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Navigating The Consumer Buying Process

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View post titled Navigating The Consumer Buying Process

Posted on 05/27/2021 at 10:03 AM

The Consumer Buying Process

We Are All Consumers

Before becoming successful marketing or sales professionals, we must recognize the universal buying process each of us completes when deciding what to buy. By understanding this process we will soon be able to understand what point in the buying process our prospects and clients are in and can help them through the process.

The Six Stages of the Buying Process

Think back on the last time you bought something. Keep that purchase in mind and revisit it with each point below. The basic buying process is simple: an outside influence makes us realize our desired state and our actual state are not aligned. To fix this, we seek a solution that will produce our desired state. As consumers, this process plays out in six specific stages:

  1. Need (Problem) Recognition
  2. Information Search
  3. Evaluation of Alternatives
  4. Purchase Decision
  5. Purchase
  6. Post-Purchase Evaluation

Need (or Problem) Recognition

As we become aware of a problem, we begin to develop a need to resolve it. As previously mentioned, this occurs when our desired state does not match our actual state. Needs Recognition is always triggered by something.

For example, if you are sitting at home and your stomach growls, you recognize that you are hungry. This uncomfortable state is not where you want to be, so you move to stage two.

Information Search

Naturally, when we want something, we tend to research ways to get it. Usually, we first seek the fastest or most convenient way to solve the problem. We look within and consider our closest resource: ourselves and what we know. This tends to be an internal information search. If we cannot obtain an answer this way, we seek answers externally. We try to consider every viable way to resolve our situation.

For example, once we have recognized that we are hungry and no longer wish to be hungry, we may not remember what food is currently in the pantry or refrigerator, so we walk to the pantry in search of a way to satiate our hunger. If the first thing we see is a box of graham crackers, we begin to evaluate our personal taste and exactly how hungry we are. Will a few graham crackers be enough?  Do we want to cook something, or go to the store and buy something? What was that restaurant that our friend recommended the other day? Do they do take-out? What else is in the cupboard? Once every viable solution has been considered, we move on to stage three.

Evaluation of Alternatives

Often the first thing we find to resolve the problem may not be the ideal solution. We want to make sure we are making the right choice, so we evaluate our alternatives. We consider all the information we have obtained and try to determine which solution will best solve our problem. This process is very subjective and varies depending on the situation. Sometimes this process is quick, other times it takes some time.

Looking back to our hunger example, once we have considered all viable options, perhaps weighing pro's and con’s, and considering the ultimate outcome, it's time to move on to stage four.

Purchase Decision

When a consumer commits to purchasing something, they have made their purchase decision.

In our example we would finally decide on the food we know will satiate our hunger.


The purchase is the process of the actual procurement and execution of the thing that will satisfy the need, solve the problem, and will make the desired state become the actual state. To put it another way, a purchase is simply implementing the decision. A "purchase" does not have to be a monetary exchange, but rather acting, consuming, or putting to use whatever it is that we have determined will solve the problem.

In our example, this would be the process of eating whatever it is we decided would satiate our hunger.

Post-Purchase Evaluation

Once we have executed the solution (made the purchase and had a chance to try it out), we consider whether our solution solved the problem. The answer is stored in our subconscious for next time. We will use this stored information to help inform our next information search (stage 2) when we find ourselves in a similar situation.

To conclude our example, we have eaten. Are we still hungry? If not, we are happy with our purchase decision and will remember that the solution was a good one for that problem. If not, we may move back to Stage 3 and consider other ways to alleviate our hunger problem.

From Buyer to Seller

Recognizing the buying stages in ourselves makes us better consumers. Recognizing them in others makes us an invaluable partner in their buying process.

Marketing is the triggering of Stage 1 in someone else. We cannot solve a problem that we do not recognize. People don't buy products or services, they buy solutions. As professional salespeople, we recognize the issue, often before the customer, and bring it to their attention. Sales begin when we offer the solution.

When a customer comes to us to inquire about our services or products it means that they have moved past Stage 1 and are likely in Stage 2. They are trying to find ways to solve their problem. If we are the ones who have triggered the recognition that there is an issue and offered a solution, we become the source of the majority of information required to make a purchase decision. To move the process in our favor, it is important to be proactive and anticipate their need to evaluate alternatives (Stage 3). We can help them with this by explaining the pros and cons of our other solutions that may solve the problem and acknowledging the same in our competitors.

Pro Sales Tip:

It is important to avoid speaking poorly of competitors whenever possible. Negative speech about competitors does nothing but negatively impact your brand and can make you seem untrustworthy. It is assumed that you believe your solution is the best. It is your job to SHOW them why and how.

If we help someone successfully complete the buying process

Recognizing where your service or product lives in the buying process is extremely valuable. Consider the insurance company Progressive. They know that people will only come to them when they need insurance (Stage 1 complete, Stage 2 and 3 in progress). So Progressive plants themselves firmly in between Stage 2 & 3. They know their customers are seeking info and will price shop competitors, so they offer to do it for them! Bold, but hey, it works!

Final Thoughts

Understanding where your customers are at in the buying cycle can help inform your sales strategies. The way that you might approach a customer in stage one will be much different than in state three. Likewise, the messaging used across your website, advertisements, and social media should make sense when considering which stage your customers are in when they visit you online.

Is your website designed for someone who is still in stage one?  If someone in stage three wants to compare your value to that of your competitor, will you offer that information upfront or let the customer go somewhere else to compare? Hint: Your online presence can and should be engaging for customers at every stage of the buying cycle; even if the majority of visitors are in one stage. 

The good news is: the consumer buying cycle is just as helpful for marketing and sales professionals as it is for consumers. 


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