Digging the Purchase Story for Gold

Last week’s article introduced the interview technique and the timeline diagram, crucial to understand the real circumstances which caused the person to purchase your product. With the interview technique, you’re digging for the job they hired your product to do.

The Timeline Diagram helps you, the interviewer, make sure you’ve covered everything about the story.

In every purchase story, there is:

  1. a First Thought, which is the point in time when the idea of changing the status quo first occurred for the buyer;
  2. the Purchase event, and;
  3. the Two Main Events (and there are usually two distinct events) which continue to propel the buyer in advancing toward the purchase.

The Timeline Diagram illustrates the parts of the story leading up to the purchase: the first thought, the two main events and finally, the purchase.

The Two Main Events Are Switching Moments

In every story where there was some deliberation before the purchase (some back-and-forth in the buyer’s mind), two distinct events will mark the progression toward the purchase. Your job as the interviewer is to single those two events out.

Let’s play out a purchase story real quick:

  • Susan had the First Thought that her current situation was no longer working. But she didn’t really do anything about it. She was just passively looking for some other alternative, but the thought had been planted.
  • Then came some event (Event #1), and that sparked her to start to do something about her tensions. She started actively looking for that thing that would solve her problem. She found a few leads, but there were things about them which weren’t right. Life pulled her back to reality. Solutions tabled.
  • Until there was that second event (Event #2), and now there was a sense that she needed to make a decision. There was some sense of urgency or some other emotion. Maybe it was a keen interest to get it over with, to want to go through with the decision. Something cascaded her into making a decision to go through with it.
  • So she did. She went ahead with the purchase.

In short, each event marks a moment where there’s a switch (in the mind of the buyer) from one phase to the next:

Event #1 makes the buyer switch from Passive-looking to Active-looking. Event #2 makes the buyer switch from Active-looking to Deciding.

  • The First Thought engages the buyer in the Passive-looking phase
  • Event #1 pushes the buyer to switch from Passive-looking to Active-looking
  • Event #2 pushes the buyer to switch from Active-looking to Deciding
  • The Purchase switches the buyer from Deciding to Consuming. And overall, the Purchase is the moment where the buyer switches from her old situation to the new situation with the product/solution having been acquired.

The Gold is Found in the Motivations

What caused someone to go from passive-looking to active-looking? Was it some sort of reminder? Was it a meeting with someone, a conversation, a new piece of news? What made them switch from active-looking to deciding?

That’s where the Four Forces of Progress come in handy. These forces (the Struggle, the Attraction, the Anxieties and the Habits) are pushing and pulling the buyer into either advancing or receding in the momentum toward solving the problem. And the forces are at play throughout the story.

Cataloguing these forces is digging for the emotions, the rationalizing, and the internal dialogue of the person. It’s digging to find the buyer’s motivations. And motivations will help uncover the real job the buyer hired the product to do.

In a previous article documenting the Purchase Interview I made of a friend who bought a $450 pair of winter boots, digging for the motivations helped understand that he had hired those boots to concentrate his thoughts on his career, and not on being an expert in winter. He hired the company which showed him they knew enough about winter and cared enough about craftsmanship so that we could confidently delegate the winter stuff to this company so he could concentrate on his work throughout winter with a single choice of boot to wear, regardless of the weather.

Cataloguing the motivations at different times throughout the story, finding those key events: finding these details helped replay the important in-the-moment micro-decisions, and understand the core cause of the purchase.

After a few interviews, some patterns will emerge through the stories. You’ll be able to formulate some job statements (when I … I look to … so I can …).

All that will help solidify, add confidence to, and clarify, your understanding of what your product is hired to do. That will make it easier for you to write the product messaging, determine which features to invest in building for the next iteration, deciding whether to make an offshoot product or to double-down on your main idea.

Stay Sharp!

Pssst. Curious how an interview plays out? It’s roughly a 50-minute conversation, and if you’ve got a recent buyer of your product who’s up for it, or if you yourself have purchased something recently and want to be interviewed, send me an email and we’ll setup the call.


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