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Disregarding the type of business you run, or the industry you’re in, you should probably be aware of what the buying process is & how to take advantage of it.
What is the Customer Buying Process?
In terms of marketing, many companies will put all of their energy and resources into the purchase itself. This is often a mistake because the customer has an entire process they will go through before they ever buy anything from you.
In fact, 70-90 percent of the buying process will happen prior to ever engaging with your company.
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Anyway ... sorry for the interruption! Let's resume the rest of the article.
Every time a customer makes a purchase they go through a certain thought process. Even when they are making an “impulse buy” the customer will still go through the stages of the buying process.
Understanding the buying process is important for your team and will help you design a better sales strategy.
The 6 Stages of the Customer Buying Process
When a customer is considering a purchase that is more expensive or requires some kind of monthly commitment they will usually spend more time thinking about it. They may want to research different options, talk to a friend or family member about it, and weigh the pros and cons of going through with the sale.
In business, this process is often portrayed as a sales funnel with more and more people dropping off as they move further into the funnel.
At each point during this process, the customer will go through a specific thought pattern. To help your customer follow through with the sale, you must understand what their needs are at each point.
Let’s look at the six stages of the buying process below:
Stage #1: Problem Recognition
This is the most important step in the decision process because your customer has to realize they need your product before a purchase can take ever place. This presents you with both the opportunity and the challenge of identifying with your customer. The best strategy is to articulate their problem in your marketing efforts.
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Anyway ... we'll continue from where we left off above.
With traditional marketing or PR, this can be done through advertising: having an ad that explains what the customer’s problem is, and how the product or service can solve it.
With any online business, on the other hand, the best way to influence the “problem recognition” stage is through content marketing. With the right content, you could identify with your audience, articulate their needs, and offer helpful resources and tools.
Stage #2: Information Search
Now the customer will begin searching for information to help them find the best solution to their problem. Most people will immediately turn to friends, family members, and colleagues for recommendations.
While you can’t really talk the above-mentioned friends or family members into endorsing your product, there are several things you could do.
- Focusing on the Product – If your product is really good, people are going to start being your brand advocates, and you won’t even have to pay them!
- Build Authority – This one’s pretty generic, and translates into regular marketing. It could mean working on your company web presence, for example, so that it’s easy for your customers to find you and learn more about your product.
- Reviews & Partnerships – Other than friends and family, there’s something else that’s extremely helpful in influencing decision-making: the influencers. Establishing connections with experts in your field (or bloggers, review websites, etc.) will help you stand out.
Stage #3: Evaluation of Alternatives
Although some people will come to a quick decision, most customers will not settle for the first solution they find. They will evaluate several different options and the possible benefits or drawbacks to each. And even if your company has the best product to meet their needs, they still may decide to go with someone else.
So, the one thing you could do at this stage is to offer a lot more value than your competition & communicate that with your customers. This can be easier in some industries (software, for example, where you can add more powerful features), but hard in others (consumer goods. Who looks at the brand of their toilet paper, anyway?)
Stage #4: Purchase Decision
Once the customer has explored their options they will make a decision about whether or not to move forward with the purchase. Yes, even though they have reached the middle of the buying process they could still choose to walk away.
At this point, customers need a sense of security. They also needed to be reminded of the problem that brought them here in the first place.
And if a customer does decide to walk away this is the best point in the process to bring them back. Depending on your industry, this could be a simple email reminder, for example (“hey, you were interested in out software!”).
Stage #5: Purchase
At this stage, you want to make it as easy as possible for your customers to buy from you. Does your website load too slowly? Can they order from their phone just as easily as on a desktop? These are questions you should consider.
The customer already decided that they want to do business with you – you don’t want to make it hard for them. Let’s say if your payment processing software is being laggy, they might just decide to ditch and go to your competitor!
Stage #6: Post-Purchase Evaluation
You may think you are in the clear now but your work doesn’t end after the customer makes their purchase! Customers will evaluate their purchase based on previous expectations and decide whether or not they are satisfied. If they’re not happy with your product, they’ll just never use it again – and everyone knows that recurring customers are much better than those buying just once.
Or it could end up going even worse, with the customer asking for their money back.
Depending on how you handle this situation, the customer will react differently. If you put their concerns at ease & even make them feel better, they’re much more likely to come back or even refer their friends. Or, if you treat them wrong, you’re never going to see them (or their friends) again.
There are a couple of ways to work with this stage…
- Good Customer Service – being able to talk to your customers & help them use their product can take you a long way.
- Follow-Up Emails, Survey – showing the customer that you care about their experience is a pleasant experience on its own.
- Fair Treatment – sometimes, the product might just end up not being what the customer is looking for. If you treat them with respect & offer a refund, they’re more likely to come back for a different purchase. If you shut them down, they’re lost forever.
Hopefully, these six steps have given you a better understanding of the thought process that goes into making a purchase. They can be extremely helpful if used as a framework to analyze your customer’s thinking, and then use what you learn in combination with other marketing efforts.
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