In today's totally interconnected world with its abundance of information, choices, and marketing, how your customers buy has drastically changed. Buying has evolved from a simple transaction decision to multi-faceted experience.
Whether you are an executive, an entrepreneur, a marketer, or a salesperson, it's time to look beyond how you sell, and focus on how your customers buy.
For example, you may think that buying a commodity like bottled water is still all about price, yet buyers today check their smartphones first for positive brand reviews, environmentally friendly bottles, positive buzz from social media, and the nearest outlet for purchasing.
Think about how much Starbucks customers have changed what you need to consider to sell a cup of coffee.
I found a good outline of the key elements involved in today's customer buying experience in a new book How Customers Buy...& Why They Don't by Martyn R. Lewis. With his two decades of experience as an entrepreneur and a sales and marketing consultant across a broad range of businesses, he has some good insights on what works with customers today, and what doesn't.
In my own recent experiences advising small business owners and entrepreneurs, I have seen the same six elements of the customer buying journey many times, especially as they relate to selling in consumer environments:
1. First you need a trigger to start the buying journey.
You may believe your product or service is very attractive, but you won't get a customer until someone decides to act on an unsatisfied need. These days, that trigger is much more likely to come from a friend's experience, social media, or a memorable website, rather than conventional advertising.
2. Understand all steps required to complete the experience.
The sales steps may seem simple to you, but customers today are quick to abort if they get confused, encounter redundancy, or the process takes longer than expected. Make sure you listen carefully to online feedback and reviews, and personally check competitor's processes.
How many times have you been frustrated, or even given up, on businesses that make returns and exchanges more complex than competitors, or can't handle transactions and discounts quickly?
The bar is constantly moving up, so don't get caught at the bottom.
3. Target the key players in the buy decision and process.
In the world of millennials, parents may be doing the buying, but the kids are driving the decisions. In business, buying decisions are now often made by a network of highly connected individuals across a virtual world through instant messaging. Target the players as well as the process.
4. Market to the dominant buying style of your customer.
On one end of the spectrum, people now buy solutions, rather than products. On the other end, many people look for personalized choices, versus value received. There is no right or wrong buying style, and it's up to you to market and sell according to the style of your target market demographic.
For example, some customer segments prefer the one-size-fits-all approach, for speed and simplicity, while others want the solution to be customized for them, even if it costs more. You need to constantly talk to your target demographic and adapt to their style.
5. Capitalize on key value drivers that motivate your buyer.
The value drivers have to be sufficiently compelling to your customers to outweigh the costs, risks, and change associated with completing the buying process and using your offering. I still remember switching to a personal computer at work, which was a huge change and risk for me, but I desperately needed the productivity boost promised.
I have recently seen an increase in social drivers, including peer pressure, prestige, or environmental impact. For example, I know many people who shop at Whole Foods due to their focus on environmental sustainability, despite somewhat higher prices.
6. Eliminate buying concerns that can slow or stop the sale.
These are the opposite of value drivers. Concerns might include complexity of the process, priority of the need, decision scope required, implications of the solution, and many more. It's up to you to anticipate and alleviate these concerns in your marketing before they even come up.
For example, in recent surveys, over 50 percent of online shoppers have admitted to abandoning their carts, causing you lost revenue, at least once in the last three months. Most of the reasons given could be fixed purely through simple design changes.
From a big picture standpoint, what you need today is a market engagement strategy, rather than just the traditional sales funnel that focuses on completing transactions. Your selling process has to harmonize with how the market is buying, or tackle the more difficult challenge of changing how the market buys.
Engaging your market is eminently doable with the online and social tools available today, but it takes effort and change on your part to meet your customers, rather than wait forever for them to meet you. It's time to get started today.