In addition to understanding the needs of your customers, you also need to understand what motivates them to purchase, and how you can influence the buying process to ensure that your products or services are on the shopping list.
Understanding your customers will help you to develop and distribute your product, as well as getting the right price point and developing successful promotional activities.
The psychology of the buying process has been widely studied, and no matter what size your business, knowledge of this process can help you become more successful.
Both businesses and consumers exhibit patterns of buying behaviour. The business model is less open to debate as your business customers will almost certainly have some formalised process of buying in place. Your task is to understand the process and match your marketing activities to the different stages of the process. This means that the customer will receive the right kind of contact at the right time.
Business Buying Behaviour
A typical business customer will go through the following steps when buying:
|Identifying a need or problem||This may be highlighted by press coverage or advertising they have seen in the trade press|
|Developing product specification||The customer will use whatever sources they can find to help them specify what they need. They will pay particular attention to press releases, exhibitions, advertising, editorial comment, industry seminars and relevant direct mail|
|Search for products and suppliers||This is the time when the business customer is particularly open to visits from your sales force and trade directory entries. Exhibitions and technical information leaflets are also invaluable sources. This is the time when pricing information begins to be seriously considered.|
|Evaluation of products and suppliers||This is a good time to provide your potential customer with demonstration products, visits to existing customers, plant visits or third party testimonials. You may also need to look at special pricing packages or stocking incentives.|
|Ready to place an order||This is the time for personal contact.|
|Evaluation of product and supplier performance||The more major the buying decision, the more reassurance your customer needs. Review meetings and helpline support provide reassurance, as does good after sales support and continued exposure to advertising and press coverage - justifying the purchase decision.|
|Follow on purchase||The first purchase should not be seen as the end of the process, but the beginning of a long-term business relationship.|
Consumer Buying Behaviour
There are many models of consumer buying behaviour, but the steps below are fairly common to most of them.
|The customer identifies a need||This is often initiated by PR coverage, including word of mouth. The customer may have seen a friend or celebrity using a product or service, or awareness may have been sparked off by advertising.|
|Looking for information||At this stage the customer wants to know more and is actively seeking information. Advertising and PR are still important but product demonstrations, packaging and product displays play a role. This is the time to deploy your sales personnel, and customers find videos and brochures are useful. Word of mouth is still very important.|
|Checking out alternative products and suppliers||The customer is now trying to choose between products, or firm up on the purchase decision. This is a place for promoting product guarantees and warranties, and maximising packaging and product displays. Sales personnel can greatly influence the customer at this stage and sales promotion offers become of interest. Independent sources of information are still of interest, including product test reviews.|
|Purchase decision||This is the time to 'tip the balance'. Sales promotion offers come into their own, and if appropriate, sales force incentives need to ensure that your sales personnel are incentivised to close the deal.|
|Using the product||Expensive purchases can lead to what is known as cognitive dissonance - a fear that the customer has not made the right decision. Your job is to reassure the customer by offering good customer care, simple instruction manuals and loyalty schemes. They should still be exposed to testimonial advertising to reassure them that they have made the right decision.|
Marketing does not stop at understanding the buying processes of your customer however, you need to understand their buying patterns and the market in which they operate. You can use (ii) Market Research to help you do this.