“People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories, and magic.” – Seth Godin
When customers buy, they do so for several reasons. In order to create or add value for customers, companies must understand the customer buying process – the reasons customers buy from certain companies and particular products, while ignoring others. Understanding this process is critical since it would provide some clarity to otherwise erratic, unpredictable, and irrational buying behaviour of customers. A deeper comprehension of customers and their needs would elucidate their purchasing reasons, which is critical to the success of marketing and promotional efforts from a company.
Understanding the customer buying process is not that hard – however, it does require focus and relentless effort. The buying process of customers is described best as the ‘journey’ they go through before making a decision to buy a product and the company from which they choose to buy it. Comprehending this ‘journey’ is critical for any company to align its sales and promotions strategy. Without ensuring this groundwork, a company would be making guesswork into what it believes to be customer needs and reasons to buy. In understanding the customer buying process, companies would discover that the criteria often remain the same with both individual customers, and business owners. To start with, there is always a need or a problem that would make anyone buy. Identifying and recognizing this need or problem is what makes people buy, and companies must make the effort to understand this from the buyer’s point of view.
Post identifying a need, prospective buyers are sure to search for information that would enable them to make the most appropriate buy. In understanding the customer buying process, companies must know where prospective customers would turn to for information in order to make a purchase decision. They would rely on media, online sites, internet, and other sources. These other sources would include family, friends, associates, colleagues, and others. In addition, there are commercial sources of information such as advertisements, promotions, events, exhibitions, rating agencies, and others. While trying to understand the customer buying process, companies must know that every source of information that prospective customers use influences them in some way. It would make sense therefore, for companies to put out proactively as much information as possible about themselves and their products, along with existing customer testimonials. This would make it a lot easier for prospective customers – they would have maximum information about and from the company, in one place, accompanied by corroboration by existing users.
As part of understanding the customer buying process, companies must know that prospects would not gather information on all the companies and brands available in the market – simply because there are too many. They would scrutinize those brands that seemingly match their needs, meet their budgetary constraints, and have the maximum number of products they can use. The understanding of the choices that customers could possibly make would enable companies to target a customer base accordingly – ones that would be more likely to buy from them. It would be necessary to display value and benefits that a company and its offerings can bring customers, with regard to the customer’s needs, expectations, and reasons to buy. The better a company can align value with the customer buying process, the better its chances at successfully gaining and retaining customers long-term.
There are many and varied reasons for a company to understand the customer buying process. With so many choices, not only can prospective customers buy from anyone, they tend to move around a lot meaning that they would not be loyal to any one particular company or brand. In the world of business, customer loyalty is gold and every company must strive towards it. Customer loyalty is however, not easy to gain – gaining it is one of the sustainable benefits of understanding the customer buying process. Prospective customers must see clear advantages and benefits of buying from a company – the products and or services must answer their questions of how they would help, what benefits they would bring, in how many ways they can help the customer to succeed, and other such issues. Companies do not have a choice but to explain clearly why they are the best and why their products would deliver exactly what customers need in comparison to other products in the market. Companies that can provide the simplest yet most effective reasons for their products are the ones most likely to gain buyers, get repeat business, and keep customers.
Companies that claim to be focused on understanding the customer buying process, would know the questions prospective buyers could ask, and provide answers to them proactively. Companies should be able to explain what they are about, how they would be able to help, why they are better than their competitors, and what additional value they can give to customers. Buyers want to know all of this before they decide to make a purchase from any one particular company. Another important criterion for prospective buyers is what a product or service would cost them. As part of comprehending the customer buying process, companies must ensure that their pricing models mention every aspect of the cost of their offerings – shipping, installation, processing fees, and any types of charges. The easier it would be for prospective customers to see the many things included in the cost of a product / service, the more likely they would be to buy from a company.
A major part of the customer buying process begins before prospects contact a company. They usually do not connect with a company simply to check on features and or price – these aspects must already be apparent to them. Companies that do a better job at providing this basic information upfront are more likely to receive further queries, and possible purchases. As mentioned, the premise of serving customers is to make the lives of customers easier, and to give them what they need and expect. Most often, the initial part of a customer’s buying journey is not managed by the final decision makers of a company – hence, the more information that a company can provide to the initial representatives of the company, the higher the chances that the decision makers would decide in favour of the company.
Even though a customer may decide in favour of a company, the purchase decision could be marred by some reasons. These could be either negative market / existing customer feedback, the company’s inability to accept feedback, and or the inability of the company to answer further questions of the prospective buyer. In addition, prospective customers may suddenly face a change in their situation – such as no use of the product, relocation, unforeseen expenses that could upset their budget, and other such ‘events’. An understanding of all these aspects is part of the customer buying process, and companies must have a firm grip on these as well. If all goes right, the new customers are prone to make comparisons with other products, and their experiences, which could leave them either satisfied or frustrated. This early post-purchase stage is when the new customers would either decide to stay with a company long-term or leave the association sooner than planned – it all depends on whether the company managed the pre-purchase customer buying process well.
The core reason to understand the customer buying process is simple – every customer is different, their reasons to buy vary, and the factors that lead them to buy from one or another company are different too. Companies that are able to grasp these factors, would be better positioned to provide more accurate offerings and customer service to prospective buyers – enhancing their chances at gaining new customers for life.