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Agile Marketing Series: Though This be Madness, There is Method in it

What makes someone buy something? Is it possible to know exactly why and when they decided on the purchase? Probably not, but as agile marketers, it’s high on our list of concerns.

The sales funnel attempts to put a framework on customer purchases via linear process, but a purchase is not a process, and a funnel is a bad image to get stuck on for an agile marketer.

The Five Stages of Customer Purchase

Agile marketers don’t sell products. They help innovators make products people want to buy. That’s an important distinction. In tandem with keeping customers satisfied and retained in the existing base, the goal of an agile marketer is to figure out what new customers want to buy and give them the opportunity to buy it.

Some may think of that as a sales funnel, like cattle in a chute, and many marketers may be tempted to look at a customer purchase as a set of process steps, one following the other. But the agile marketer knows the funnel and the steps are really a network—a non-linear cluster of awareness, comprehension, interest and intention—all centered on the “action” of buying.

  1. Awareness: Do our customers know they have a problem we can solve?
  2. Comprehension: Do they understand we can solve the problem?
  3. Interest: Do they care?
  4. Intention: Are they considering buying from us?
  5. Action: They picked us. Yay. Cha-ching!

As a marketer, the easier you make it for customers to cross the threshold for “action,” the better.

And if you can do that while maintaining upward pressure on price—and increasing your Net Marketing Contribution to the business—even better. But don’t try to lead customers through a gauntlet of awareness, comprehension, interest, and intention in logical order. Don’t think for a second you can keep people on the hook long enough to do that.

Agile marketing is like grief. (Now that’s an understatement! Haha.)

What I mean is, the stages of consumer purchase are more like the stages of grief—not a logical progression, but a blurred set of blended states a person can be in at anytime.

The Five Stages of Grief

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, a founder of the hospice movement, published her book On Death and Dying in 1969, in which she outlined a model for how we deal with death, now famously known as “The Five Stages of Grief.”

Kubler-Ross pointed out that the stages are a model, not a process. She made this distinction because she felt a process implied something fixed and consistent, which is not the case.

The Five Stages, she insisted, were more like a shape—an ebb and flow of grief, rather than a progression.

  1. Denial—a refusal to accept facts
  2. Anger—with yourself and/or others, especially those close to you
  3. Bargaining—seeking to negotiate a compromise, often with a god
  4. Depression—preparatory grieving, involving sadness, regret, fear and uncertainty
  5. Acceptance—emotional detachment and objectivity

A grieving person doesn’t go necessarily in order from denial to acceptance. They could have depression, then anger, then acceptance. Or they could stay stuck in denial. Or go straight to acceptance. You see the point.

Just as people may find acceptance in any stage of grief, they may also take action at any stage of the purchase

But it Seems so Linear!

It’s true, when you reverse-engineer them, the stages of customer purchase seem linear:

  • You can’t comprehend a solution, if you don’t have awareness of the problem.
  • You can’t be interested, if you don’t comprehend the solution.
  • You can’t intend to buy, if you aren’t interested.

There’s only one problem: Things don’t happen in reverse. Time doesn’t move backward. Customers can decide to buy from any stage, and although we can put the pieces of the broken glass back together to see is was whole, we can’t make it shatter the way we want it to.

For example:

Impulse Buys: “Hey, look at this! I’m getting it.”

This kind of purchase goes from see it to buy it in a heartbeat, from awareness right to purchase, without much understanding, interest, or intention in the mix at all.

Must Haves: “I don’t want one, but I really need one.”

This goes from understanding to purchase. Although interest and intention might have influenced the decision, mostly it’s a final understanding that this will fix a problem that has gone on too long.

Brand Buy: “Must. Have. The Precious.”

This is the shiny and new purchase. I’m interested in Apple. Or I’m interested in Prada. Or I’m interested in the new 135-horsepower mid-size red Kubota tractor, gimme gimme. This kind of purchase doesn’t need a lot of massaging of intention, and the awareness and understanding are already in the bag.

The Mull-It: “I’ve thought about it, and I’ve decided to try it.”

This is the end of the line if we think of things in a linear process. The purchase comes after a customer weighs intention and finally takes a rational step. They’ve probably bounced around awareness and understanding. They aren’t that interested, or they would have already bought it. But they’ve finally decided they’re gonna buy one…or at least try it free for a month.

See how hard a sale The Mull-It seems compared to the other three? It’s no wonder sales funnels aim for the Mull-It intentional purchase as an end—it requires the most selling!

The Mull-It is not a goal.


There’s Method and Madness

Having a sound process is extremely important for innovation in agile development and agile marketing. Process gives your work stability and gives your team a sense of ownership, so they can feel supported enough to experiment and try new things.

As developer Chris Jones said in this interview, “It’s easier for marketers to digest those larger “big idea” chunks and harder to digest this agile process that has a lot of iterations and ins and outs. And it’s really an art form to go through that process.”

And although process can certainly be an art form, it has a complementary opposite, which is the sometimes-chaotic behavior—madness, if you will—of real human beings.

Buying is Emotional

It’s rooted in the brain, which does not function like a box factory conveyor belt.

There are brain maladies like compulsive buying disorder, which is a serotonin-related imbalance, not a rational weighing of pros and cons. “Oniomania” is the compulsive desire to shop, and it’s more related to mood-enhancement and identity seeking than intention or awareness or problem solving.

Even normal buying behavior creates, however small, an associated “buyer’s high” and a “buyer’s remorse” in the mind, as summarized in a recent article:

“In the phase before purchasing, a prospective buyer often feels positive emotions associated with the purchase (desire, a sense of heightened possibilities, and an anticipation of the enjoyment that will accompany using the product, for example); afterwards, having made the purchase, they are more fully able to experience the negative aspects: all the opportunity costs of the purchase and a reduction in purchasing power.”

This Same Emotional Swing Happens in Business Purchases, too

Perhaps, ironically, this swing happens even more so in business purchases. Maybe that’s why decision makers like their work so much, and why problem/solution is the holy grail of B2B selling: because process devotees love to have an objective, rational justification for buying something that gives them a deep, subjective thrill.

An agile marketer knows this.

And any agile marketing that throws out the network of flows and shapes of customer purchase throws out the fun and gamesmanship of trying new things to trigger action. A process is very important to agile, but imposing it on customers is not agile at all.

Leave yourself open to the madness, for there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your funnel philosophies, Horatio.

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