Your customers' buying process describes a set of steps they take before making a final decision for a purchase. Understanding your customers' decision process will help you position your sales strategy accordingly. First introduced by John Dewey in 1910, the five stages provide a general framework of an individual's journey from considering a need for a product to then evaluating the experience after the purchase of the product or service has been made.
1. Problem/Need RecognitionIn general, the customer's buying process begins first by recognizing the problem. In other words, identifying the "need" which might be circumstantial: Your cell phone stopped working and you need a new one. However, the need can also be triggered by an external source (e.g., an advertisement or word of mouth): This cell phone promises up to 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. You need it.
What this means for your business: What does the individual think he/she needs? What do you know he/she needs? And, why?
2. Information SearchThen it proceeds to information searches. During this step the customer looks for information about the product or service (answer to the problem); and may perform the cost/benefit analysis: What are the best options for a new cell phone? If this cell phone promises all these features, are there extra costs for them?
What this means for your business: Educate your customers. Provide information before it is required. This also means, anticipate the questions. Be a trustworthy resource.
3. Evaluation of AlternativesAt this stage, the customer will evaluate different products or services, based on the product's features - those who deliver the benefits he/she is looking for. The consumer may shop around: Where else can I get this cell phone?
What this means for your business: When a customer shops around, what are they looking for exactly? What are the customer's priorities? What is he/she comparing? Value? Price? Brand's reputation? History of the business?
4. Purchase DecisionThen the purchase decision is the penultimate stage. The decision has been made: I'm going to buy this cell phone from this store. However, this final decision may be interrupted by negative feedback from another customer or a customer's friend: You're going to buy a cell phone from that store/brand? I did that and had a terrible experience. Not to mention, the decision may be disrupted by unexpected situations such as job loss.
What this means for your business: How fluid is the buying process?
5. Post-purchase BehaviorAnd finally the post-purchase evaluation. At this point, the customer will evaluate the experience. This appraisal may result in positive referrals, which translates into brand loyalty, or it may result in dissatisfaction.
What this means for your business: Treat the ending of a purchase as the beginning of a new relationship with your customer. Understand your customer's satisfaction by creating positive follow up communication.
In conclusion, even though this cycle provides you with a simple framework, there are many aspects of consumer behavior to take into account such as goals, attitudes, affect and mood. Once you have understood this process and what it means for your customers you can have a clear roadmap of the strategy your business needs.