Nov 16, 2010

Have a Problem? Study Your Customers

Too often companies get caught navel gazing to solve marketing problems. They seek answers from within. They ask deep questions, they examine historical sales data, and they consider what worked in the past in similar situations.

That’s all fine and good, but times change. Customers change. Instead of navel gazing, look outside. The answer to most marketing challenges resides in your customers, which means research. On a regular basis study how your customers are buying and what is influencing their purchase decisions.

The more you understand your customers, the more you can anticipate their needs.

The 5 Buying Stages

Buying behaviors are predictable. Segment your market, and study how your customers purchase in each group. Most purchases go through 5 stages: Awareness, Pre-Purchase, Purchase, Implementation and Post-Implementation.

Awareness is the starting point in a buying cycle. Look for trigger events or symptoms that propel your customers to market. What’s happening in their world that’s got them looking for a new solution?

The Pre-Purchase stage is the options gathering phase. This is where your customers ask for referrals, or search Google for options. Study how your customers go to market. How do they find vendors? What are they looking for? This is a crucial stage for developing your value proposition and differentiating your firm.

The Purchase stage is where the rubber hits the road. This is where decisions are made, terms are negotiated and contracts are signed. How do your customers make their decisions? Who is involved in the purchase? What level of risk does this purchase mean to the organization? What internal steps or hurdles do they have to take to complete the transaction? You will often find the internal controls will increase during slow economic periods, because cash is in short supply.

Implementation is the delivery of the product or service. In smaller deals the customer can simply pick up the product, where as in larger deals the implementation process can take 3 to 9 months. This is a crucial stage in building brand satisfaction, because it is all about delivery. Monitor customer satisfaction. Is the product meeting their needs? Are there any adoption issues or learning hurdles? Can you make the delivery phase easier for your customer?

The Post-Implementation stage is when customers are using your product. They have it installed, it works and they’re satisfied (hopefully). Study this point carefully, because all customers eventually come back to market. The key is to use these existing relationships to understand who they are, what they’re doing and where they will be going next.

Buying habits evolve

Study your market’s buying habits on a regular basis. The 5 Customer Buying Stages are never static. Customers’ needs evolve, new competitors enter the market and tastes change. It is crucial to always be examining your market’s buying patterns, and adjusting your sales and marketing to reflect buyer behaviors.

Often marketing challenges arise, because the data is out of date. Habits have changed, and the old solutions are no longer appropriate. Whenever you hit a wall or a large obstacle take a breath, and research the market. Use the 5 Buying Stages as a model to understand your customers, their needs and how they are buying. Chances are you will find the solution in the data.

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