To really explain the process a customer navigates as he/she makes a purchasing decision – we put together this diagram, which is followed by a detailed explanation of each part of the process. This outline is valuable information for anyone hoping to engage a consumer, for any salesperson hoping to make a sale, or for any manager that wants to sell an idea to his/her team. Study each step and get inside the customer’s mind.

Interest – Something engages the customer; something catches the customer’s attention. Maybe because they are actively searching for something in response to a need or perceived opportunity, or maybe they just connect with a well-positioned piece of information.

Need or Opportunity – Individually or with the help of outside influence, the customer “decides to pursue” a perceived priority. This may be an active decision to pursue a need or opportunity or it may be a passive open-mindedness that develops. The more positive expectation, curiosity or pain – the more motivation the customer will have to “know.”

Learning and Analysis – Customers move into a stage of learning, educating themselves and analyzing. Driven by a combination of current knowledge (or lack of) and emotion, this stage centers on answering the following questions:

  • How motivated am I to seek something to address this need or opportunity?
  • How big is the gap between what I have and what I want?
  • How much value is presented by alternative solutions?
  • How much relief, satisfaction or resolution will I receive in an alternative?
  • Do I find the value compelling enough to act?

Evaluation – The evaluation stage is a dynamic interplay with the inquiry, adequacy of information and the perceived validity of the data sources discovered and examined in the learning and analysis stage. Evaluation moves along a continuum from “Is this worthy of any action at all?” To – “How do I choose among the many undifferentiated choices available to me?” To – “Is the value offered here equal to or greater than the alternatives?” Or – “I want this; how do I get it?” The interplay between the realization of a gap (need or opportunity), the attractiveness of the opportunities (presented or discovered), and the evaluation – have the potential to result in a customer decision that holds a high degree of commitment. Or, they may get lost in a sea of ambivalence.

Decision – The final decision may be a decision not to decide, a “flip of a coin,” or a committed decision (yes or no). A “committed decision” that fills the gap between the customer’s need and the benefits of the solution provided is the ideal outcome of this process. And, commitment is generally a result of engagement in the learning and analysis stage and in evaluating the fit of the solution with a solid understanding of the impact of the need and /or the significance of the opportunity. When the dynamic interplay of these three difficult-to-navigate buyer stages have been fully and satisfactorily engaged by the customer, they will be in position to make a committed decision. Customers may be more inclined to have buyer’s remorse or to simply back away from a decision when they aren’t engaged enough to gain the insight needed to evaluate alternatives with an appropriate level of comfort. And, if they feel rushed through the process or the process is short-circuited by a sales person who’s mainly committed to making the sale, customers will lack confidence in the decision and withdraw to minimize damage to their self-esteem and their business.

So what? Now, what? The key point in understanding this process is to understand that skillful customer engagement (by a sales professional) – recognizing where the customer is in their process (the stage) and helping them effectively meet their needs (in each stage) – can help customers build confidence and commit to finding a solution that addresses their needs or opportunities. Doing this well may potentially lead customers to use your proposed solution. This is the essence of effective professional selling.

We want to hear from you – in your opinion, what’s the most difficult part of navigating this process?