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Five Stages of the Buyer Decision Process: Target Customers at Each Stage

By Darren Johnson on May 1, 2022

There is a pattern to how consumers decide to purchase products that is commonly known as the buyer decision process. People go through stages before finally making a purchase.

But a consumer’s path to purchase is not always direct. People may go back and forth in the stages a bit, particularly for digital purchases. And, of course, the process of deciding on a major purchase such as buying a car is likely to be more complex and take longer than that of making a small purchase such as shoes (no matter how utterly fabulous they are).

If you analyze and understand your customers’ typical business decision process, you can more effectively market to them at each stage and help them come to the conclusion that buying from you is their best option.

Following are the basic stages.

1. Need or Desire

The first thing that happens is that the customer realizes they need the item. Or if they don’t need it, they want it. Nobody really needs a high-end designer handbag, but a lot of people want them. (Ok, the Carrie Bradshaws out there might disagree about not really needing a designer handbag but humor me.)

People reach the stage of need or want through various ways. If someone’s phone breaks, they are probably going to buy a new one. Or their phone may work perfectly fine, but they have been wanting for some time to upgrade to one with features similar to a phone their friend has. Or they might be drawn to upgrade because they saw an ad, a news snippet or a social media post about a market launch of a new phone with desirable features.

It’s up to you to understand your market and cater to their preferences. Can you offer a solution to a problem or challenge your audience faces? Can you offer cool new features that are so compelling a lot of people will want to upgrade? Can you create a social need for your product through influencer marketing?

Think about how you can market your product on many fronts to develop awareness and desire. Don’t limit yourself to advertising. Think about what kind of content and events you can employ to showcase your brand (or the brand you carry) to your audience. Offer educational materials about how to use your products if your products are technical and lend themselves to that. Drum up excitement for that upcoming product launch through social media, guest blog posts, schmoozing experts and any other way you can.

2. Information Search

Once a person decides they need or want to buy something, they will enter the stage of the buyer decision process where they search for information.  They may Google the item, read reviews, go to websites that sell the item (if it’s that kind of purchase) and talk to family and friends. The bigger the purchase, the more intense the research and the more sources they will seek out.

Needless to say, you will want to optimize your website so when people are searching for the types of items you make or sell, your business comes up on the first page of search engines. We won’t get into all the ins and outs of SEO here, but as a starting point, you must be sure you understand the search intent of keywords people are using to find the products.

You should also consider PPC advertising campaigns with keywords people use to search for the product.

Determine whether experts, influencers and reviewers know about your products and have a positive view of them. If not, it’s time to reach out to them.

When people are looking for information about something they want to buy, they are a lot more likely to notice if it is mentioned in the press, social media or advertising. Be sure you are helping people find your product information when they looking for it.

3. Evaluation

After people have gathered information, most will evaluate their options. Sure, some people just buy the first product they find that matches their needs. But the bigger the purchase, the more likely people are to spend time evaluating.

Depending on what you are selling, this can be either easy or difficult to address with your marketing. For example, if someone is buying a laptop, there are range of features that might set it apart from its competition. But a feature that is important to one audience might not be to another.

For example, gamers are going to be very concerned about the graphics card of a laptop. Someone who will only use a laptop for email and writing an occasional text document, not so much. You need to be very clear what audiences you are addressing with each product you sell. Highlight the benefits and features that are important to them when you market to them.

At this stage in the buyer decision process, in addition to evaluating which brand and model to buy, the buyer will also evaluate the best place to buy the product. They may decide to buy it online or at a brick and mortar store. If they are buying at a brick and mortar store, physical location is important. But consumers also look at other aspects. Does one business have a reputation for offering good prices? Does another business have better customer service in case there is a problem?

There is a legend that someone once bought a couch at a large department store and when they got it home, found it would not fit into the space. The department store refused to take it back, the story goes. However, a competitor, Nordstrom, who did not even sell the couch, offered to return full price for the item.

Is this true? I have no idea, but a lot of people think it is. And for image, that’s all that matters. The story encapsulates the high-end, no-hassle customer service image that Nordstrom wants to project.

As we mentioned in the last stage, understanding search intent can help you to lead an audience who is evaluating products to information designed to help them make their decision whether that is product reviews or your customer service success stories. Market to those who are in this stage of the funnel with PPC advertising, PR, website content, social media campaigns, webinars and anything else that can effectively each them.

4. Purchase Stage 

And now the moment of truth. Will the customer purchase? After doing research and evaluating their options, they could still decide not to hand over the money. After all, everything else in the world they could spend their money on is your competition. If you can reach out directly to prospects at this stage, do it. They may just need a little email nudge.

The other thing you want to do is remove all hurdles to the purchase. The purchase process must be smooth. That means streamline the number of clicks to get to the purchase, make sure your web pages are optimized for speed, make it easy to get to shipping information. Of course, your website must be optimized for mobile, so people can easily purchase from any device.

5. Post-Purchase Evaluation

The post-purchase evaluation stage is important, because it is here that customers may become loyal, long-term customers as well as advocates who bring you more business. You need to do everything you can to prevent buyer’s remorse or a product return. Even worse, if a customer turns against you, they could take their complaints to the Internet (Yelp, social media, etc.) and let the world know that you did them wrong.

So, make your customers feel like you are taking care of them after the purchase. There are a lot of ways to do this.

For example

  1. If the product is at all technical, be sure to provide offline and online manuals and tutorials. You may want to post helpful videos about certain aspects of the product or about how to get started with it.
  2. Depending on what you are selling, you may want to email your customers with a short survey or question to ask if they are satisfied. You could also offer them some special deals, ideally on products related to their purchase.
  3. You may want to develop a more formal loyalty program, whether free or paid. This could involve discounts or points on all or specific items bought, first access to new products, access to products only available to loyalty program members and more.
  4. Offer great customer service to everyone. Don’t act like your customers are a bother after the sale.
  5. If a customer truly isn’t satisfied and wants to return the product because it doesn’t fit their needs, be fair with them. Of course, you have return policies. But you don’t want to be known as the business that will never accept returns. Remember our Nordstrom example?

Need Help with Your Marketing Strategy?

The steps outlined here are just the beginning in understanding the buyer decision process. This is just a framework. You will want to analyze how your own customers reach their buying decisions. For example, if customers are always getting stuck at the evaluation stage and going back to the beginning of the process, what can you do to make their journey easier?

Umbrella Local marketing experts can help you analyze your typical customer decision process and build a dynamic sales funnel that increases your profits. Don’t miss any more sales. Call us today for a free consultation.


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