Understanding the 5 Stages of Your Customers’ Buying Process

Peter Drucker one of the foremost authorities on business management, once said that the sole purpose of a business is to create a new customer. To create a customer, one has to understand what the customers’ needs are.

The way we shop for products and services has dramatically changed over the last decade. We use the Internet to research and find solutions to our problems. We research products and we’re constantly learning the most effective ways of doing things.

This creates an amazing opportunity for businesses looking to attract customers over the internet. As a business, our focus needs to shift from merely promoting our products to educating and supporting our potential buyers by supplying them with as much helpful information as we can on their their journey to making improvements. If we do so, we have a great shot at turning that website visitor into a customer. This method of marketing is known as inbound marketing.

The 5 Stages of the Buying Process

While the way we do our research has changed, we still go through a predictable set of steps when we’re buying things of significance. We call these steps, the 5 Stages of the Buying Process.

Understanding these stages and how they relate to your customers’ buying process will help to focus your efforts on providing them the content and information they need, to progress through their own buying process

While the below stages apply to any sales processes in general, the focus of this article is on the state 2 and 3 of this process, which are most relevant to your website and inbound marketing efforts.

Stage 1: Recognition of Needs

People take action when they are dissatisfied enough with something that they no longer wish to live a certain way or go without the things they feel they need. This is the “recognition of needs” phase. For example, a business might hear about how well a competitor is doing using the internet to attract leads. They realize something is wrong with their own marketing. Their recognition that something isn’t right or that they want to fix their own issue, completes this stage of the buyer process for them.

Stage 2: Search for Information

The next stage a prospective buyer goes through is the search for a solution or information. People often start their search online with Google and then visit websites, blogs and YouTube to learn more. They may also ask friends on social media and search online reviews of products and services.

Once a customer has started their search, they will be researching information to help answer the key questions they have, such as:

  • What is it?
  • How does it work?
  • What does it look like?
  • How well does it work compared to alternatives?
  • Who else uses it?
  • How much does it cost?
  • How can I get it?
  • Who are the most reputable providers?
  • What are the alternatives?

Stage 3: Evaluation of Options

In stage 3 buyers evaluate the different option and alternatives that are available. They may search for more information on each alternative, exploring more in depth, in order to figure out the best solution. They are not quite ready to purchase, but they are getting to a place where they believe they have found the product or service that will meet their need.

Stage 4: Addressing Buyer Concerns & Making the Sale

During stage 4 buyers are rapidly approaching the sale. They usually have concerns that must be addressed before they are ready to purchase. This is often the stage where buyers will speak with a sales representative to clarify their offerings and get any concerns addressed. Once these concerns are addressed, many buyers will proceed with their purchase with confidence. If their concerns are not addressed, they will likely return to stage 2 & 3 and evaluate more alternatives in order to make a different decision as to which product or service to use.

Stage 5: Implementation and Support

Once buyers have purchased your product or service and have become your customer, stage 5 involves implementation of your product or service and of course the necessary support. At this stage it is critical for the products or services to work as the customer expected and for the implementation to go smoothly.  In order to boost a customer’s confidence and build your reputation as a reliable company, it would be wise to follow up with your customers often to make sure they are happy and enjoying your product or service.

If you would like to learn more about the customer buying process check out the book Major Accounts Sales Strategy by Neil Rackham.

Supplying Content for Buyers at Each Stage

In order to help website visitors proceed through these five stages, and particularly stages 2 & 3 for the purposes of lead generation, you need to provide content for them that helps them answer the questions they have at each stage.

As they move through one stage and into the next, you greet them with content that is relevant to that very next stage of the buying process. While this all appears very natural to visitors on your website, little do they know the content has been carefully developed to aid and assist them, and to position you as a trusted source of helpful and valuable information.

Let’s take a look at some suggested content for each of the 5 stages of the buying process

Content for Stage 1 – Recognition of Needs

You should develop content on your website oriented around your target market’s most pressing issues, complaints and problems. This content would get visitors to realize that they are unhappy and should encourage them to take action to avoid further pain. It should also offer ideas and suggestions for what others have done to resolve the situation.

Content for Stage 2 – Search for Information

In this stage, visitors want to drill down and learn all about their issue and what the potential solutions are. This is where you will provide much more in depth information about how your product or service can solve their problem better, faster, or cheaper than the alternatives. You want to build comprehensive content that answers the who, what, where, when, why and how type questions.

Stage 3 – Evaluation of Options

This is where customers will be trying to evaluate different vendors and products. Content has to be oriented around 3rd party endorsements, testimonials and  social proof. This will help the buyer feel confident that your solution is relatively low risk and will likely accomplish what they need. Here content would also cover the competitive advantage of your product or service vs the competitor, as well as the features and benefits of using your company.

Stage 4 – Addressing Buyer Concerns and Making the Sale

At this stage, a buyer may have all but made up their mind about your company but may still have lingering questions or concerns. You will want to address these concerns upfront, in FAQ’s, price sheets, expected delivery timelines, warranties, features, customer support, options, company reputation, and the like.

Stage 5 – Implementation and Support

Your website should showcase content that demonstrates how your products or services are working for other customers. Testimonials about the product or implementation can be effective. Posting information about any service level agreements and support plans is crucial. And of course, aside from supplying this content, customer service reps should periodically reach out to your customers to ensure your product or service is delivered, implemented and working properly. Follow up surveys can also help reveal issues that customers may not call and complain about.

The above list provides the minimum specifications and content requirements for any business planning to upgrade or build a new website and begin an inbound marketing campaign.

To implement this process fully, you will also want to identify the different types of customers you have in your particular business to ensure you have content that speaks to each type of customer and their particular concerns.

Promoting Your New Content

Once this content is developed and optimized for search engines, it can be leveraged by promoting it across a variety of channels, such as:

  • On your own website
  • As a guest post on other websites
  • In your targeted email campaigns
  • In paid advertising campaigns
  • On social media websites (like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • In blog posts and blog websites, like medium.com
  • In press releases

Packaging Your Content

The content can also be packaged into many different formats such as:

  • Text based articles / blog posts
  • Videos
  • Downloadable content (in exchange for an email address)
  • White papers
  • Case Studies
  • E-books
  • Infographics
  • Slideshows / Presentations
  • Webinars
  • Checklists, Cheat Sheets, Tips, etc

In the end your goal is to help educate, support and walk potential buyers through their natural buying process smoothly, so that you can turn them into customers, repeat customers and ultimately ambassadors for your business.

Implementing Inbound Marketing

Understanding the 5 stages of your customers’ buying process and then creating content that addresses each stage creates a strategic plan for targeting visitors naturally and eventually turning them into paying customers.

At a minimum you should start looking at your content to see if you have content for each of the key stages. If not, or if you need more, you should create a plan that addresses each stage effectively and thoroughly.

If you don’t have time to go through your content and create a plan you could consider hiring a professional inbound marketing company to do this for you. If you do get started with inbound marketing, you will also want to learn more about marketing automation software and what it can do for your business.

Over time, inbound marketing gains traction for your business with dramatic growth in website traffic and inquiries. And because your content remains evergreen, it continues to drive more traffic to your site perpetually.

Need Help With Inbound Marketing?

Do you need help with inbound marketing and understanding the five stages of your customers’ buying process? Since 2003 we’ve been helping clients effectively market and sell their products and services online. We offer end to end digital marketing solutions to power and grow your business.

Schedule a free consultation to learn how to meet customers exactly where they are in the 5 stages of the buying process with your online content and presence.  You’ll get:

  • A quick review of your current inbound  marketing strategy.
  • Expert inbound marketing insights and strategies.
  • Suggestions on how to create content for customers at each of the five stages of the buying process..

Request a Call or call us today at 727-562-5161.

Learn More about Inbound Marketing.