Whenever you sell to a new customer, they need to go through six stages of the ‘buying experience’:

  1. Awareness – the initial point at which they find out about you.
  2. Interest – they show signs of being interested in your business – e.g. looking at your web site.
  3. Evaluation – they investigate more deeply to find out if what you offer meets their needs versus other suppliers.
  4. Trial – they try out a sample of your product or a tiny bit of your service.
  5. Adoption – they decide they like your business, so they buy something.
    and finally:
  6. Loyalty – they stick with you for the long haul, becoming a repeat buyer or even an evangelist or referrer for your business.

This is a widely-recognised theory, called the customer decision-making process, it’s based on a five-stage model originally presented by Philip Kotler. Since then the five stages have been bumped up to six, by the addition of ‘trial’ as a critical stage of the process. This model is taught to all marketeers as they undertake the Chartered Institute of Marketing Diploma, I’d love to take the credit for making this process up, but honestly, as good as I am, I didn’t. (N.B. if your marketing consultant doesn’t work with you on this, they are definitely not worth their salt.)

You might think of this process as a ‘funnel’, or the stages of a defined sales process.

For simple transactions these stages could be bundled together – for example, if you go to a Majestic wine tasting event, it’s more than likely that you’ll go through stages 2-5 in one go. Especially if you decide to try ALL the wines that they have on offer.

What’s really critical is that you don’t try to force prospects to move through these stages too quickly. Either, by jumping steps – getting your timing wrong and trying to offer something for purchase when they are just trying to find out what you sell. Or, by being too pushy and overpowering in the early stages and trying to get commitment before they’ve had the chance to try you out, even in a small way.

Another thing that’s really important to remember about this adoption journey is that when it comes to budgets, and marketing plans, it’s critical to make sure that you are offering some kind of marketing activity to communicate with your prospect at each stage of the process. Each activity should be moving your customer along to the next stage, in its call to action. So, if you have a leaflet giving a high-level overview of your service (awareness) the call to action should be something that fits into the ‘interest’ stage, ‘visit our website’, for example.

By processing prospects through these stages gently, you will move them towards making a purchase, based on developing a ‘know, like and trust’ relationship with them over time.

If, however, you are failing to secure sales, or have a feeling (or worse, reputation) that you are being ‘pushy’ around sales, it could be that you are trying to skip one or two of the stages above.

Our recommendation: grab a flip chart and sketch out how your customers interact with you in each of the buying stages to make sure that you are communicating at every stage. It’s worth taking the time, effort and patience to build content and marketing activities at every step, the reward will be a loyal customer base, who will recommend you to all and sundry.

Enjoyed this article? Please share it with a friend.

Or, you can find out more about marketing theory and how it relates to your business in this article:

3 things you can do to implement a customer-centric approach to marketing