Customer Experience News & Trends

How customers make buying decisions

Years of tracking major sales and analyzing the data show that customer decision processes tend to go through four distinct phases. Three occur before the purchase decision. One comes just after it.

Here they are with a short explanation of how they may work:

1. Recognition of needs

The prospect’s most important concern in this phase will be to identify a need that justifies the cost of solving it. Salespeople sometimes lose perspective in this phase, forgetting that their task is to build awareness of the problem, increasing the prospect’s consciousness of the need.

Research shows that the least effective salespeople in this phase do a lot of talking. They neglect to ask probing questions about customer needs. Instead, they press product discussions prematurely. It’s a lot better to concentrate on listening for needs.

A good question salespeople ask themselves in this phase is “What is the prospect thinking?”

2. Resolution of concerns

There are two dangers in this phase: One is to ignore or downplay concerns the prospect expresses in the hope they will simply go away. The other is to try to deal by applying pressure.

It’s usual for customers to get nervous right after they identify a critical need. Clues that indicate prospect anxiety include:

  • giving unjustified postponements to a buying decision
  • reopening closed issues, and
  • getting concerned with price when it had not been a factor to this point.

The most dangerous error at this phase is for a salesperson to sit back and hope or trust that those fears will resolve themselves.

3. Evaluation of options

In this phase, prospects have recognized they have a need. Now they’re weighing the pros and cons, and the strengths and weaknesses of each option.

A trap here is for salespeople to fail to recognize that the customer has perceived a need and is ready to look at options. This often means the salesperson overlooks the need to understand the prospect’s criteria and guidelines for making a purchase. Salespeople can’t influence what they don’t now.

This is the most competitive phase and a good strategy is to stay focused on the need to influence the customer’s decision. Salespeople can do this by asking questions that make the problems more serious. For instance, “What effect does this reject rate have on customer satisfaction?” or “What will this problem do to your delivery schedule?”

4. Implementation

A buying decision doesn’t necessarily mean the sale is done. The overriding danger now is for a salesperson to assume the selling job is done. Every stage of implementation is a sales opportunity. And at any stage of implementation, the sale can be lost or won.

Research shows that many sales are lost in this phase. Good after-sale follow-up and support solidifies sales immediately and for the future. The effective salesperson at this point shifts emphasis to installation, after-sale support and all other continuing contacts with the customer.

Adapted from: “Spin Selling,” by Neil Rackham, president and founder of Huthwaite, Inc, a worldwide leader in sales training.

Subscribe Today

Get the latest customer experience news and insights delivered to your inbox.