Every sales person worth their salt has spent time poring over the sales process, thinking their way through every move they might make, ever word said or unsaid, every email and every phone call, but fewer consider an equally important process: the buying process. At the same time a sales person is working through his or her own tactics and strategies, the prospect is working through a pattern of their own, trying to achieve their own goal: obtaining a product or service worth their time and money. In this article, we'll be discussing broad and specific key points of the buying process that every sales person needs to know.
- Need Recognition and Problem Awareness: Consumer recognizes a problem or a need and begins the process of hunting a way to solve that problem or meet that need.
- Information Search: Consumer refers to internal information, i.e. memory, and external information, i.e. personal sources (friends and family), public sources (forums, consumer reports), and marketing sources (salespeople, advertisements), to evaluate potential purchases.
- Evaluation of Alternatives: Consumer evaluates alternative products from competitors, alternative solutions, etc., based largely on personalized scales for the values offered.
- Purchase: Consumer decides whether, when, and from whom to buy the product they've selected.
- Post-Purchase Evaluation: The consumer assesses their satisfaction with the product, deciding whether to return the product, seek out competitors, become a return customer, etc.
Importance of Each Stage
When sales people think of the buying process at all, they tend to focus all of their attention on the need recognition stage-and it's certainly an important place to put your focus. Many of the most successful sales ventures happen when you force a consumer into awareness of a problem or need they didn't realize they had. As the one introducing the problem or need, you position yourself in a very strong place moving forward, easily controlling the information search, negating the evaluation of alternatives, and securing the purchase. Done well, this also leaves you strong in the post-purchase evaluation.
Unless you've already approached the prospect or been approached at this stage, the information search phase is largely the domain of marketers, not sales people. If you do find yourself as a provider of information, keep in mind the long-term consequences of what you say-most forms of dishonesty will be spotted eventually, and lying to customers doesn't go over well. In many ways, most of your work for targeting this stage takes place in other stages, either setting up from the problem recognition stage or laying groundwork in the post-purchase evaluation in earlier sales.
Knowing your product and what your competition has to offer is very important when dealing with prospects in the alternative evaluation stage of the buying process. Depending on the strengths of your product, the nature of the prospect, and other factors, you'll want to encourage or discourage certain comparisons. It's worth noting that trying to win a customer at this stage with negative sales language can backfire, as you increase the odds of buyer's remorse and brand hopping in the future.
Two things can undo a sale at the purchase stage of the buying process: Negative feedback, i.e. reading a bad review, having a friend recommend against it, etc., or unanticipated disruptions like the loss of a job. You can only control the feedback, making it important to 1. Close quickly and 2. Control and eliminate causes for negative feedback.
The post-purchase stage of the buying process may be the most overlooked, but it's also one of the most important for long-term success. Buyers who regret their purchase don't buy again. At worst, they might return their purchase. And you're not just losing a potential second purchase-they'll be a personal information source for other prospects, and not one favoring you. Questionable tactics and poor customer support hurt you most in this stage, and follow ups can provide an active boost to consumer satisfaction.