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The Nonlinear Path to B2B Purchases: Progression vs. Completion


In the ever-evolving world of marketing and sales, understanding the customer's buying journey has been a perennial topic of discussion. For years, we've tried to map out the steps a customer takes before making a purchase. Traditionally, this journey was viewed as a linear progression: Awareness, Consideration, Preference, and Purchase. However, as we'll explore in this blog post, the reality is far more complex.

The Supplier-Centric Perspective

Initially, the typical model of the customer's buying journey was supplier-centric. It was more about our awareness, our consideration, and our preference. This approach, though widely used, had its limitations.

The Evolution of Customer-Centric Mapping

Over the past decade, the focus has shifted towards understanding the journey from the customer's perspective. Instead of viewing it as a linear path, we've started to think of it as a series of "jobs to be done," drawing inspiration from the works of thought leaders like Bob Moesta and Clayton Christensen.

The Four Critical Buying Jobs

In this new framework, there are four critical buying jobs that customers need to complete for a B2B purchase:

  1. Problem Identification
  2. Solution Exploration
  3. Requirements Building
  4. Supplier Selection

This perspective allows us to gain a deeper understanding of the customer's journey. Customers often revisit these jobs, creating loops rather than a straightforward progression.

The Concept of "Looping"

Customers don't move through their buying journey in a linear fashion. Instead, they "loop" back to previous jobs, reevaluating and reassessing their needs. In fact, studies have shown that over three-quarters of customers revisit each of these buying jobs during the purchase process.

The Spaghetti Bowl Graphic

Source: Gartner

This nonlinear journey is illustrated by what we affectionately call the "spaghetti bowl" graphic. It depicts the convoluted path that customers take, with circles, arrows, and paragraphs showing the constant revisiting of different stages.

Challenging the Linear Perception

While our human perception of time is linear, the customer's journey is not. So, when does the purchase journey actually end? It's not a simple answer. The purchase occurs when customers feel sufficiently satisfied that they've completed all the buying jobs, reaching a specific satisfaction threshold.

Measuring Progression vs. Completion

This realization prompts an important question: Are we measuring progression or completion? Shifting our focus from tracking steps in a process to filling up these "jobs" enables us to better understand the customer's journey. It also helps us predict when a purchase may happen or when it might not occur.


In the realm of B2B purchases, the journey isn't as straightforward as we once believed. It's not a linear progression but a series of jobs to be completed. Understanding this shift from progression to completion can revolutionize the way we approach customer buying journeys. By aligning our strategies with this perspective, we can better anticipate customer behavior and, ultimately, drive more successful B2B sales.

So, remember, it's not about taking steps forward; it's about completing jobs.

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