Figuring out the buying process

Figuring out the buying process

Nobody likes to be sold but there are ways to foster success by stopping selling and helping buy.

NOBODY likes to be sold. Have you ever heard someone say, "I'm thrilled that the salesman sold me a new car!" or "I'm delighted the sales clerk sold me this new outfit!"?

Nah, me either.

We like to buy. You're much more likely to hear, "I'm thrilled with the new car I bought!" or "I'm delighted with the new outfit I bought!"

Businesspeople can foster their own success by stopping selling and helping buy.

Giving credit where it's due, Steve Duea years ago widely taught the industry the "buying process." He also taught the "selling process"; however, in practicality, intimately knowing it is not too awfully important.

Understanding the buying process — judging where the customer is in the process and customizing your approach to the customer — is much more important.

Back in the day, sales instruction was based on presentations or pitches to the customer. The structure was something like this:

* The opening (small talk, icebreakers);

* The presentation (product description, how it might help the customer);

* Closing (ask the customer to buy), and

* Objections (why the customer would avoid buying).

This approach is uncomfortable for both the customer and the seller. Why? Vendors are trying to sell rather than helping buy.

Businesspeople may feel compelled to tell about their products and services, to make presentations. It's a chance to demonstrate vast knowledge. Nevertheless, customers will pay attention to information they want to know about and won't pay much attention to information that businesspeople gratuitously decide to spout off about.

The buying process occurs in this order: attention, interest, understanding, desire and deciding.

1. Attention is simply some sort of positive impression about a product or company. Advertising and word-of-mouth are common methods. Positive interactions (a.k.a. effective, professional conversations) with company representatives are another tried-and-true method.

2. Interest is the customer thinking he may need or want a product or service. "May" is the keyword in that sentence.

3. Understanding is the customer checking it out and satisfying himself that the product or service will do what he needs or wants it to. He comprehends what it is, what it does and how it works for his particular situation.

4. Desire can be a difficult step for the customer. Issues may include completely changing the way he currently does things, affordability, discontinuing business with a longtime provider and other potentially emotional issues. Doesn't it make sense that, even for typically fact-based decision-makers, an emotional component is finally involved?

5. Deciding is pulling the trigger on whom to buy from and when.

Purchases are not made without a completed buying process. The process can progress quite rapidly or very, very slowly.

For any given person considering a product or service, the process may never be completed, as in no purchase.

For items that are used or consumed over and over again, once a decision is made, the buyer is forever in the deciding phase until a change is needed or wanted. Then, the process begins again. Why does it begin again? A safe bet is that the customer's attention was tweaked by something else.

Customers dislike high-pressure selling. This can occur when the seller is ahead of the buyer in the buying process. What if the seller perceives, for instance, that a customer is in the deciding phase when, in reality, the customer is in the interest phase? The seller could easily be perceived as high pressure.

Conversely, what if the seller is lagging behind the buyer in the process? There's a fair risk that the seller will be perceived as a bit incompetent. Anytime the seller is working in a different phase than the buyer during the buying process, a poor outcome can occur.

So, you've got yourself a good customer? There is a strong case to be made for some sort of ongoing or regular customer interaction. The reason is so you can be alert to a buying process underway that could displace your product or service. From the customer's perspective, he may conclude that your company's indifference to him means that you're taking his business for granted.

How do you know where the customer is in the buying process? Ask, and he'll tell you.

*Pat Whidden has enjoyed a 40-year career in animal agriculture-related agribusiness, with experience ranging from the dirty boots to the boardroom. He is a consultant specializing in strategy development and execution, as well as sales and customer service coaching, seminars and corporate events. Visit Whidden on the web at http://pbwhidden.com, or contact him at (615) 719-2447

or [email protected] Watch for his Sales Professional column every month in Feedstuffs.

Volume:86 Issue:28

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