time-machineEvery customer wants a happy ending.  For them that happy ending looks like a delightful buying experience followed by a purchase that meets their needs and exceeds their expectations.  As a business you want happy endings too.  And if you’re smart, you want the exact same happy endings your customers do. However, many smart marketers at good companies have reason enough to question this premise.

 The Buyer Legends process will ensure that you can plan, execute, and optimize as many happy endings as possible.

When planning a customer experience it seems the logical place to start is at the beginning of the experience. But when you start there you are presented with unlimited opportunities to get you to the end, that is unwieldy. The beginning is also the point where you and the customer are the most disconnected.  The most effective way to plan your customer experience is by starting at the happy ending and working your way backwards.  It is reverse engineering a successful customer experience.

In my last article I gave you the ins and out of the pre-mortem, now we move on to the next step, the reverse chronology outline.  In this part of the process you will be required to list every detailed step of your customers buying journey as well as their decision making processes along the way.

Most customer experiences are not planned, and to the extent that they are, they are typically some sort of conversion or sales funnel with the steps the customer must take plotted out in linear fashion. Rarely do real sales scenarios occur in this neat progression.  In addition, the sales/conversion funnel metaphor is broken, it seems to assume that some sort of natural force like gravity is pulling your customers from the top to the bottom.  Instead of gravity, what your customer needs is persuasive momentum to move her forward in the buying process.  Persuasive momentum unlike gravity, is not a given or a constant.  That’s why, when done properly, your reverse chronology will infuse persuasive momentum into every step of your customers journey.  It will also take into account any friction in the buying process and help engineer ways to reduce and smooth it out.

What is a Reverse Chronology Outline

 From the Buyer Legends book

Outline the story using reverse chronology; start from the end of the story and work backwards. This reverse chronology process will:

  1. Ensure your legend ends in success.
  2. Emphasize cause-and-effect more effectively than forward chronology, as it will be harder to “fake” or rely upon momentum. Simply by thinking backwards you will naturally be more thorough in defining the actions and reasoning why your customer has taken each step on their journey.
  3. Allow you to see and consider alternate, branching paths from your Pre-Mortem list and build in whatever interventions and detours might be needed.

You will want to reverse chronologies for each persona you have. I’ll be writing about personas in more depth in a future article.

As You Begin Writing Your Reverse Chronology

The first questions you must answer to get started is, what do you want the end of the story to be?  I encourage you, if possible, to go a bit further than the mere act of the customer completing the transaction.  Start with the customer being delighted with the product they just bought and work backwards from there.

To begin you simply list the steps the customer is taking, and why they are taking those steps.  And of course, start at that happy ending, and work backwards.

The mere fact that you are writing this backwards will stimulate a different perspective as you begin to imagine the event/thoughts/feeling that must occur to propel the customer to step you previously outlined.  Often times you may list some of the major events and realize that you missed something in between, in that case just go back in and fill in the details

Details matter here.  In fiction, you can selectively skip some of the mundane details and in an instant your main character who was on Riverboat on the Mississippi  is now in Cleveland wearing a sombrero with no details on how he got there.  You can’t skip how he got there in your reverse chronology, every detail must be accounted for. Without those details you’ll lose your ability to measure and optimize your Buyer Legends.

Often times we’ve seen clients neglect listing the reasons why customers are taking action and only list the actions themselves.  This is a gigantic mistake.  Transferring the understanding  of the  customer’s mindset and intent to the entire team is critical to the Buyer Legends process, and if you don’t list it in the reverse chronology, that intent won’t make it into the Buyer Legend itself. That will cripple your execution.

Every step of the outline is either a cause or effect in the story.  To get a better idea of how to think about how your outline reads watch a video Matt Stone and Trey Parker of South Park fame explain the difference between a bad and good story.  What you’ll learn is why “and then” vs “therefore” and/or “But”  make the difference between a good and bad reverse chronology. Buyer journeys are rarely a linear progression.

Your pre-mortem plays a key role in informing steps in your outline.  Imagine how to overcome these problems and then weave them into your outline.  As you work backwards you will find natural and common sense places where these items will seem to fit.  Before you know it you are creating relevant and exciting steps that will enhance your customer’s experience.

Two Reverse Chronology Examples

We crafted two reverse chronologies one is e commerce and the other lead gen, notice how the above elements are present and how we used them.

Example #1 eCommerce

  1. Feeling proud Jenny takes a picture of her new bag and posts it on Facebook and Pinterest (Notice how she shares her happy ending with friends?)
  2. Jenny removes the backpack from the box, she thinks is it’s even more impressive than the website picture showed.
  3. Jenny opens the shipping box with relative ease
  4. As Jenny arrives home she sees the package on her front door, It must have arrived a few days before the website estimated, she hadn’t been tracking the shipment. (The company likes to beat estimated shipping times as much as possible)
  5. A few hours later, Jenny receives the shipping notification
  6. Jenny receives the order confirmation, she checks it and flags the email for easy reference
  7. She feels comfortable everything is correct, Jenny places the order. She can’t wait for her bag to arrive.
  8. As Jenny arrives on the final screen of the checkout, she double checks the  product and all her information, she is thankful there is a zoomable thumbnail
  9. Jenny enters her billing and shipping information, taking note of point of action assurances and secure checkout(The Pre-mortem suggested that Jenny is nervous about identity theft)
  10. Jenny clicks around on the site a bit more but decides there is nothing else she needs or wants and clicks the checkout button
  11. Jenny adds the backpack to her cart
  12. Jenny watches a video of someone demonstrating the bag and all it’s features and benefits. (Notice how we are creating opportunities for creative to produce relevant content that will directly impact sales)
  13. Jenny looks at all the gallery of photos for the back, and gets a sense of all the compartments. There are also several models that are wearing the backpack and this gives her
  14. She also notices free shipping for items of $100, the backpack she is purchasing qualifies
  15. Jenny sees that this particular bag comes in the exact color/design she likes
  16. She reads the description thoroughly, and notices the price while still a little pricier than her last backpack, but it still seems like a value.
  17. She clicks on a link in the article that takes her to the product page of that backpack
  18. As she reads the article she becomes intrigued by one style backpack in particular
  19. Jenny finds an article from a major tech magazine “Reader’s Choice, Best Laptop Backpacks”
  20. Jenny does a Google search, “best laptop backpacks 2015”

Example #1 B2B SaaS

  1. He is excited to start scouting locations and using IdealSpot.com
  2. Mark fills out a form that asks for his name and email and password, he clicks Join and creates an IdealSpot account.  (This is a conversion point that will be measured)
  3. Marks sees that his privacy will be protected.
  4. He clicks on the Get Started button, it explains to him the cost of each report, that he is setting up an account that will allow him to enter potential locations and request as many or as few reports as needed. He does not need a credit card right now.
  5. Mark is sold and wants to try IdealSpot. Still believing the pricing is too good to be true Mark reads a section on the pricing page that explains how big data and learning algorithms dramatically reduce the cost of research allowing them to offer high value analysis and disruptive prices.
  6. Mark wants to get a sense of a track record and he goes to the Success Stories page and reads a handful of stories from Ideal Spot clients who are having early success, he realizes that IdealSpot is a startup and their long term track record is not as established as it could be, but the low introductory price of $197 removes this barrier in his mind.  (As a start-up their lack of undocumented long term success with their service is non-existent, and the pre-mortem identified this as a potential problem)
  7. Mark reads about the algorithm and how the data is loaded for each location, and how the the clientele used to predict success are chosen based on competitors and his type of business.  He see this is similar, even superior to the methods used by much more expensive location research alternatives. This information is exactly what Mark needed to hear about IdealSpot. (Notice how we are explaining his mind set as he moves through the outline)
  8. Mark clicks through to the the IdealSpot.com “How Does it Work” page.
  9. He reads about how big data is able to spot success patterns.  It explains that  most location analyses “hits the wall”  when people become involved (and consultants like Buxton) and spend time and money collecting piles of data, but then have no way to relate it to success or failure of their business, and this is where big data and learning algorithms inject science into the process by mining through the data to pick out those patterns of success or failure and the key factors driving those patterns. The algorithms act without human bias; they start from scratch and come up with a model that is unique for each business and based purely on results.
  10. Mark clicks on a link to a re-targeted blog post while he is on Linked in, the subject line “How Science and Big Data Are Changing the Ways Businesses Choose New Locations.
  11. Mark, who is familiar with similar services and has spend tens of thousands on this type of research had looked into IdealSpot, he went to the website but didn’t get past the first page.  His concern is that it will be just a whole bunch of computer collated data with very little holistic insight into his needs as a business.  In other words it sounds too automated to be of real world use. (Mark is solution aware, see below)

 What else you learn from a reverse chronology

You can see in these reverse chronologies also provide a list of content that needs to be created.  Even more the reverse chronology also reflects items from the pre-mortem and that often identifies a need for powerful content that most companies haven’t even considered. This is a powerful Content Marketing planning technique.

Your reverse chronology is the girder and frame of your Buyer Legend.  The more time you spend on details here, the less time you will spend on execution cycles.  This is also the step that takes major decisions about the customer experience out of the hands of low level employees and places them on stakeholders themselves. It also helps to keep it out of the HIPPOs hands as well.

The Reverse Chronology also begins to document the actions you anticipate your customers to take, so we are beginning to build-in an accountability structure that can be measured and optimized.

Other things to consider in your Reverse Chronology

Not to make things more complex, but it is helpful to keep in mind both buying stage and the complexity of the sale you are trying to make.

Five Buying Stages

You have to realize that every customer is different and his level of awareness will also be different. The amount of persuasion your customers need will depend on their level of awareness. According to famous direct response copywriter, Gene Schwartz, there are five levels of awareness (as described in his book Breakthrough Advertising) –

  1. The Most Aware: Customer is fully aware on the product, only wants to know the ‘deal’.
  2. Product-Aware: Customer knows what you sell but unsure if it’s right for him.
  3. Solution-Aware: Customer knows what results he wants, not sure if your product can provide him that.
  4. Problem-Aware: Customer realizes his problem area but doesn’t have the solution.
  5. Completely Unaware: Customer has no knowledge but has his own opinion and identity.

Four Elements of Sales Complexity

Understanding the  complexity of your sale is critical to your understanding of what the customer needs along their buying journey.

I. Knowledge-  How difficult is it for folks to understand the nature of your product or service, or the procedures for buying?

What do they need to know? Your persuasive process must eliminate the friction generated by confusion or lack of knowledge. Knowledge dimensions for the buying decision can differ based on who is doing the buying: is the customer buying for herself (she will be the end user) or is she buying on behalf of another (as in the case of a purchasing agent)? The knowledge assumptions and language – especially jargon – that work for one may be totally inappropriate for the other.

II. Need- How urgent is the need for your product or service?

How fast are folks likely to make their decisions to buy? Will the need be satisfied by a one-time purchase (either impulsive or momentous) or is the need on-going? Folks might be willing to compromise their thoroughness for a casual one-time deal. But if that one-time deal is something like a house, or if they are choosing a long-term relationship to satisfy an on-going need, things get significantly more complicated.

III. Risk. How risky, especially with respect to issues of finance or self esteem, is the sale?

While price may not be an ultimate decision factor in a purchase (for many, safety and trust trump price), increasing financial risk necessitates a more intricate persuasive structure. Risk may also be associated with compromises to health, as when individuals or medical professionals have to make treatment choices. Or even, for that matter, when someone simply evaluates the safety of an herbal remedy.

IV. Consensus. Just how many people do you have to persuade?

An individual? An individual and her significant other? Several end-users and heads-of-department? Your ability to understand who is involved in the decision-making process allows you to provide copy and content that appropriately informs, reassures and persuades.

How many reverse chronologies do I need to write?

Finally, as you use Buyer Legends to plan customer experiences you will quickly find that you can envision so many more reverse chronologies especially when you consider all the ways and places a customer can touch your brand.  As a good rule of thumb start with your major channels, optimize them, and then get to smaller ones.

We encourage you to try this for yourself, but if you need help , please let us know.

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P.S. This is the second in a series of Buyer Legends Recipe Posts, please sign up to our newsletter for updates.

Jeffrey Eisenberg (33 Posts)

Jeffrey Eisenberg, is the CEO of BuyerLegends.com, a company that teaches business people how to create customer-centered, data-driven customer experience design that is supported by narrative.   Together with brother and partner Bryan Eisenberg , co-authored “Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?” and "Call To Action" both Wall Street Journal and New York Times bestselling books. Since 1998 they have trained and advised companies like like HP, Google, GE Healthcare, Overstock, NBC Universal, Orvis and Edmunds to implement accountable digital marketing strategies emphasizing optimization of revenue conversion rates for engagements, leads, subscriptions, and sales.   Jeffrey is also a thought provoking marketing speaker who also speaks Spanish with native fluency.


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