A Guide to the Consumer Decision-Making Process

The consumer decision-making process is at the core of an effective marketing plan. Use it to guide prospective customers through the customer journey to a sale.

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Updated December 4, 2020

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How do your customers decide to buy from you? If you don’t know, you may be setting yourself up for failure. Understanding the customer buying process is at the core of your success. Understand that process, and you can better steer prospects to the sale.

A customer goes through these five stages when deciding to make a purchase:

  1. Problem recognition
  2. Information search
  3. Evaluation
  4. Purchase decision
  5. Post-purchase buying behaviors

Every customer follows a customer journey map that guides them through each step. Your conversion funnel should have content that corresponds to and supports the customer at each step.


1. Problem recognition

The buying process starts when the consumer recognizes they have a problem to solve. They must recognize their problem needs a solution. Whether the problem is losing weight or moving to a new location, the first step is always recognizing there's a problem to be solved.

Once they recognize their problem, consumers often use Google search to find solutions. Informational posts that help them identify how to address their problems will help build trust with your target market at this preliminary step in the customer journey.

Combining quality informational blog posts with your e-commerce platform is a great way to attract customers in the problem recognition stage. Their main interest is information gathering, but it's never too early to showcase your product or service.


2. Information search

Consumers want to know they're making an informed purchase decision and spending their money wisely. They don’t stop researching when they find one solution online.

Consumers look for the following during their research:

  • Social proof: Do other people like it? What are their experiences?
  • Features and benefits: Will the features meet their needs? Does the product provide benefits that will enhance their life?
  • Price: Is the product reasonably priced?

Social proof

Consumers look for social proof online and from their friends when they're unsure about a buying decision. They're looking for other people to confirm their purchase is wise and the product is sound.

Reviews are an essential part of the information searching process. According to The Opinion Corporation Research study, "A full 61% of customers read online reviews before making a purchase decision, and they are now essential for e-commerce sites."

Testimonials and reviews provide the consumer with a real example of another buyer’s experience. They also build trust between the consumer and the brand.

Features and benefits

Consumers read up on the features and benefits of the product or service. These are often found in its description, on a sales page, or in a brochure.

For more complex features and benefits, it may be wise to create how-to content for certain products. This can be done with video demonstrations, e-books, and informational posts.

Price

Consumers always want the best price they can get, but it's not always beneficial to be the lowest-priced option on the market. Some view the lowest price suspiciously, assuming low-quality materials and workmanship. This may turn off some buyers.

During the information-gathering phase, buyers will check the market to see if your price is fair. They'll want to confirm your product is competitively priced.


3. Evaluation

As consumers conduct research, they discover many brands offering similar solutions. This leads them to the evaluation stage of the customer journey. They will evaluate alternatives to determine which best solves their problem. This involves comparing and contrasting features and benefits.

During this stage, consumers can be influenced by the interaction they have with the brand. For example, if customer engagement is high, a customer may be more inclined to try a product. If no strong attachment exists between the buyer and the brand, price may factor strongly into the decision.

A customer relationship manager (CRM) tool can help your brand stand out throughout the customer journey. HubSpot CRM allows companies to engage with their potential customers through targeted marketing campaigns. You can create email sequences to nurture your leads at every point.


4. Purchase decision

Each purchase decision is different, requiring a different time investment. Some consumers purchase a product to try it out, others are seeking long-term investments, and loyal customers may purchase it because they love the product.

If your product has strong social proof, positive reviews, a good price point and looks like it will solve a consumer’s problem, they may well buy. For example, a housewife may be interested in the trend of cooking meals faster. She discovers a pressure cooker on sale for 20% off. After confirming the testimonials are positive and checking with friends and family, she orders the pressure cooker online.

Very expensive purchases, such as a house, require a long-term commitment and more extensive evaluation. For example, when a consumer finds a three-bedroom house selling below market value, they may be interested.

After confirming with their realtor that the foundation is solid and the neighborhood schools are good, they may evaluate similar homes in the neighborhood. The buyer will want to evaluate the mortgage rates and real estate market. This will lengthen the time to make a purchase decision.


5. Post-purchase buying behavior

Why should you care about a customer after the purchase is done? Providing great customer service can lead to increased customer loyalty and referrals. In fact, 65% of a company's business comes from its existing customers. Not only are loyal customers five times more likely to purchase again, but they will also refer their friends and do your marketing for you.

Once the transaction has been made, the customer sales cycle isn’t over. The consumer is still evaluating their purchase. They want to know if the product will meet their expectations long term. This post-purchase evaluation will be different for every product.

The post-purchase evaluation of a new yogurt brand may take only 24 hours. The customer will consume it and decide if he or she enjoyed it. They also may want to wait to see if they experience any digestive trouble before writing a positive review for the brand.

The post-purchase evaluation of a washing machine may last a few years. Consumers will first evaluate how well the machine washes clothes. They will then want to figure out how energy- and water-efficient the machine is. They'll compare this information with the marketing that sold them on the machine.

Post-purchase evaluation is a great time to deepen your relationship with your customers. Follow up with them and discover what they liked or hated about the product. You get valuable feedback on how you can improve your product, and it's an opportunity to market other products to them.


Guiding the customer to a sale

Understanding the five stages of the consumer decision-making process will help you attract and guide your leads through the customer journey. By creating marketing that makes you easy to find, every step on their path gives them confidence that purchasing your product will solve their problem.

This will improve your customer acquisition rate, increase customer retention, and maximize conversions. When done right, your customers will become loyal fans and rave about you to their friends and family.

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