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The Dragon Unslain: Churn, Buyer-As-Hero™, and F∆ Narratives

You recognize the 3 types of churn to the point that you can recite their symptoms in your sleep. You’ve considered the importance of your buyer’s story to churn so often it dominates your every waking moment. You’ve hovered your cursor over the link to the Buyer-As-Hero™ Toolkit fully intending to click it – and maybe even peeked at it - but you have yet to take the plunge. You know you need to see your buyer as a hero; you’re committed to the cause, but you’re still not sure where to begin. How do you take Buyer-as-Hero™ from the abstract to the concrete. How do you stop planning how to get ahead of churn and start actually doing it? And what does it all really mean anyway?

Typical buyer-as-hero attempting to make a purchase

The Power of Myth 

Let’s determine how to make churn analysis start working for you, and what mindset you need before you start approaching your next buyer.

Joseph Campbell was an American literary theorist most famous for his theory on the Hero’s Journey: the path mythological heroes often travel in the course of their narrative journeys. The path is metaphorical rather than literal. It lays out all the story ‘steps’ a hero might take in a traditional European tale: the Call to Adventure, Crossing the Threshold, Transformation, the Heroic Return, and so on. Campbell’s work was extremely influential in Hollywood, shaping the dominant structure for movies in the second half of the twentieth century. Eventually, his Hero’s Journey crossed over into the business world. 

You’ve likely heard of the Buyer’s Journey, often mapped out in the stages of Awareness, Consideration, and Decision. Mapping the buyer’s journey has become increasingly common in recent years: reframing the abstractions of a sales process as a story is a great way to provide clarity, but the standard Buyer’s Journey has always felt too simplistic for our tastes It lacks nuance, it lacks flexibility, and - perhaps most importantly - it lacks the things that make a narrative interesting.

Let’s use an example.

The Tedious Tale

Before purchasing my product, my Buyer:

  • Grew aware of my product
  • Considered making a purchase
  • Decided my product was the right fit

Then they bought it. Then they used it. And so my company profited.

The End.

Is that a narrative? Yes. Is it particularly insightful or illuminating narrative? Probably not. Is it interesting? No. It says nothing about the challenges a buyer has faced - internal conflict, external conflict, or any kind of motivation on the buyer’s part beyond ‘they want to buy something.’

In short, it’s a bad story - and it’s also a pretty worthless tool for learning anything valuable about a buyer’s real needs, either before a sale or afterwards. In other words: it lacks insight.

Understanding your buyer’s real story is what drives Buyer-As-Hero™. Breaking away from the ‘buyer wants to buy something’ narrative is a key first step - not just because it’s a boring story, but because it’s genuinely false.

What Buyers Want

No buyer simply wants to buy something. Even the worst shopaholic has more justifications for their purchase than the simple impulse to spend money. A corporate buyer - who usually has to answer to a lot of people - is no different. Every buyer who comes looking for your product is a person who wants to make a change. Maybe they’re not getting the support they need from their current supplier; maybe the feature set of their current software isn’t meeting their needs; maybe they’re new on the scene and have a technology gap that needs filling. Whatever the reason, it is fueled by the change, by the overriding need for change - we call this the fundamental change, or F∆.

F∆ fuels a buying decision, but it is also the impetus for churn. Obviously you don’t have to understand a buyer’s F∆ in order to win with a sale: after all, if you are new to BAH you’ve been making sales without knowing what an F∆ even is. to do that for years but have still make sales. But churn, as we’ve stressed more than once, always happens for a reason - and most of the time that reason is that your product failed to achieve the desired F∆.* Your buyer thought your product could help them achieve that fundamental change - but it didn’t. Sometimes that’s just due to poor fit, but often it isn’t.

This is where customer success becomes key: in a churn situation like Failure to Thrive or Green Churn, by not understanding what it is your buyer really needs to achieve, your CS team failed to optimize onboarding to meet the F∆ challenge head-on, or they failed to follow-up post-onboarding to make sure that the product was being used most effectively. Put simply: churn occurs because customer success isn’t achieving customer success. Have you ever had a meeting with a CS manager and present them with an issue, only to have the CS manager focus more on teaching you about a flashy new feature or try an upsell? It’s maddening - and it’s a leading cause of churn.

[*The most notable exception, of course, is churn that happens when a company suddenly goes under - no software, no matter how good, can maintain a subscription when the subscriber ceases to exist. Well… not yet, anyway.]

Buyer-As-Hero is a window onto a buyer's true struggle


Let’s to go back to the idea of story. Imagine a hero, who has braved many trials, brought an army to the foot of the mountain where an evil dragon lives - only to have the army obsess about a dark sorcerer who might one day arise in a distant land, and wander off to go prepare for that potential hypothetical instead. That’s a failure to understand the hero’s F∆ in a nutshell. Your buyer needed to slay a dragon and bought an army to do it, but all you did was promote the army’s ability to slay sorcerers. Is it any wonder your buyer ditches you for something else? You were likely able to solve their problem, but you didn’t commit to doing it.

Granted, F∆ stories are usually more mundane than saving the world. But failing to help a customer thrive, or failing to grasp what a customer needs to thrive, are all gateways to churn. If you don’t know your buyer’s story, you don’t know where they are headed, nor why. You don’t know what it will really take to make them thrive - and you certainly don’t have a plan to help them. Until you start learning what your buyer is really thinking, and what fundamental change they seek, churn is going to be lapping at your heels. At any moment, a wave of it might drown you.

And that’s not a very pleasant story.



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