While it may appear to be a seamless process, there are many distinct steps a customer takes when purchasing goods or services. A business that understands these steps can develop a marketing plan to accommodate every phase of the customer journey, from the time a person first becomes aware of a specific need to the end phase, when a customer tells others about their buying experience.
The following are the key steps in the customer buying process. The companies that can best anticipate these steps and use them to their advantage have the best chance of engaging consumers on a deeper, more meaningful level.
Step #1: Awareness
Virtually all consumers begin compiling information before making a purchase. Much of this information-gathering takes place online, which underscores the importance of having a solid web presence. In fact, 87% of shoppers start looking for products online first, regardless if they intend on making a purchase in-store.
Because your website will most likely be the first interaction a prospective customer has with your brand, you must make sure that it’s effective at presenting your business. Think about the questions a consumer might have at this stage and endeavor to answer them as clearly and succinctly as possible. You can also use your website to position your brand and business as an authority by creating how-to articles or linking to other reputable websites.
Step #2: Evaluation
The evaluation stage is still linked to information-gathering, but at this point the customer may be comparing different companies or products on a deeper level. They may also be perusing reviews from past customers, which can have a significant impact, both negatively and positively. Consider that 86% of consumers will be reluctant to move forward with a company after reading negative reviews. Additionally, displaying positive reviews on your website may affect your sales figures, with some showing an 18% increase in sales as a result.
Encourage past customers to leave reviews and have a strategy in place for dealing with negative messages. Effective handling of a poor review, such as by responding quickly to the issue, offering a sincere apology, and making a genuine effort to provide a remedy, can actually have a positive impact on current and future customers.
Step #3: Decision-Making
By this stage, the consumer will be close to making a decision based on the information gathered in the previous two steps. Because the customer will be on the verge of making a choice between you and another company, it’s more important than ever to demonstrate the value of your brand.
As stated above, customer reviews are crucial for showing the value of what you have to offer. You can also entice a potential buyer in other ways when he or she has entered the decision-making stage. Offering a free trial of a product or service increases consumer confidence, while offering a discount or special on an initial purchase shows appreciation. There are lots of ways to present the value your business offers consumers; you just need to pin down those that make the most sense for you.
Step #4: Retention
While it’s slightly more difficult to entice a new customer into making a sale as it is to keep an existing customer satisfied, there is still work to be done within the retention stage of the journey. First of all, you want to leave the channels of communication open between you and the buyer. You can do this by reaching out with requests for testimonials, providing surveys, and sending notice of new products that may interest the customer.
You should also strive to provide resources to your customers at this point. Maybe they have questions about getting the full functionality out of a product, which can be satisfied by helpful tutorials and how-tos. Once again, anticipating and fulfilling the customer need is a must for business success.
Step #5: Advocacy
If you’ve taken the above steps, chances are you have a satisfied customer on your hands. While this is a benefit all on its own, you can also leverage a customer’s satisfaction to your advantage. This is why having a presence on social media platforms is beneficial.
Ask your customers if they wouldn’t mind leaving a review about your business online, specifically on Facebook or another social media platform. You can also ask followers to share other information related to your brand. Posting an amusing meme or informative article entices your followers to share, which expands awareness of your business. The goal is to get them talking about your brand in a positive way to as many people as possible.
We’re happy to pass on this information to you, so that your online marketing strategy can be as informed and effective as possible. Feel free to contact us if you have questions about your customers’ journey cycle and how you can capitalize on it.