After a conversation with my colleague Lori Wizdo the other day about buyer journey mapping, she followed up by sharing the following cartoon – which I thought was perfect:

Perfect because it captured both our perspectives on the topic: Lori’s that buyer journeys are by their very nature hypothetical; and mine that you can never anticipate every buyer’s possible path to purchase.

This is not to say that buyer journey mapping is a futile exercise – or that the way to deal with its limitations is to ensure that your customers stay on the paths you’ve laid out for them, as appealing (and humorously absurd) as that reaction may be for all marketers.

As Lori pointed out in a recent blog post, you need to understand your buyer’s typical path to purchase to build an effective omnichannel marketing strategy that successfully engages with buyers at the right time with the right content through the right channel.

But be realistic in your goals and recognize that you will never be able to anticipate every possible buyer journey. When large companies with a wide range of solutions are documenting dozens, if not hundreds, of discrete paths to purchase, it’s too easy to get lost in the process and proceed well past the point of diminishing returns. 

This is why I’d recommend that you also consider the buyer archetypes that Lori developed as part of her groundbreaking Go-To-Customer research. These four buyer archetypes – procurer, improver, transformer, and reactor – provide a helpful lens through which to see the specific types of journeys your typical buyers will follow, based on the nature of your offerings and the unique motivations of your buyers. Armed with these insights, you can focus your efforts on optimizing the content, channel, and engagement options to offer in the critical set of journeys that you know will meet the needs of the vast majority of your buyers.

But what about all those other buyers who choose a path you have not anticipated? You can ensure they find the content they need and engage with your company when and how they prefer by embedding self-service solutions for content discovery and opt-in engagement tools throughout your website. My upcoming report on self-service research will provide more details on how to do this. Watch this space!