Every now and then, I see a Tweet encouraging me to sign up for a thousand-dollar service. In many of these cases, I've never heard of the company before. Sure, I'm their target customer, but do they really expect someone to sign up for their service on a whim?
Smart marketers and salespeople recognize that getting a customer to buy their product takes time. Customers go through a sequence of stages before buying most items - a grouping known as the "buyer lifecycle" - and knowing these various stages will help you to identify the best time to send specific messages to your customers.
What is the Buyer Lifecycle?
The buyer lifecycle is a tool for identifying how close a potential customer is to buying your product. The buyer lifecycle is a broken into a series of five stages: pre-awareness, awareness, consideration, decision, and post-decision. Some leave pre-awareness and post-decision out of the process for the sake of simplicity, but understanding these two stages is crucial to understanding your customers.
Before delving into each of the five stages, make sure that you have clearly defined your target customer. Take a moment to review who is your target customer and how to create customer personas. As you read about each of the five stages of the buyer lifecycle, identify the unique needs and goals of your target customers at each stage of the lifecycle. Review the questions and concerns that you discovered during your customer research, and group these questions and concerns in the appropriate stage of the buyer lifecycle.
This stage most accurately describes customers who are unaware that they have a need. In most cases, some outside factor must occur that will unearth their need. For this reason, many experts will exclude this stage from the buyer's lifecycle, but it is important to realize that not every person who needs your product realizes that they do. For example, a driver who doesn't buy winter tires for her car may be in the pre-awareness stage until her car gets stuck in the snow.
The awareness stage of the buyer lifecycle consists of people who have recognized their problem, and are working towards better understanding that problem. They will often ponder surface level questions in an effort to discover the root cause of their problem. For example, a family that has to repaint their fence every year may start to wonder why their paint keeps chipping, and from there, will start to research potential causes for the chipping.
The consideration stage of the buyer lifecycle contains the people who have identified the root of their problem, and are actively searching for a solution. While they may turn to a friend or family member for suggestions, one of the most common starting points is to visit a search engine. If that's not enough to convince you of the value of ranking well on a search engine, take a minute to explore why your small business needs SEO. The family now aware that the previous coat of paint doesn't respond well to rain will start to consider higher-end paints, and whether they want to repaint the fence on their own, or hire someone else to do it.
As the name implies, the decision stage is where potential customer decide on a solution. During this stage, customers will look for price comparisons, product trials, or case studies to help them make a decision. The family that needs to repaint their fence may look at the cost of hiring Bill and Susan, as well as the number of hours that it will take for them to paint the fence without professional help.
The post-decision stage of the buyer lifecycle is often left out of the discussion, despite being the most important stage of the process. During this stage, customers will reflect on the decision that they made in the previous stage to determine how satisfied they are with the results. Those who are very satisfied with Susan's work are likely to hire her again in the future, and will often go so far as to suggest her to their friends and family. On the other hand, those who are dissatisfied will never turn to her again, and will often discourage others from hiring her.
Perhaps the most interesting element of the post-decision stage is that this reflection is influenced by every interaction that the customer has with you and your company, whether online or in person. Going the extra mile to ensure that they are satisfied will go a long way, and is one of the primary factors that separates a good business from a great one.
So go review your customer research and start to define what your customers will look like during each stage of the buyer lifecycle. Next, we'll delve into how you can rebuild internal marketing efforts, but for now, focus on defining what customers at each stage look like.
all the best,