Own a Stage in the Buyer's Process

A successful sales approach enhances the relationship between seller and buyer, and is the underpinning for increased profits. The sales process must align a go-to-market strategy with the buyer's identified behaviors. In other words, you must sell in a way that customers and prospects want to buy. Therefore, it is logical that a go-to-market strategy should be based on the four major steps in the buying process, and on where the company's strengths lie in fulfilling the needs at each stage. First, analyze your current customers' buying process. The increasing popularity of direct marketing and the Internet's role in this initiative have eroded the ability of demographic information to indicate buying tendencies. Companies could previously count on a level of homogeneity among those with similar demographics. For example, married women between the ages of 25-44 with household incomes of $65,000-$95,000 and with children used to make the bulk of their purchases on weekends at malls. But now, this same group of women might use specialty stores at the mall to learn about new electronic products, and quite possibly proceed to make their purchases online or via a toll-free number after 6 p.m. Marketers can no longer rely solely on demographics, but should create more focused profiles by observing and analyzing their current customers' behaviors with regard to the following five key stages they go through when making a purchase: 1) The prospect identifies a need or becomes aware of a problem. 2) Research for a solution or for more information occurs. 3) A solution source, or sources, is located. 4) Comparisons are made between alternatives; fulfillment capabilities are examined. 5) The purchase is made. Clearly, buyers go through the stages at different rates, spending more time on one and less on another, sometimes even going through them in a different order. Second, examine your company's strengths and abilities to provide value at each stage.
After you have finished researching your customers' behaviors and mapped them to the appropriate buying stages, it's conceivable to have as many as 25 customer profiles to work with depending on the size of your company and the breadth of your product line. Prioritize where to put your initial efforts by focusing on your key customers with whom you have the strongest relationships. Look over each stage and determine if you can afford to provide value the way your customers require it. Ask questions like, "How do my customers realize they have a need?" Maybe there are workshops or consultants who develop awareness better than your sales staff or tradeshow activities can. Maybe target prospects search for more information about a product or service by going to the Web or by attending free information sessions given by the high-touch providers in your market. Third, develop a go-to-market strategy based on building in value at each stage of the buying process. Your company does not have to provide the substance within each stage. For example, at the comparison stage, there may be trade associations that provide excellent comparisons between products. Make sure you lead your prospects to those sources, and then deftly return them to you. If your company cannot provide a full range of value at each stage, address this challenge in your go-to-market strategy. Obtain partners who can help. Seek new selling strategies. Devise loyalty programs aimed at just one part of the buying process. Whatever you do, identify value in terms of what buyers want, not in terms of what you can provide. Fourth, build a sales process that aligns with the go-to-market strategy. It's imperative that you guide your prospects through your finely orchestrated set of value offerings. Make sure that at each stage buyers are satisfied and you are suggesting sources for the next step. The rewards of using this method to acquire customers are tremendous. By making it easy to buy the way prospects/customers want to buy, you become their true partner, and loyalty comes naturally. About the Author Sam Zordich, founder and president of Stonegate Business Consulting, has more than 20 years of management and consulting experience with high-tech and financial organizationss. She has managed in various size companies--from startups to Fortune 100. Her expertise lies in sales strategy and development, product management, competitive intelligence, and customer relationship management. In addition to an MBA from the University of St. Thomas, she has also completed certification and advanced coursework in sales, marketing, project management, and product development. She speaks regularly at industry functions and has contributed articles to numerous magazines.
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