The core logic of the conventional sales approach is that if a brand is sufficiently different and better than competitors’ brands, consumers will come to prefer it, and actively seek it out for purchase.
But it very often doesn’t work out that way.
Customer Buying Process
Every customer goes through some type of buying process before purchasing a product or a service. They may talk to friends who’ve already bought the product. They may visit stores and sample the product. They may look up information about the product or service on the internet. They may articulate and debate the pros and cons of the product. Sometimes their buying process is lengthy, involving multiple activities and iterations. Other times it’s short and simple.
Focus on Decisive Actions
But in every customer’s process, there’s an action that decisively shapes which product or service they ultimately purchase. By visiting one type of store instead of another, they end up considering only a subset of available brands. By talking to a friend—instead of researching a product on the internet—they’re convinced of the merits of one brand over another. Having set out with a notion of buying brand X, some activity—the visit to the convenience store instead of the grocery store, the internet research instead of the talk with a friend—puts them onto a different path, one that ends in the purchase of brand Y.
A Comprehensive Approach
The Organic Growth Playbook (OGP) is built around this important insight. It lays out an approach you can use to change the behavior of customers at critical places in their buying process, thereby shifting them onto paths that favor the purchase of your product or service instead of a competitor’s.
When your team can impact what customers do during the key phases of the buying process, sales can grow much faster, and with less effort.
The OGP follows the structure of the four-step conventional approach. It calls segmenting your market, prioritizing and targeting just a few of those segments, developing a value proposition for each target segment, and designing offers and promotional activities around those value propositions.
The OGP Difference
Where the OGP differs is in the content of those steps, in how the market is segmented and value propositions developed. Its focus is on customer behaviors rather than product. When you segment, target, position, and promote around high-yield behaviors in the buyer’s decision-making process rather than focusing on product positioning, you can boost your growth rates by 1.5 to 2 times—and count on doing so reliably. But if you continue to center your growth planning on product positioning—as the classic approach dictates—you’ll continue to struggle or fail more often than not.
We certainly didn’t set out to create something radical when we began working with our clients to help them drive organic growth for their product and services. Initially, we just wanted to help them produce better results with the conventional process. Time and time again, however, we saw smart, skilled, highly motivated business managers follow the classic approach only to see their growth plans fall short. Over time, we realized that the reason the classic approach failed to generate growth lay, ironically, in its most critical assumption: that once a product is favorably differentiated in a customer’s mind—once they’ve been convinced they like a certain product—they’re going to buy it.
Product Positioning is Not Enough
In reality, what we observed in market after market was that customers who said they understood and preferred one product’s positioning very often bought some other product.
Why? Because something they did or saw or experienced during the buying process made the other, initially less well-positioned product a better choice in that situation.
Literally, the influence of who they were with, where they could locate a product, or the order in which they looked at products on the internet, shifted their path through the buying process in a way that led them away from purchasing an initially-preferred product toward a completely different product.
The point? Even when customers find a product’s positioning clear, distinct, and desirable, they often don’t buy it. In effect, great product positioning is a necessary condition for growth, but it’s not sufficient in and of itself to drive growth. To drive sales growth reliably and rapidly, it’s essential to focus relentlessly on shaping the way the customer proceeds through the whole buying process—and not simply on its very last step.
It was working out the logical and practical implications of this seemingly straightforward insight—to accelerate sales growth in strongly competing markets, teams must change pre-purchase customer behaviors—that we found a way to summarize the new approach in a set of five principles.
Five Guiding Principles
Principle 1: Map the buying process waterfall
Principle 2: Use propensity-based segmentation
Principle 3: Unearth the critical drivers and barriers of the target behavior
Principle 4: Develop a behavior change value proposition
Principle 5: Invest disproportionately
The five principles are summarized in the table below.
Bernard Jaworski is the co-author of "The Organic Growth Playbook: Activate High-Yield Behaviors To Achieve Extraordinary Results—Every Time" along with Robert S. Lurie. He is the Peter F. Drucker Chair in Management and the Liberal Arts, which is named in honor of Peter Drucker, the founder of modern management and the namesake of the Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University. The professorship is awarded to an internationally recognized scholar who carries on the Drucker legacy of tempering sound business practices with a commitment to social responsibility.