The 3 Phases of a Customer Buying Decision

Have you ever used all your best sales techniques with a prospect, convinced they were going to bite - only to have them walk away without purchasing anything? It may have had nothing to do with your pitch, your process, your product knowledge, or your strategy. But, it could have been your timing.

If you communicate the wrong message at the wrong time, you can risk losing the sale. As you begin to engage your prospect in the sales process, it is important to understand how they move through their decision-making process. You need to tailor your communication to support their focus during each of the three phases of a buying decision.

Phase 1: Ouch - it hurts!

At the beginning of the sales process, people have identified a problem or challenge and they are looking for a solution. They’re in “pain” of some kind. “I hate washing my dishes by hand.” “I’ve run out of cupboard space in my kitchen.” “I can’t keep putting money into this old car.” “My cell phone is unreliable and keeps dropping calls.” “My daughter really needs help with her math grades if she wants to get into college.”

In this phase, your prospect is trying to determine if this problem is truly compelling (causing significant enough “pain”) in order for them to look for a solution. Once you are engaged as someone who could help them to find a solution, they will want to know that you understand their problem and have a real, potential answer to their pain. In this stage, the customer’s concerns are focused on their need. Cost isn't as important a factor since the customer is primarily looking for a solution. The biggest mistake you can make in this phase is to try to convince them to purchase on the basis of price or value, and not acknowledge their pain or convince them you understand their problem.

For success in this stage: Ask lots of questions. Let them tell you about their problem. Relate your own similar experiences, indicating you understand where they’re coming from. Listen for clues as to how you can specifically meet their needs. After you’ve heard and acknowledged them, let them know you have a solution that will take away their pain. If you’ve been successful at understanding their need, you’ll have earned the credibility to move to the next phase.

Phase 2: Can you heal my pain?

If you have earned the prospect’s trust and they feel you have a possible solution, they will move to the next phase which is determining whether you actually have a solution for them. During this phase they will evaluate whether you can deliver the solution on time and on budget. They’ll be interested in whether you have the right resources, processes, and people. They are considering whether it is worth moving forward with you. For the prospect, there is an investment of time, risk and money in each phase, and they will be asking themselves whether it’s worthwhile moving forward, and whether you are the one they want to move forward with.

Phase 2 is about finding alternatives and solutions. At this stage, risk enters into their thinking as the customer evaluates the risk around making a commitment. The biggest mistake you can make in this phase is to jump into pushing your product or service without establishing yourself as a credible contender.

For success in this stage: Present your solution, but be conscious they are still not fully into “purchase” mode. They still need convincing you are the right person/company to deliver the solution. Establish your credibility. Tell customer satisfaction stories. Listen to the risks your customer feels they are facing, and find ways to minimize those risks.

Phase 3: Is what you’re offering worth it to me?

In the final stage, the customer is convinced they have a “pain” that needs fixing, that you are a credible contender to meet their need, and as such focuses his/her attention on the risk/reward trade-offs of what you’re offering. They also want to be convinced that what you’re offering provides them with the greatest value for their investment. This is where price and value enter into the picture. Your prospect is interested in all the tangible and intangible benefits of implementing your solution. They may also be considering other competitors and trying to determine who is offering the best value for money. The biggest mistake you can make in this stage is to come on too strong, or put down or disparage your competitors. While you may have convinced them to consider you as a contender, you haven’t yet won them over and any efforts you make to put down a competitor will be seen as unethical and unprofessional.

For success in this stage: Know your product, and have a convincing presentation. Be prepared to answer questions and deal with objections in a professional manner. Focus on mitigating any risk that comes with your solution and demonstrate why your offering has the best value over other alternatives. Focus also on what makes you uniquely qualified to meet their needs. Convince them that meeting their needs is your highest priority, and that your commitment to them doesn’t end with the purchase - that you’re interested in developing long-term relationships with them and in serving them well into the future.

As in any relationship, timing can be everything. What you say is only half the equation in effective communication. When you say it is equally important. Focus on where your prospects are in the purchasing process and provide them with the information they need at that time. You’ll increase your credibility with your prospect, as well as your capacity to close on the sale.

About Trenval

Trenval Business Development Corporation is Bay of Quinte’s Community Futures Business Specialist, financing business start-ups, expansions or successions in the Quinte region for 34 years. Trenval can help with small business support including small business funding and small business loans.

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