I find it ironic that we often talk about customer buying cycles as if it's just a step-by-step process like assembling furniture, but we don't often try to understand why someone would want to buy anything in the first place. We never really talk about someone's motivation to start the sales process, which I think is the key element to making a sale.
There are two main reasons why people buy something:
- They want change
- They want a replacement to keep things the same way
(Gift buying is a different beast that I'll address in another post.)
Any customer has one of these two reasons in mind, consciously or subconsciously, when he starts the process. Frankly, unless the customer is open to change, there isn't much that can change his mind as to what he wants to do. If he wants a replacement - he'll get a replacement. If he can't find a replacement, he will change. A bit. Maybe. Or let it go. It depends.
Yes, purchases can be influenced to happen, but it is the customer who determines if it really will happen at all. The customer chooses to enter the process and chooses to exit when he wants.
Usually, all I need to hear from a sales person to get me to buy is: "This is the last one I have in stock."
Sure, that doesn't work for goods over $250. But for anything under that amount, it will encourage me to buy. I'll only do that because I'm open to a change in some way - getting a new item that will change my look in some way (and changing my look will somehow change my attitude and perspective on life).
If for some reason I don't have that $250 available, I won't buy no matter how much I want something and how much I want change. I'll just let it go. This is true of some friends as well - we won't buy something because something prevents us - money, fear of change, etc. - even if we want the object. We just aren't ready for everything that comes with that change (the bill, the maintenance, etc.). We can visualize all aspects of the change, and we discover during that visualization process that it's not right for us at that time.
A purchase experience doesn't really have much to do with you or your product. It has to do with how the customer feels about himself with the product. I know, this sounds like dating advice. And it is - buying anything is a lot like dating.
So how does buying work for a customer?
- Looking for something new or a replacement. Someone may be looking for a change in how they do things or what they do. He may want to start a new hobby. Or invest more in a hobby. Or change his approach to laundry. In any case, someone wants something new. And he is looking for a change in himself in some minor or major way. If he wants just a replacement, there may be some opportunity for change, but don't bet on it.
- Exploring feelings about the new - painting a picture of what a new life would feel like. How do I feel with this new thing? How will it change my life? People need to have a picture painted for them about what life will be like with this new object/approach/piece of clothing - whatever it is. This phase can last minutes or weeks, usually depending on the cost or how desperate someone is in need of a replacement. The higher the cost, the more someone needs to visualize themselves with this new item and change. And if there is a higher cost, what will life look like while financing the object? (That's probably the biggest hurdle for high-ticket items - will someone now need to live on a budget? Or cut out other expenses?) What will life look like maintaining the object? Will that be expensive and require time?
- Buying it once. Most companies don't like to hear that one purchase doesn't necessarily mean a customer converted. I had a client long ago that didn't consider a customer converted unless he completed 2 purchases with them. The first purchase was a trial; the second was a customer conversion because he repeated the process and most likely, would buy again. I agreed with them. And I see it with myself. I may buy a shirt from a store, but I may not buy anything again because I liked only that one shirt in there - I didn't like anything else. I'm not converted.
- Buying again and again. A customer does this this because he likes the products. Or the store is convenient. Or the products are at the right price point. Whatever the reason, he converts to being a customer and regular shopper.
If the person doesn't think he has a true need, he won't buy. Same if he doesn't have money. Or if he isn't ready for whatever reason. He can be influenced, but he won't budget if he doesn't feel it.
Sure, in marketing and advertising we create needs and try to present a better, different way to do something. But this only works if someone is open to seeing what that need is and considering himself in that position. If the person isn't open minded and looking for change, then it won't be adopted.
For example, Bernays was hired by Lucky Strike to get women to smoke. Rather than having only an ad campaign, he hired suffregettes to smoke during a parade. The women watching the parade could visualize themselves participating in the parade, with these other "free" women. He associated freedom with smoking - helping the women visualize how they may feel if they smoked. However, women at that time took on smoking only because they were were looking for new ways of being and a change. Most women were desperately seeking freedom at the time. Freedom was the trend - so associating smoking with freedom was an easy visualization and sale. But if the women weren't looking for change, and suffrage wasn't embraced, this wouldn't have worked.
Change and purchases only happen when a customer is ready and open to it. And once he is open to it - he needs to see how his life will be different. If that doesn't happen - neither will the sale.
More on this next post.