Understanding and Leveraging the Customer Buying Cycle

Whether or not someone clicks “buy” on your product may seem frustratingly mysterious. But there is an identifiable and predictable process that potential customers go through in transitioning from passive observer to active purchaser.

The gist of it goes like this: awareness, then consideration, and finally purchase.

The awareness stage is when someone becomes aware either of your product or the fact that they have a need your product will fill. The consideration phase involves the potential customer looking at options to fill their need, including your product. Then they make a decision and buy something.

Guide your prospect toward buying

You can leverage this cycle to your advantage by pulling prospects into your marketing ecosystem and guiding them toward your product as the solution to their problem. This “lead nurturing” is the process of slowly getting potential customers to open up to your solution and, somewhere in the process, provide you their contact info so you can communicate with them directly.

Your first step is to describe potential customers’ problem accurately, in a way that will make them say, “Yes! You get me!” This could be done at the top of the sales page, via social media messaging, through a content marketing lead magnet piece, or by way of an intro email (if you have their contact info already). The first time they encounter you, they may not yet know you are a solution to their problem, or even that they have a problem.

Next introduce how your product will help them solve their problem. Provide detailed information about how your product’s features and benefits are the perfect ones to fix whatever ails your customers. Finally, provide proof points such as customers testimonials, product reviews, and statistics about how helpful your product is.

Once you’ve gotten this far in the process, your prospect may be leaning toward choosing you, so it’s a good time to offer a free trial or some other insider sneak-peek to what you offer.

At the end of the free trial period is when your customer is mostly likely to purchase your product. Make it easy for them, such as offering a trial that converts into a purchase unless they opt out, or sending them an email at the end of the trial period through which they can click to purchase.

Strategically plan your communications

Not every prospect will come to you at the very beginning of the buying cycle, when they haven’t even defined their own problem yet. Some will come to you knowing exactly what they want and ready to see whether your product is a fit.

Knowing how your customers are coming to your site can help you target your messaging to where they are in the cycle. Those who have clicked through from a banner ad on a social media site or from links in articles about your product are likely at an earlier stage and will need more communication to get to a point of purchase. Those who find you through targeted Google searches or from review sites are likely closer to being ready to buy.

You should direct traffic that is coming from various sites to different pages that catch them where they are in the cycle. Making a highly knowledgeable purchase-ready prospect read a description of the problem they already know they have is likely to turn them off. Likewise, throwing an early-stage prospect into a list of testimonials for your product will feel overly salesy to them and probably make them click away.

Such strategic lead nurturing is done well by a variety of marketing automation software products like HubSpot, Marketo, and Eloqua. You can target your communications to various subsets of prospects so the messaging is most relevant to their needs and how they are responding to your pages and emails.

Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes

You can best understand your prospects’ buying cycle by trying to see where they’re coming from. Who are these prospects? What are they having trouble with? Why is this a problem? What roadblocks may stand in the way of them finding a solution?

Having empathy for your potential customers will help you better relate to their needs, which will help you better communicate with them and add value to your interactions with them.

Remember that marketing is simply talking to people, and you’ll be well positioned to convert prospects who see you in an ally in their struggle instead of a salesman trying to force them into a decision.


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Katherine Gustafson is a full-time freelance writer specializing in content for mission-driven changemakers such as tech disruptors in fintech, healthcare IT, and B2B SaaS. She also does corporate work on business topics including accounting, management, and innovation for companies such as KPMG, TD Bank, Workday, Avalara, and Adobe. She is the author of a book about innovation in sustainable food, and her writing has appeared in a wide variety of sites and publications including QuickBooks Resource Center, Business Insider, and Forbes. Follower her on Twitter @k_m_g.