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Understanding The Consumer Decision Journey

mckinsey customer journey

Our guest contributor this week is Mark Power, a lecturer in Innovation at Maynooth University. Here, Mark talks to us about how understanding the journey process of an average consumer can help marketers to secure more qualified leads for their business.

Mark Power

The sales development or (SDR) process in any credible sales organisation is akin to playing blindfolded chess.  The rep cannot see the (buying) positions of the pieces or leads thus forcing players or reps to maintain a mental model of the (buying) positions of the pieces or leads.  

Let’s elaborate on this analogy by using McKinsey’s Consumer Decision Journey as a reference point.

This model as you may be familiar with states that customers, in a web enabled world, are further down the buying process before having any contact with an SDR/Sales person. When contacted, typically, the SDR/Sales person is in a position of weakness because, as the model suggests, the lead or prospect has done most of the evaluation online and is now in the ‘moment of purchase’ and wants to talk price. This is the absolute worst position for an SDR/Sales person to make their next move.

Clearly, not every lead follows this path of being at the ‘moment of purchase’, but it is fair to assume that most product based inbound leads are somewhere on this trajectory.

The error most Sales Development departments make is to try to qualify the lead without considering where they are on the curve of the buying process.  If a lead was qualified based on where they are in the McKinsey buying process, then typically leads that were at trigger or consideration or evaluation would only qualify to be passed to sales. Why? Because leads that express that they are ready to buy are in discount mode or only looking for a quote or worse still, are never really understood by the sales person because the real pain or deep-lying motivation is never established. *

Returning to the analogy for a moment, let’s assume, the guy in the picture is playing 25 games of blindfolded chess at some exhibition and that he is an amateur and not some world champion. He will know soon, how many games he can win and which ones to give his attention to. The same principle applies to the SDR who has 25 leads and wants to qualify them. The difficulty is, how to find out where the buyer is in the process and upon doing so, qualifying only the relevant leads so the salesperson can give their full attention to them.

The obvious retort here is, the SDR calls the lead and asks where they are in the purchasing process or what’s their timeframe to contract the business. But’s, Understanding the Small and Medium Business Landscape, research in this area is most prevalent in that it discusses how UK companies of that size prefer to be contacted by email when engaged by another company or in this case an SDR/Sales person.  Again, the obvious retort is, ‘SDR’s send emails to every lead.’ And this is where the process breaks down again.

Here is an example of a SDR email from a popular SaaS based product to the author.

Subject line: Are You Still Evaluating (Our Product)?

Hi John,

I am re-engaging with you to see if you are still evaluating (Our Product) for your business?

I tried reaching you a few moments ago but was unable to get through.

Would you be available for 10 minutes before the end of the week?

Just let me know and we can get something arranged.

Kind regards,

You might note, that the SDR was not trying to find out where the ‘lead’ is in the buying cycle but rather trying to set up a short call. The flaw here is, the SDR talking about themselves and putting their agenda ahead of the prospects.

If we look closer, the first word is ‘I’, the first word of the second line is ‘I’. The SDR is asking for the author’s time and ultimately isn’t asking the right question which is, what is your main motivation for reviewing our product? By asking this, the SDR can understand where the lead is in the buying cycle. How? Because it’s plausible that an answer might be, ‘we are concerned about Brexit and want to tighten up our sales process’.

This would be a perfect ‘trigger’ answer and should be given precedence over other leads. A trickier answer to deal with might be ‘I have been looking at CRM tools for the last number of months and we require no further assistance’. This lead is firmly in the evaluation stage and may require some collateral that aligns to their vertical and size of company – more on that later.

Finally, a response like, ‘we are about to buy a CRM tool and we would love to speak with a sales person’ should be taken with caution. On the surface, this seems like a perfect lead to qualify and pass over but the reality can often be very different. In this instance, the lead is at the ‘moment of purchase’ in the process and is most likely just looking for a quote or indeed ‘a best price’ as noted above. This lead, like all, should be qualified but given a low score status, if that forms part of the process. *

So, what does an email look like that can help an SDR understand the prospect’s motivations? and ultimately help reveal where they are in the buying process?

Let’s consider a couple of points. Make it short. Very short. Shorter. It needs to ask a question that will reveal where the prospect is in the buying cycle. It must have no reference to ‘I’ or ‘me’ but rather be solely about the prospect. And most of all it should never ask for the time of the prospect. Why? because, just like a cold-call, no one wants to answer that call or in this instance, question. A short email is non-intrusive, doesn’t take time to read and ultimately if it yields no response then an SDR can cold-call to their heart’s content. And don’t forget, in just the same way that first move advantage is important in chess, this is the first move in the sales process. Now let’s look at that email.

Subject line: Are You Still Evaluating (Our Product)?

Hi John,

Thank you for considering (Our Product).

Can you advise what your main motivation was for the review?

Looking forward to hearing from you,


The net effect of finding out where the prospect is in the buying process and then passing such a qualified lead to the salesperson is manifold. Firstly, by understanding the customer’s deep, underlying motivations the salesperson can start to forecast more accurately because they will know where the prospect sits in the buying process/sales cycle.

Secondly, winning the trust of the customer by understanding their motivations can help grow the deal size. Additionally, the buyer will feel a deeper level of trust because they are in a world of information overload. But most crucially, should the business be contracted, the likelihood of maintaining a renewal at the end of the term goes up significantly.

Understanding the position of your leads on the chessboard of Sales Development won’t give you higher qualification results, it gives you more closed deals.

* Prospects in buying mode that are qualified quickly and act as quick wins run the risk of non-renewal at the end of the contract. In small business software sales I am assuming lots of contracts are 12 months long and therefore if the renewal is lost a typical SaaS based company will have barely recovered their customer acquisition costs (CAC). This has all the obvious problems associated with it.

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