Definition: in marketing, the Buying Process is the set of actions that your customer carries out — online and offline — from when he or she discovers and/or searches for your product/service to when he or she buys it. It is also called Customer Journey.
To define your (digital) marketing strategy, the first step you need to take is to investigate and “decrypt” in detail what your customers’ buying process is and what contact points they use to get all the information about you and your product, before making the purchase.
In 5 words: Analysis of the Buying Process
Once you have detailed the buying process, declining the correct marketing strategy, deciding which communication actions to take and choosing which tools to use, will be a logical consequence.
But let’s go in order…
The buying process is divided into 5 macro-phases (although, as we will see, in some specific cases one may be missing).
The buying process of a person always starts with a discovery or a problem (or desire).
It is essential to know that, in marketing, DISCOVERY is the moment when the potential customer sees, reads or hears — online and offline — about a product/service for the first time.
When we work on the Discovery phase of the buying process, we try to intercept the Latent Demand, i.e. those who still do not know our product or service or do not know that there is a solution to a potential problem.
In this case, the attitude of the potential customer is passive. (If you want to learn more about the Latent Demand, click here).
Therefore, you have to ask yourself: “How do my customers discover me and/or my product or service, e.g. through TV, newspapers, shop windows, events, fairs, books, Facebook, Instagram, portals, influencers, word-of-mouth, other”?
If you don’t know, ask them directly!
Remember: a potential customer cannot be interested in something if he or she doesn’t know it exists (until he or she finds out).
Stimulating the Latent Demand also means generating new Effective Demand, i.e. who already knows and is looking for the product or service we sell.
After intercepting users who are not yet looking for us but might be interested, they might start looking for our product or service, thus turning into the Effective Demand.
On the other hand, in the buying process PROBLEM is the moment when the potential customer consciously feels the need or desire to have a certain product or service, or wants more information on a certain topic.
Therefore, when we work on the problem we try to intercept the Effective Demand, i.e. those who are already looking for the product or service or know that there may be a solution to their problem.
In this case, the potential customer’s attitude is active. (If you want to learn more about the Effective Demand, click here).
Therefore, we speak of a stimulus that can be represented by any problem or desire that needs a solution within a more or less defined period of time.
The problem triggers one or more actions (researches) that bring the potential customer closer and closer to his/her interests and that can respond to his/her problem or desire.
It must be said that the stimulus and action may not necessarily be the effect of a problem, but also of a desire or interest born from a discovery — for example, during a conversation between friends, while reading a newspaper, from a post on Instagram while browsing the feed, etc.
Therefore, in the buying process, Discovery and Problem produce a stimulus that activates the potential customer who could start searching for information.
It is important to ask yourself:
As mentioned above, the potential customer who becomes aware of a problem or the existence of a product/service of his/her interest, starts to search for all the information that he or she considers necessary to reach the final decision: to purchase or not purchase the product/service.
However, this does not always happen.
There are situations in which we directly look for the specific name of the product/service, the brand or the name of the company or the name of the person/professional because we have a Reference for that specific problem or desire (for example: because I’m used to use that supplier for that specific thing, someone suggested me a specific name for a certain product, I saw an advertisement on Facebook by a certain professional and then I searched for the name on a search engine, I saw the product/service on a flyer or in a shop window in the street, etc.).
In this case we speak of Specific Effective Demand which, given the REFERENCE, often shortens the length of the buying process because it compresses the “information acquisition” phase (I’m at home, I get toothache, I call “my” dentist directly. End of the buying process).
After discovering or searching for a service/product, users need all the information they consider necessary to decide whether or not to make the purchase.
In marketing, this is certainly the most critical phase of the sale because the search for information can vary from sector to sector, from product to product and even from person to person.
Moreover, it can be more or less long (it could last 1 second or years) and more or less complex (it could concern only one source of information or several sources).
Together with my friend and colleague Alessandro, I have been working for years to define a protocol to determine the complexity of the buying process of a product or service, so as to be able to decline the most correct and effective marketing strategy to get to the sale.
The result we arrived at was to identify the 5 factors that determine the complexity (or simplicity) of the buying process and we called them SALE THERMOMETERS.
Let’s see them below:
Therefore, we must work well to convey trust to our potential customers, i.e. provide them with the right elements so they can trust us and our product (for example, by showing reviews from other customers, certifications, awards received and other elements of authority) and putting the technical and analytical characteristics of what we sell in the background.
Emotional involvement: it has to do with the passions that lead us to make choices that also have a strong irrational component. The more our service/product also involves us emotionally, the more the buying process could become shorter and easier. If it is an uninvolving purchase, we can try to leverage emotions (e.g. fear is often used).
Once the customer has all the information, he or she chooses and proceeds to purchase. This can be done either offline or online: in the first case, the difference is made by the seller and his or her skills; in the second case it is necessary that the website is easy to use and quickly accompany the customer to the purchase.
Remember: even if the customer has made his choice and has chosen you, he may change his mind during the purchase (if this should prove to be cumbersome or unclear). Therefore, pay particular attention to some factors: simplicity, information, assistance, warranty, payment and shipping methods.
Two things can happen after purchase:
Satisfaction or dissatisfaction mainly depends on the value perceived by the customer after the purchase (also called post value of the product/service). The perceived value depends on several factors and changes from person to person (just think of the gender, social status, age, passions, etc. of each customer).
Unlike PRE-VALUE which is based 100% on communication and creates certain expectations, POST-VALUE is the actual value that customers give to the product or service they have purchased.
Being an excellent communicator is essential, but you must be careful to communicate the value correctly, without manipulating it. Otherwise, the perceived post value will not live up to the expectations created by the customer who will not delay to ask you for a refund or, worse, to leave you a negative review influencing other potential customers.
Needless to say, the ideal situation would be one in which you can align the pre-value to the post value: in this case you have managed to communicate correctly and let your customer perceive the real value of your product/service before the purchase and this is confirmed immediately after the purchase. Therefore, you have met the expectations of the customer who will probably turn into a loyal customer.
In any case, to understand if you are on the right track you must always ask your customers for feedback. Only those who have used your product/service will be able to make you understand if you have done a good job or if you need to improve something.
Remember: if you satisfy your customers, they will bring more customers who will bring more customers creating a virtuous circle for your business.
In order to deal with these stages of the buying process, you need a strategic approach. When we talk about strategy, we refer to 3 phases of marketing: Investment, Monetization, Capitalization.
The objectives of this marketing phase are: to intercept those who are not looking for us but might be interested (latent demand), but also to intercept the “intentions”, i.e. those who are looking for something related to our products/services (informative/commercial effective demand).
The objectives of this phase are: to increase the number of new customers, optimize the conversion rate (from visitor to customer) and increase the average receipt (up-selling).
The objectives of this phase are: to increase the frequency of purchase of acquired customers (resale and cross-selling) and increase the number of new customers by leveraging on previously acquired customers through referral activities, reviews, etc.
The key performance indicator (or KPI) is the Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), i.e. the value of the customer over time. When we talk about CLV, we refer to repeated purchases through which we amortize the cost we have previously incurred to acquire the customer. So, we spend once but then we try to ensure that this expense brings value over time.
The value of the customer over time is not only related to the purchases he makes, but also to the ability and willingness he may have to “get” us new customers through his word of mouth (this happens both directly and indirectly).
When one customer brings us another, we do not have a cost of acquiring this second customer or it is much lower than the initial investment. Also for this reason, it is very important and advantageous to work on who is already our customer.
In order to develop a web marketing strategy, you must first analyse your customers’ buying process.
The Connection Funnel® Method — that I developed together with Alessandro Sportelli — can help you in this. It is so called because it connects (the analysis of) the buying process with the sales process (marketing strategy).
The method is always the same. It is the strategy (and the tools that will be chosen) that changes according to the buying process of your target. If you want to deepen the Connection Funnel Method to elaborate your marketing strategy, click here.