Helping Consumers Traverse the Buying Process

Posted on July 25, 2011

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I had introduced, in an earlier post, the adjacent framework to highlight the different stages in a consumer’s buying process. I had proposed that the practice of Marketing is better suited to engageThe Buying Cycle - Marketing and Sales consumers that are early in their buying process. Making Marketing responsible for engaging early stage consumers greatly improves Sales’ productivity by allowing Sales to focus on consumers that are further in their buying process and represent deals that would close in the near future.

I strongly believe that the framework provides a good conceptual basis to understand the consumer buying process and helps with conceiving marketing goals appropriate for consumers in different stages of the process. However, important questions remains unanswered – How does one determine which stage a consumer is currently in and, perhaps more importantly, how should the marketer engage consumers in different stages of the buying process? In this post I wanted to deepen the use and applicability of the framework by sharing some thoughts on these two questions.

Aware: A consumers in this stage of the buying process is in, what I call, listen-only mode. She is listening to, without actively engaging, a number of voices – her peers, press, analysts and vendors. However there are two distinct listen-only mode – passive and active.

A consumer in the passive listen-only mode is not making any effort to gather specific information. She, like all of us, is bombarded with a deluge of information and she retains only those pieces that she finds interesting or considers relevant. She betrays no clue that she is listening or retaining your information and the best a marketer can do is to choose media channels/vehicles she is most likely to use and be present in environments she is most likely to inhabit.

A consumer in the active listen-only mode is making specific effort to gain relevant information. She will, usually, sign up for your newsletter, follow you on Twitter or become a fan of your Facebook Page. She has taken the first step but marketers must be careful how they engage her. She is still looking for information to solve her problem and has now identified you as a voice to listen carefully. Marketers will do well to provide her with opportunities to gather useful information to solve her problem by making available white-papers, trials, webinars, invitation to meet at industry events, etc.

Interest: A consumer in this stage of the buying process is trying to arrive at a shortlist of solutions to her problem and thinks that you might have such a solution. She no longer is just listening; she is actively engaging. Her engagement is reflected by the time she invests in interacting with you. This could be through registering to attend a live webinar or creating a free account to download a whitepaper/trial or accepting an invitation to meet with you at an industry event. To gauge her level of interest, marketers should keep track of how many opportunities to engage she responded to. As a rule of thumb, if she engages with 2 out of 3 opportunities presented in a period of less than 3 months, you can safely assume you are on the shortlist.

Desire: A consumer in this stage of the buying process has shortlisted you as one of the possible solution for her problem. She will ultimately choose from her shortlist but needs to do an in-depth analysis to determine which solution to choose. She will now be open to face-to-face meetings and may even request a technical proposal. Now is a good time to get Sales involved. However, Marketing’s job is still not done. Marketers will do well to focus on generating content and creating relationship enhancing opportunities for Sales to use in winning the business.

Action: A consumer in this stage of the buying process has decided that your solution is most suited to solving her problem but she still has to cross the chasm of buying it. She now looks for commercial proposals, negotiates on the price, legal terms, etc. and finally commits to the purchase (whew!). Marketing may not have a direct role but can help in great measures by creating content that helps her solidify her decision to commit; imagine the boost your chances get if she hears of the 5 new deals that you closed this month.

Finally, marketers must remember that consumers rarely skip stages on their way forward but often regress to an earlier stage. In other words, a consumer asking for a face to face meeting without having previously engaged is in all probability not in the Desire stage and involving Sales will lead to disappointment and waste of valuable time. On the other hand, it is quite likely that, for numerous reasons unknown to the marketer, a consumer may reach the Desire stage only to drop out of the process and return to the active listen-only stage. Marketers will do well to not write her off and continue to engage her for she will buy and will appreciate you staying engaged.

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Posted in: On Marketing