Marketing is the process of cost-effectively attracting prospects and profitably converting them into loyal, repeat clients who refer business.
In other words, the purpose of your marketing should be to find those ideal clients who want or need what you offer and can pay for your services – and showing them why they should hire you by making a complete, compelling case for you and your business.
You won’t attract qualified leads by chasing after prospects and trying to convince them to listen to your sales pitch. Rather, you attract qualified leads by developing a series of marketing materials that move them along a logical path from complete stranger to client advocate.
Stages of the Consumer Buying Process
How people interact with you and your business depends on where they are in their buying process. Generally, there are six stages someone might be in:
Stage 1: Strangers
Strangers have never heard of you or your business. They make up the vast pool of “anyone who might buy your service.” If you try to pitch these people or hound them into hiring you, they will become defensive. Their standard response is “I’m not interested.” Your marketing’s goal is to grab their attention in some way – usually through the principles of AIDA advertising, keyword research for SEO and pay-per-click campaigns, or getting media attention.
Stage 2: Suspects
Suspects are people that may have a want or need for your service but they haven’t yet identified themselves to you. These might be people browsing your website anonymously or those on a purchased direct mailing list. You know little to nothing about them. They don’t care much about you – but they recognize they want to solve a problem or achieve their goals, so they start researching options. You can get their attention through freebies like free reports, tool kits, podcasts, video presentations, and other educational materials. Your goal is to get them to identify themselves by giving you their contact information.
Stage 3: Prospects
Prospects have started to engage with you. They may have signed up for your teleclass, joined your mailing list, or downloaded your free toolkit in exchange for their email address. With prospects, you have permission to follow up and can start educating them about their problems, concerns, pain points, and goals – as well as the benefits of hiring you to help them.
Stage 4: Clients/1st Time Buyers
These people trust you enough to try you out on a small scale. They might purchase your ebook, sign up for group training, hire you for a small project, or join your trial subscription. They are not yet loyal, and this small sample is a test that can make or break whether they purchase anything else from you. If you don’t meet or exceed their expectations, this will be a one-time, transactional purchase.
Stage 5: Repeat Buyers
Repeat buyers are looking to build a mutual relationship and are starting to see you as a trusted adviser and partner. They consider bigger projects, longer-term one-on-one services, or higher ticket items.
Stage 6: Advocates
The final step are the advocates and promoters. These people love you and your work and consider you a friend. They provide steady business, send you referrals, and make up your most profitable clients.
People at each stage of the buying process require different types of marketing materials. If you try to close the deal too fast, prospects will become defensive. Consider what each person wants at each of these stages and what types of marketing materials you can design to appeal to them.
The Buying Process: How Consumers Make Buying Decisions
When you are thinking about how you can market to each type of person in your sales funnel, put yourself in their shoes. When someone is considering making a purchasing decision, they usually go through five stages:
- Awareness – First, they must realize they have a problem that they might need to solve. Until they become consciously aware that they want to achieve a goal or solve a problem, they will filter or ignore any relevant information. At this point, people are usually in the stranger or suspect stage.
- Information Search – Once they become aware, they start gathering information to help them decide what they need to do to solve their problem or achieve their goal, how much it might cost, what solutions are available, can they do it themselves, how big of a deal is it, and so forth. This often corresponds to the suspect and prospect stages of the consumer buying process and is the best place to reach prospects because your educational marketing materials can influence how they evaluate and make purchasing decisions.
- Evaluate Options – As people gather information, they analyze what they’ve collected or learned. What is the big picture? What are their options? What is best for them? Do they need to hire someone to help them or can they fix it themselves? How much will it cost – and is the problem big enough for them to justify the cost? Do they really want to fix the problem or is it just a minor annoyance? Do they have the time and resources to devote to this task right now? It’s usually at this stage when people start talking to companies. Here, people can be in the suspect or prospect stages. If you didn’t reach prospects at the information gathering stage, entering the game now can be more challenging because your suspects/prospects have already gathered plenty of information and have been influenced by your competitors, the media, their family and friends, and other information sources. They will often have preconceived notions and expectations that may or may not be accurate.
- Make Purchasing Decision – If they decide to move forward – that their problem is big enough for them to solve, they need help solving it, and they have the resources set aside to fix the problem now – consumers now pick a solution. These people begin in the prospect stage and become a client or first-time buyer.
- Re-Evaluation – Finally, once they’ve bought or hired a company, consumers will continue to re-evaluate their purchase. Was this a good decision? Is the company meeting their expectations and communicating with them appropriately? Here, clients and first time buyers evaluate if they like you enough to become repeat buyers, while repeat buyers evaluate if they like you enough to become advocates.
By understanding where prospects are in their buying process, you can tailor your marketing message so that it’s relevant to their key concerns and frustrations.