I explained the five-step selling process in “As Easy As 1, 2, 3 (4, 5).” Each of us engages in this process numerous times a day, whether we are buying a can of soda or making a more complex decision, such as buying a new car. Whenever a customer makes a buying decision, that decision represents the culmination of a process. It may take place almost instantaneously or stretch out over a long period of time, but it’s a process, not an event. The other side of the selling coin is buying, and savvy marketers understand how to address and package the buying process within the selling process.
No matter how long the process takes, the buying decision always begins with the customer becoming aware of a need. Once the need has been identified, the customer begins to explore possible avenues for meeting the need. While gathering information, the customer refines the buying criteria that will affect the decision to purchase, and the customer then narrows the field of choice to the best few. Finally, the customer chooses from the best few and takes action.
To successfully get your prospect to take action, you must be able to see the world from your customers’ buying point of view. Ideally, while you maintain your sales perspective, you conduct your sales process (see “The Five-Letter Dirty Word“) so that it is in tune with how customers decide to buy.
The way customers make buying decisions depends on the complexity of the problem they are trying to solve and the complexity of their decision process. This complexity affects how you manage the sale.
- If the customers’ needs and the decision-making process are simple, all you need to do is make them aware of you, build confidence, differentiate yourself, demonstrate value, and make buying quick and easy. This is why branded products sell so well. Think of buying a book from Amazon.com.
- If the needs and decision-making process are highly complex, then you need to approach the sale only slightly differently. This type of sales requires you to make customers aware of you; build relationships; educate your customers (perhaps many different individuals within the same organization); show sensitivity to the different decision makers, influencers, and groups; and resolve conflicting needs so that you can custom-tailor your solutions and make the buying process as painless as possible. Think of purchasing a multimillion-dollar piece of equipment that needs five departments to sign off to close a deal.
So how do you merge the needs of the buying process with the selling process?
When a consumer becomes aware of a need, he or she must also be made aware that you offer a solution to his or her problem. In a consumer sale, it may be enough to make consumers aware that a Coke is refreshing or a printer is fast. In a more complex sale, your branding will have to be more specific and must speak to a deeper need. What comes to mind is something like, “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” Does your Web site convey effectively that you satisfy your customer’s deeply felt need? (See “Why Should I Buy From You?“)
Only when the customer knows that you provide a value that matters to him or her can you undertake building the foundations of a satisfying relationship by establishing rapport and trust. (See “Does Your Home Page Engage Customers?“)
When a consumer comes to you to explore avenues to meet the needs he or she has identified, you have to ask questions that help qualify what the customer really wants and how the customer’s needs can best be fulfilled. When the customer narrows the field to the best few alternatives and possible solutions (which include your company, of course), you use information that you have developed in the qualifying stage to present recommended solutions in your customer’s language so he or she understands your value immediately.
As the buyer moves through each step of a buying decision, you seek the buyer’s commitment to a logical next step and provide reassurances that he or she has made the right choice. (See “The ABCs of GTC and POA.”)
The information architecture of your entire Web site must recognize every step of the consumer buying process. Each step feeds and leads to the others. Although the process ultimately is linear, there can be feedback loops within the process as the customer re-evaluates information. So, it’s not unusual to address two, three, or even all five steps on a single page. It is helpful to think of the process as operating simultaneously on both a micro level (the individual page) and a macro level (the overall buying and selling experience). You should always acknowledge and address the needs of the buying process at both levels.
Most of my articles have dealt with the beginning and ending steps of the sales process — understanding customers needs and building rapport and trust on the one hand and the taking/getting action part on the other. But I also get a lot of emails requesting more information about how to qualify customers. So, while you spend the next week thinking about your needs and challenges for qualifying customers on your site, I’ll see if I can help you come up with some solutions to fit those needs.