messages remain on target continue A/B testing and if possible don’t stop with B. The more you learn about your prospects the more you should be able to segment the market and each segment might have its own hot buttons.

Micro-segmenting was once impossible both because it was too difficult to capture enough data about customers and because analysis was slow. Today, we have the compute cycles and very good analytics software so it’s easier than ever to segment and analyze to look for those critical buy signals.

Denis Pombriant

Denis Pombriant researches and writes about the trials and tribulations of vendors and customers — two types of human separated by a common cause. He lives in the Boston area with his beautiful wife, two demanding cats, and one hyperactive puppy.

Read more in this series

  • In the second article of the series, learn the importance of customer journey maps in optimizing your business processes.

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What to read next

  • Read Denis' latest book, Solve for the Customer available on Amazon.

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