Look inside any multinational business, and they will have teams of experts whose job it is to influence customers at all points of the buying cycle. While this can be a complex data driven strategy, small businesses should also know what motivates their customers to buy. Let’s take a look at a simple customer purchase cycle, and through each step, you need to determine the motivators for your business, with the following question in mind – “how can I HELP a customer towards purchase”?
Step 1 – Discover
In this step, customers realise they have a need or want for a product or service. This may be a genuine need (my washing machine is broken and I need a new one), or it could be triggered by advertising (I saw an ad for an amazing Prada bag – and I really want one!). This realisation usually comes as a result of an issue or problem that needs to be solved for the consumer. They start recalling brands they know, and previous experiences with businesses to lead into the next exploration stage.
- Action for businesses: Do potential customers know your product or service exists, and would it be top of mind? If the answer is yes, great job, you can move to step two. If you answered NO, it’s time to get the word out about your brand. For small businesses, this could mean anything from advertising in a local paper, dropping brochures in letterboxes, ensuring you have an active online presence, or having prominent street front signage in busy areas.
Step 2 – Explore
This is one of the most critical steps in the buying process for all businesses, where consumers have already recognised the need or want, and now go about researching and evaluating the alternatives. If the desired product or service is NEW, many consumers will first ask friends and family for recommendations, followed by reading recommendations from experts or strangers on review sites (hence the importance of having an online reviews strategy). Assuming they know your business exists, they may now choose to research you online, pick up the phone, or walk in store, to create a shortlist based on features and value.
- Action for businesses: There are many ways your business can motivate customers at this stage of the buying cycle. If they are researching online, ensure you provide testimonials or independent reviews where possible, and make your product / service easy to find (do you appear prominently in Google searches and local directories?). Once customers find you online, how does your website or social media page look? – Is it easy to find information and compare prices and features? Do you have an advantage over your competitors – if so, this is the place to mention it (and if not, you need to find one!). Could you lead with an incentive or offer to motivate purchase? If your business doesn’t sell online, it’s still important to have a great website that promotes your business and drives consumers to other channels to buy. Whether that be in-store or via the phone, the most crucial element here, is ensuring your sales staff are well trained and armed with abundant product knowledge and excellent customer service to help guide towards a purchase.
Step 3 – Buy
This is crunch time during the buying cycle, and if you’ve done everything right in the earlier steps, consumers should by now have decided on your product or service to best satisfy their need at the most affordable price. At this stage, you need to ensure you are making the purchase quick and easy for the customer. How many times have you seen customers abandon their goods and walk out of a store when the queues are too long? – all to frequent unfortunately!
- Action for businesses: Ensure customers know where and how to purchase. Do you have enough sales people at the registers, do you accept all appropriate forms of payment, is the right point of sale technology in place to process the transaction smoothly? If you sell online, you need to ensure you have a clear returns policy, and are upfront about delivery costs and times. The point of purchase is also a great time to capture the customer’s personal information to establish an ongoing relationship in the future. This may be as simple as an email address, (or more comprehensive details if they are buying online). Where possible, it’s also great to give your customers the option of how they would prefer to be contacted (phone, mail, email, etc).
Step 4 – Engage
Many businesses are guilty of stopping once they have made a sale, thinking this is the end of the buying cycle, however, after-sales engagement is very important to ensure your customer comes back to buy again, and leaves with a positive experience to share with others. Customers need to believe they have made the right purchase decision, and if they have any regrets or doubts, it’s in your best interest to seek an alternate product or solution where possible, to ensure they are satisfied.
- Action for businesses: Ask your customers BEFORE they leave whether they are happy and if there is anything else you can do for them. Encourage them to contact you if the product / service doesn’t live up to expectations. You may also want to be pro-active, with a follow up call / email to ensure they are completely satisfied, (capture this information by providing a link to a short survey, links to independent reviews sites, or even encourage comments on your social media channels. ) Ensure you have a clear returns / exchange policy, and you might even consider a satisfaction guarantee if you’re really confident about your offering (eg, 100% satisfied or your money back).
Obviously every business is different, and the way you motivate customers through the buying process will depend on your resources, marketing budgets, competitor activity, and the value of your product / service. If you are falling short during any of these stages, it’s important to evaluate why customers are leaving before they make the purchase, and go out of your way to rectify this quickly. Have a look at what your competitors are offering, and try and do something comparable or better (if you can’t match or go lower on price, perhaps you may look at providing a better overall experience which customers may pay more for.)
Remember these 3 golden rules:
- Know who your customers are
- Motivate and help them to purchase
- Ensure you have a competitive advantage
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