You must market your business to be successful. You know that. So, you likely do several things simultaneously to get the word out about your products and services. Let me ask you this? With this flurry of activity, are you taking the time to align those messages with the customer buying cycle?
Often, the answer we hear to that question is no.
The first thing to understand is that there are five stages of the customer buying cycle, as defined by James F. Engel, Rodger D. Blackwell and David T. Kollat. And that every single stage is important if you want to attract and retain more customers. After all, it takes 6x more effort to acquire a new customer than to sell deeper into an existing one.
Therefore, when you align your messages with each stage of the customer buying cycle, your communications with consumers at each level resonate more because you are meeting them right where they are in the process.
When you accomplish that, you’ll increase your bottom line.
Stage 1: Needs Recognition
In this stage, the consumer is starting to identify their needs so that they can better understand their problem and find a solution. Your job is to build awareness through your content. It should be designed to talk about their potential pain in a way that makes your audience even more aware of their need so that they can address it.
American psychologist Abraham Maslow developed a hierarchy of needs theory which states that each of us achieves our needs by starting at the bottom, or foundation, of the hierarchy and working our way up.
Ascension to a higher level of the pyramid can only be done once the needs from the previous level have been met. Your customer’s desire to address their need is dictated by one answer: How far away from fulfilling their ideal state is their current state? If the gap between the two is close, the desire to act will be higher. This is important for marketers to understand because it defines people’s motivations for choosing and buying products
The content in this stage is educational and not salesy. Your only job right now is to help consumers identify their goals.
Stage 2: Information Search
By now the customer has identified their need and is beginning to consider how to overcome it. Consumers are influenced by several factors during this stage of the customer buying cycle, specifically information from trusted sources (friends and family) and the opinions of others via word of mouth referrals.
This is when consumers tend to rely on personal, public and experiential sources of information. So, you’ll want to deliver content that frames the problem and potential solutions available. A good thing to do now is provide compelling case studies that show how to solve the problem with your specific product or service. Here are a few examples:
- As an SEO expert, you might offer case studies on how your services have helped a client. If you don’t have testimonials to share yet, you can publish a “blind case study” where you don’t list client name or easily recognizable attributes.
- A wine dealer may consider emphasizing a wine’s status among industry experts or its awards and public recognitions, instead of focusing on the intricacies of the wine-making process.
- If you're selling skin care products, you might choose to focus on how they give you confidence rather than actual ingredients.
Each of these actions helps lead prospects down a path which enables them to begin defining their own requirements for a solution.
Stage 3: Evaluation of Alternatives
Once the consumer finds a few alternatives, they’ll want to leverage the educational material available to them to evaluate all their options. That’s your cue to go all out and let them know how your solution is superior to others – particularly how it will solve their specific need. Give concrete examples with white papers, guides, in-depth blog posts, eBooks, webinars, and more.
If it’s a B2B client, you’ll likely need to create your answers to their request for proposal (RFP) at this stage too; the objective of which is to ensure that they know without a shadow of a doubt that your solution is the right answer for them. If they can visualize your solution working, you’ll move them closer to purchase.
The basic premise here is to recognize where your customers are and modify your message to that specific need and/or stage.
Since most products and services are adaptable to the end user’s needs, they can function at different levels within Maslow’s hierarchy. Let's consider three examples related to a car:
- Safety Needs – the owner feels prepared for any driving situation and knows they will arrive where they are going safely
- Social Needs – the vehicle may become the central hub of long-distance trips or evenings out with friends
- Esteem Needs – everyone enjoys a new (or new to them) car, especially when it is the envy of their inner circle
Stage 4: Purchase Decision Making
At this point of the customer buying cycle, the consumer organizes and reviews the information they’ve collected to make a purchase that they believe will help resolve their need – assuming they can manage their risk.
Your job here is to help them overcome any fear that they have about buying your solution.
Use words and examples that showcase what success looks like when your product or solution has been fully implemented – the future state that they aspire to achieve. Send them email content highlighting others who’ve had success with your solution. If you have video of customer testimonials, they’ll work wonders here.
What happens at the point of purchase is an often forgotten part of this stage. But the truth is, it is one of the most important actions of all because if the buying experience isn’t smooth or impressive the customer could get frustrated and not implement the solution… and then blame you for their lack of results.
Double check your sales process and make sure that each buyer gets the information they need to see results. One idea is to consider personally reaching in a week or so to ask them how it’s going – especially if the purchase is more than a few hundred dollars.
Stage 5: Post-Purchase Behavior
Your job isn’t complete just because a purchase has been made. It’s all been leading to this point. Now your product or service needs to deliver. It needs to align with your customer’s expectations. Customer service becomes a critical factor during this stage.
Ensure that you have a repeatable process in place to keep them happy; beginning with the experience of making the purchase until well after the sale. Check up on your customer regularly; make sure they remain satisfied so that they buy more from you for years to come. [Click here to read Andrea's guest post on developing a post-sale follow-up process.]
Knowing how your products or services meet your customers' specific needs helps you adapt your approach for success. Likewise, if you know where within Maslow's pyramid they're struggling, you can better prepare your messages to meet their needs.
In other words, aligning your approach to the stage your customer is in translates into an amazing boost in conversions. Not only that, but your customers will clamor for more because they feel understood. You may even start hearing feedback accusing you of being a mind reader!
We'd love to continue the conversation with you about the importance of understanding the customer buying cycle. You can either leave a text comment below... or listen to our audio thought starter and then download the Anchor app to leave your response. Either way, we promise to respond to you as quickly as we can.
About the Author
Andrea Hubbert, principal at Hub+company, is a versatile integrated marketing communications professional with one primary passion: to empower creative individuals and their companies to design and market the business lives of their dreams.