What Is a Buyer's Journey?

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Every buyer takes a journey with your business.  Some of these journeys last years and produce great profits, while other journeys end before they really even begin.  While most businesses think of sales from the prospective of a business, the buyer's journey focuses on how a customer evolves in their individual engagement with your business.

In developing a business model, it is important for any business to understand that there is a natural progression every buyer takes in regards to their engagement with your business.  Think about it.  Just like we don’t ask someone to marry us on the first date, a typical buyer doesn’t go into any business and buy their flagship product without progressing through several stages of their journey.  It take time to build trust with a buyer and it takes a pretty significant effort for them to walk through their journey of doing business with you.

To understand a buyer's journey, we must start by looking at the stages a buyer takes during their journey with a business.  There are four stages to a buyers journey: 

  1. Find It
  2. Experience It
  3. Engage With It 
  4. Lock Into It

Now, before we dive into each of these stages, let’s walk through these stages from a buyers perspective.

A Buyer's Journey Example

Imagine you are out of town and shopping at a mall you have never been to.  You’ve been shopping all morning and decide to head to the food court for lunch, though you aren’t really sure what you are in the mood for.  As you walk into the U-shaped food court, you see that there are quite a few restaurants in a row, so you decide to take a walk around all the U to look at all of your options.  As you begin your walk, you see the typical fast food burger, sandwich and pizza chains.  Then all of a sudden, you see a young man smiling at you with a tray of samples.  He makes eye contact with you and hands you a sample of his grilled chicken dish to try.  

At this point, you have no other option but to take this free sample from him and try it.  It’s really good.  You were starving before, and now you are suddenly in the mood for chicken, and your taste buds are now screaming for more of his chicken dish.  At this point, the young man now hands you a coupon and basically walks you into his line.  At this point, you aren’t really thinking and are on more of an auto-pilot.  

Now in line, you naturally pick up a tray and the server shows you four side options.  You pick one and they ask you if you would like a second, which you turn down.  You then have the option of choosing your entree, which of course is going to be the chicken you already tasted.  As they are loading it on, they ask you if you want a double portion.  This time, you agree to it.  As you get up to the register, you decide on water until you realize that adding a drink makes your meal a combo.  The combo is only a dollar more, but you will be able to use your coupon to get $0.50 off your purchase.  So you go for it.

As you are paying, the cashier asks you if you have a loyalty card.  You say you don’t and they quickly grab a new one and punch it three times - one for the new card, and twice for each of your two entrees.  The cashier explains that once you have punched all ten holes on the loyalty card, you will get a free entree.  So, you take the card and put it away for future use.

Overall, the process was extremely smooth.  As you hadn’t eaten there before, you might have expected it to be challenging to figure out what you wanted and to place your order.  But it wasn’t.  

Your journey was smooth.  And your journey didn’t stop with your lunch.  You now have a loyalty card that is half way to a free entree the next time you are in town.

And guess where you will probably eat the next time you shop at the mall?

While very simple, the food court example is the perfect way to introduce us to the four stages of a buyer’s journey.

The Four Stages of a Buyer's Journey

The first phase of a buyer's journey is the Find It stage.  This is where a prospective buyer discovers that you even exist.  This is where they start their journey with your business.  They need to know that you exist because, if they don’t, they will never buy from you.  While this stage seems simple on the surface, it is actually quite complex do to the vast amount of ways that a potential buyer could discover you.  In our food court example, the Find It stage was pretty easy.  As you were one of the dozen restaurants there, prospective buyers found you.

The second stage of a buyer’s journey is the Experience it Stage.  This is where they get a first hand understanding of what it is your business can offer them.  In our food court example, they actually got to taste the product before they had to give you money for it.  When a prospective buyer gets to experience your product before they have to pay for it, an enormous amount of trust is built which helps lead the prospective buyer to the next two stages - both of which include an exchange of money.

Once a prospective buyer has found you and experienced what your business can offer them, the next stage for them is to engage with you.  The engagement stage is usually an entry level product, like a one-time meal in a food court.  The buyer has built up enough trust to purchase from you, but not enough trust to give a long-term commitment.  This is important to understand.  We aren’t asking someone to marry us in this stage, so we really shouldn’t be asking them to commit to our biggest, most expensive, or longest commitment product.  This stage is a chance for a buyer to purchase a product without needing to give a long-term commitment.  During this stage, the buyer is still gaining trust in our business which is preparing them for the next stage.

The final stage of a buyer’s journey is the Lock Into It Stage.  This stage is where a buyer transitions into becoming an ideal customer.  They purchase your flagship product.  They refer friends. They become a raving fan and advocate for your business.

Using the Buyer's Journey In Your Business

The four stages of a buyer’s journey are fairly simple: 1) Find It, 2) Experience It, 3) Engage With It, and 4) Lock Into It.  These stages are always there for a buyer.  Always.  Even if a business hasn't recognized this, or hasn't designed a clear business process around how a buyer will take their journey with a business, the four stages always exist.  Therefore,  those businesses who help to create a clear buyer journey map will find a business model that is designed to grow and sustain the business.