The customer purchase cycle is rarely cyclical

Rod Griffith

By Rod Griffith
October 5, 2015

Maybe it’s time to give it a new name

So many of our standard marketing principles are based on traditional consumer marketing concepts. But in today’s highly complex world of B2B technology marketing, many of those concepts don’t really align well with modern business customer behavior.

Take, for example, the concept of the customer purchase cycle (also referred to as the buying cycle or the decision cycle). The major flaw in this nomenclature is the word cycle.

Is there any technology company that assumes today that once a customer purchases its product or service, the customer will repeat the same purchase cycle in a continuous loop? Sure, we perhaps dream of customers being that predictable and loyal, but that’s hardly reality.

Why do we call it a cycle?

In the world of B2C marketing, it’s quite likely that a customer that purchases your cereal product, for example, may well end up deciding to buy your product—or others like it—for years to come, using the same basic buying process and parameters. For commoditized products (like cereal), the decision criteria is generally based on taste, price, and convenience (i.e., Do I like it better than other cereal choices? Is it reasonably priced? And does my preferred local store carry it?).

But marketers of complex B2B technology want commoditization as much as ski resorts want warm, dry winters.

The customer decision quest

Perhaps a better name for the customer purchase cycle is the customer decision quest. After all, isn’t the process of investigating, comparing and selecting a vendor for a specific initiative really a quest—a journey to reach a specific goal? 

The customer decision quest is the complete set of efforts taken by the customer to explore, consider, identify, and decide to invest in the acquisition and relationships required to achieve the desired goal.

One thing is certain: there is no guaranteed cycle involved here. The customer may or may not choose to repeat the journey. And if they start a new quest, there’s no guarantee that they have not changed the goals, the processes, or the criteria for buying. Assuming that the quest will be repeated with predictable parameters is potentially a great miscalculation that could prove fatal.

Unless, of course, you’re selling cereal.