Four Stages of The Sale
Traditionally there are four stages of the buying process that prospects must go through before they become customers; they are: Awareness, Consideration, Research and Purchase. As B2B, and to some extent B2C, marketers, we must do our part to help prospects navigate the chaos they are likely to find in each of these stages. The more effective we become at guiding prospects through this process, the more likely they are to become our clients and not our competitors’ clients.
The first stage, awareness, may at first seem like a piece to the puzzle that we have no control over. We think the prospect themselves must come to the realization that they have a need. This of course does happen sometimes, but we do ourselves a disservice to not try and get involved early on. Think of it, if your company is the one that helped the prospect have the “ah-ha” moment, when they realize, wow, here’s my problem and I need to find a solution to it. That’s powerful. To be effective at this stage you have to throw a wide net because prospects need to find you that aren’t really looking for you. You need to show up in places they are already at. You need to create and distribute content that is useful to them. You must become a voice; one that they just happen upon.
Once a prospect is aware of their need they start to think about solving it. They may consider a whole suite of solutions, from doing nothing or building something internally, to finding a partner or buying a competitor. The possibilities are endless and it’s your job to stay top of mind and help prospects understand the pros and cons of each path. You’ll need to decide how pushy you want to be at this stage. If you already have a communication channel opened, you can push hard and try to convince them they want to look at solutions like yours. Or you can be more passive and let them figure it out for themselves. Our experience is that the latter works better. Ultimately you may lose a few more deals, but those you get tend to stick longer. If you’re in the business of retaining customers like us, that becomes pretty important. If you just sell widgets one time, well, maybe not as crucial.
At the third stage the prospect probably has narrowed down the types of solutions that they want to look into. They begin searching for solution providers like you to help them. Hopefully you nailed it in stage one and two and they’ve already reached out to you. Don’t worry if they contact your competitors too, in the long run this help because your competitors reinforce the need for a solution like yours. As long as you have good competitive intelligence and a smart sales process, you should be able to win those deals (that may be a topic for another post). Now, as prospects consider you and your competitors you must help them realize value. We do this with a business case to help them see if working with us is going to be a fit; in other words, will it be a win-win relationship, because if it’s not, then someone is going to lose and that doesn’t work.
The final stage is purchase, woohoo! Yes, here is where you make the money, but don’t forget this is also the stage the client gets a problem solved. If you are solving their problem from stage one, then you shouldn’t have to give your product away. You’re providing value and that’s worth something. Part of your value may be your price. Maybe you offer a cheaper solution than your competitors. Or you might have a better product with more comprehensive service and you charge more for that. Whatever your strategy is, stick to it. Finally, remember to deliver. Too often deals are closed then companies forget to give the client what they sold them. Sounds sill, but it’s all too true. They are on to the next sale. Incidentally, if you’re on a “buyer” reading this post, don’t forget to ask about that. Ask the sales person, how do you ensure you give me what I’m buying from you? They better have a good answer for you.
As a buyer going through all this, it’s a useful exercise to assess where you are at in the process. This post is written for the sales and marketing professionals, but the insight is as useful to buyers as much as it is to sellers.