What Is the Customer-Buying Process?
The customer buying process is the thought process that potential customers go through in today’s marketing world. While this process is constantly changing and evolving, we have identified five solid points that customers go through before making a purchase.
What Is the First Step of the Customer-Buying Process?
Customers first need to figure out that they need something. How they come to identify this need can be very simple or it can be very complex. Maybe they are triggered by a problem that they feel can be solved by a product or service, or there has been a shifting dynamic in their lives, or this need arises from suggestive marketing they are exposed to. The length of the process will be determined by either the simplicity or the complexity of the issue they are facing.
Customers, at times, are in denial that they have a need and may stay in the identification process for quite a while. Personal or sensitive needs, such as mental health or nutrition counseling, can cause a long pause in this process until they can come to terms with the depth of the need. So really, the process can be lengthy or it can be as quick, such as an impulse purchase.
How Can Businesses Initiate the Customer-Buying Process?
The customer buying process is more of a journey than a destination. As a company, you can decide if your marketing is going to be part of identifying the problem, instigating the identification process, and providing research that moves them into the purchasing phase.
Overall, the goal is to be part of that journey. With effective marketing that has a clear target audience and needs in mind, businesses can help individuals move from the identification phase to the research phase — which is a really effective way to gain trust and a loyal customer.
What Is the Research Phase of the Customer-Buying Process?
The research phase is often the longest phase a customer goes through when considering a potential purchase, especially if it’s a very high-priced item or a very complex issue.
Customers often begin the research phase by reading blogs, reviews, articles, and other resources to help them gain information on the issue or need they are facing. Customers are looking to see which companies are out there that offer the services they are looking for and who stands out to them and intrigues them to investigate further.
One of the most important parts of this process is the transparency of your company and the ability that your website has to remove any barriers between you and your potential customer. If you have your barriers set up or torn down correctly, you’re able to help people self-vet themselves, which means they can determine if they are ready to move forward to the next step of the process with your business.
It saves a lot of time for everyone when customers have the information they need to quickly decide whether to either engage with or move past you and get to a company that is offering specifically what they are looking for. By providing new leads with detailed information on your website that would be the same type of answers to questions that you’d give on the phone, you can streamline the process and gain a huge advantage over your competitors.
Researching is the most thrilling step for us, as it is the cornerstone of The Beacon Way. When your site offers top-notch research, comparison options, and credibility within your industry, it shows customers that they can trust you. Additionally, removing barriers by providing helpful information through blogs or other resources keeps those connections and boosts your reputation with potential customers.
While potential customers are in the research phase, they are not only educating themselves, they are creating a connection with you. The cultivation of that connection is critical to helping them stay with you once they move out of research and into the next phase, evaluation. You’re already higher on their list once they enter the evaluation phase because you have met them where they were and provided helpful information for them.
What Are Some Ways To Cultivate Connection in the Research Phase?
Potential customers will have a suite of questions that they want answers to, and if you’re meeting them there every time, that’s a huge win. For instance, you may have a blog post, an article, or a post on social media that identifies and answers your question. By being the one to first address their need, you’ve just placed yourself in a strategic position to be at the top of their evaluation matrix.
A massive hack for small businesses is to gain momentum on the advertising money spent by large corporations by being the one in the market that provides answers, highlighting to your potential customer that you are a local expert with personal service. This adds tremendous value to the online marketplace. Small businesses can have a super small marketing budget but kill it in the research phase by being the one who provides the information the potential customer is looking for.
Statistics show that 93% of consumers will immediately go to Google and look up the item they are interested in, and if your content for that item is on point, they will be more likely to choose you over the big company. This may take a little more time and be considered a little bit of a slow burn, but once you spend the time and invest in getting the content out there, it will continue to win for you over and over again. It is an investment on the front end that pays big dividends in the long run.
What Tricky Spaces Do Businesses Need To Consider When Moving Through These Phases With Potential Customers?
Yes, absolutely. The tone is incredibly important when it comes to how potential customers interact with your brand. One tactic we’ve mentioned to help move an individual through the first cycles of the buying process is to identify possible problems. However, if your presentation of these issues is negative, rather than forge new connections, you may actually turn away potential clients.
However, if done well, this strategy can also turn out brilliantly. For example, Steve Jobs, the previous owner of Apple, is a great model of someone who took this type of marketing to a whole new level. He’s been quoted as saying, “They don’t know that they need it until we tell them they need it.” A couple of other examples would be Nike and Adidas, who often feature the key messaging “Here is the next new shoe,” or “You need this shoe to be popular and to run faster.”
Again, this can be risky, but if done well can have a huge impact on your company. To learn more check out Episode 4 of the Beacon Way Podcast.
How Do Reviews Contribute to the Customer-Buying Process?
Reviews are massively important for any business. In this digital age, online reviews are more common – and just as powerful – as word-of-mouth reviews, so it is a very good use of your time to learn to gather online reviews. Google, Google My Business, and Facebook are a few places where we suggest spending time encouraging client reviews.
Let’s consider negative reviews for a moment because they really can inspire concern in a business owner — but they are nothing to fear. Negative reviews are an opportunity for you to respond to the unhappy party, but the response isn’t necessarily for that person. Rather, the response will have a lot of effect on the subsequent customers who will come afterward and read that response.
As business owners, we can’t expect to never have a negative review. By reframing your mindset toward negative reviews, you can provide potential customers with a sense of safety based on your response to the situation. We actually find that without negative reviews, you might run the risk of creating a “too good to be true” impression of your company.
Negative reviews are important in many aspects, and we suggest that you develop a response strategy based on professionalism by always maintaining a polite and empathetic tone. If you respond in this way, you have the opportunity to turn the situation around and the possibility of turning your biggest naysayer into your biggest fan.
Are There Some Other Strategies to Complement Reviews?
Yes! Publishing case studies on your website is a great opportunity for you to directly lay out problems that you have helped your customers solve. Case studies provide you with a framework to show the statistics behind your work as you explain the problems your clients faced and how you addressed and successfully solved them. Case studies can carry a heavier weight than a review if it addresses a complex problem.
The Customer Is Ready to Move From the Research Phase. What Comes Next?
The last two phases of the customer buying process are making the purchase and remorse. These are the most critical of the phases because they have taken the leap of faith to trust you and then the psychological human effect of remorse sets in, where they begin to wonder if they made the right choice and if the purchase was worth it. As businesses, we have to be very intentional at this point to continue to communicate and show trust in how we operate. The customer needs to know that you will not deviate from the process that you have already established with them to this point.
Once the customer has decided to purchase from you, you want to make sure that the process of making that purchase is very clear and that it ties back to a positive user experience. If the customer has identified that you’re the one they want to work with but then finds that it’s not easy to purchase from you, they will move on to the next person on the list.
Remorse is the next part of the process. One of the ways to successfully combat remorse is over-communication. We don’t assume in this phase that everything will be perfect, but what we have found is that when we really spend time and money to make sure that the actual purchase process was incredibly easy and clear, and then the immediate onboarding is systematized, all of this has made the following phases so much better for our clients.
Overall, the biggest takeaway from these points is to evaluate what you want to prioritize for your marketing efforts, formulate a plan to be the expert in your field and be able to readily offer that information to your potential clients. Develop a strategy to effectively remove barriers to the buying process, and have the plan to combat remorse and negative reviews. All of these items, if executed well, will help you to cultivate that important connection with your potential customers —helping move them from potential to actualize.
The process doesn’t end here, however. The second part of this series, Episode 7 of The Beacon Way podcast digs into how The Beacon Way interacts with customers at each one of these phases and we invite you back to learn more about effectively moving them through each one.
Where Can Business Owners Get More In-Depth Information on the Customer-Buying Process?
Check out episode 6 of The Beacon Way podcast or our blog, Understanding the Buying Process for Effective Marketing!