MM September/October 2007
Now the consumer might start with a Google search of “newdoorknob,” which would turn up literally thousands of infor-mation sources on buying and replacing doorknobs (homeimprovement sites such as HGTV or This Old House) alongwith myriad purchase options, ranging among the following:•retail giants such as The Home Depot, Lowe’s, Wal-Mart,and Target•regional hardware stores such as Ace, Aubuchon, andTrue Value•for-sale-by-owner sites such as eBay and Craigslist•numerous e-retailers such as doorknobdiscountcenter.comand knobsandhardware.comIt’s safe to say, however, that none of those retailers hasdeep insight about that potential consumer other than hisperceived need for a new doorknob. Is he building a house orreplacing a door? Does he want more security or is the newknob strictly for looks? How much of a factor is price? Didsomeone refer him to this brand? Beyond offering basic priceinformation and product descriptions, most retailers are notlikely to take any action to lead the consumer through adetailed buying process. And yet if companies don’t invest inunderstanding where they can win or lose that customer inthe buying process, then how can they invest in the marketingprograms that matter most?The irony is that marketers are being asked with increasingurgency to help drive organic business growth by acquiringand retaining customers—and by convincing them to buymore products or services. In many cases, however, theirmethods have yet to catch up with the madness of the currentmarketplace, in which consumers are less attentive to tradi-tional messaging and just as likely to follow advice on a newproduct from a Web log (blog) or third-party Web site.Although most companies have a very good understanding of the transactions that a customer has historically engaged in,they have very little understanding of why an individual behaves in the way he does and what they could do to alterthat behavior to their advantage.Marketers need new tools that will help them developdeeper insights into customer behavior and identify keypoints in which they can influence purchase decisions.Conducting an in-depth analysis of the buying process touncover these “leverage points” can help marketers definethe best tactics to alter (or reinforce)–to increase sales andultimately drive profitable growth. (See Exhibit 1.)
New Buying Pro c e s s
The proliferation of product choices, information sources,distribution channels, and marketing platforms has made theworld a complex place for both buyers and sellers of goodsand services. For marketers, it’s the equivalent of movingfrom a simple game of checkers to trying to solve a Rubik’sCube and Sudoku puzzle simultaneously. Unfortunately,existing models for understanding the buying process—partic-ularly the specificity of how a customer is motivated andinfluenced at each step along the way—are constrained bytwo significant flaws in conventional wisdom.
The buying process is nonlinear.
The first flaw is viewingthe buying process as a linear progression. Many marketingand sales teams still group the customer life cycle into orderlyand discrete stages: awareness, trial, consideration, purchase,and repeat. They have systems in place to monitor what hap-pens at each stage (e.g., customer relationship management,sales-force automation, loyalty analysis), but those systemsdon’t show the numerous paths customers use to navigatethroughout the process. That used to matter less when therewere one or two ways of creating awareness or purchasing aproduct; the linkages then were fairly obvious. Now, however,the paths are so varied that companies cannot effectively track them. Acustomer might enter a store ready to buy a specificmake and model of a computer after researching the productonline, or he might be a novice looking for information andguidance. Those are two customers with very different pur-chase contexts that require two separate marketing approach-es. Marketing tactics for the computer-savvy shopper mightinclude word-of-mouth strategies, blogs, and third-partyendorsements, whereas the computer-novice shopper mightrequire aggressive sales promotions, in-store purchase dis-plays, and endorsements from well-known media outlets suchas
.Compounding the problem: Marketing and sales personnelwho treat the buying-process stages as a straight line (aware-ness leads to consideration, which leads to a purchase, whichleads to repeat purchases) incorrectly assume that all buying
With the increasing complexity of business today, many marketers have forgotten the funda-mental principal that growth occurs only when you’re able to change specific behaviors incustomers during their buying process. That’s harder today because the typical buyingprocess is a complex ecosystem of channels, information sources, and marketing mix options—but it’s absolutely essen-tial. This article outlines specific ways companies can develop insights from the customer buying process and then focustheir marketing efforts on the things that really matter.
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