Move Prospects to Purchase Using Decision Theory

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cash_registerSelling your services to people can seem like a hit-and-miss proposition, but if you understand the purchase decision-making process, you’ll have a better grasp on the factors that affect your ability to sell.

More importantly, though, if you understand the purchase decision-making process, you’ll be able to target your communications and sales efforts to help move prospects toward purchase. First up, let’s look at the decision-making process.

The purchase decision-making process

This simple process really speaks for itself:

  1. problem recognition
  2. information search
  3. alternative evaluation
  4. purchase decision
  5. postpurchase behavior

It ties in closely with the stages of motivation (attention, interest, desire, action), as you can see here:

Picture 2Purchase decisions in action

Just for the sake of clarity, here’s a quick example of how the process works. My RSS reader was just scrapped by its developers, so I needed to find a new way to manage my RSS feeds (problem recognition). I did some research (information search) and found a few alternatives — desktop apps, online apps, free services, ad-supported services. I knew I didn’t want another desktop app. I also wanted to choose an option which would not be scrapped by its developers any time soon (alternative evaluation).

I chose an app (purchase decision), signed up and got started. The experience I had getting set up and adjusting to the new service (postpurchase behavior), which was smooth, created satisfaction, which increases the chance that I’ll make a personal recommendation of this service to others.

Applying the concept in your sales efforts

You can, of course, be conscious of decision-making theory as you sell services to clients. You can use it as a roadmap for providing the right kinds of information at the right time for each client, moving them more swiftly and easily (or just more often) to purchase.

Let’s say you’re a freelance designer who specializes in brand development. Your first priority is to get people’s attention. Perhaps your prospects already know they need to redevelop their brand; perhaps not.

Getting attention: recognizing a problem and building interest

Brand development’s a pretty nebulous area for the uninitiated, so buying billboard space on a freeway may not be the best way to create problem recognition within your target audience.

Maybe writing articles about branding for industry-specific magazines, being interviewed by business opinion leaders and having those interview presented in a blog post or podcast on the interviewers’ sites will help. Perhaps you’ll consider a direct approach, contacting companies whose branding you feel you could improve. The tactics may vary, but the point here is that if your target prospects don’t know they have a problem, you need to tell them so.

Using interest to direct information search and evaluation

Once you have your target’s attention and interest, they’ll move into the information search phase. You’ll want to further develop their interest in your brand development services at this point, so instead of just sending them a link to your folio and hoping they like it, you might try a few other interest-generating tactics to intrigue your prospects, and germinate the seeds of desire within them.

You might consider presenting to them in person (in their boardroom? Over lunch? It’s up to you) to illustrate what you can deliver, and identify the ways in which they’ll benefit. Perhaps you’ll invite them to follow you on twitter or subscribe to your blog so they can receive regular, quality information about brand development (and, from your perspective, receive constant, sometimes personally directed, examples of your knowledge and expertise).

These tactics should be designed to build desire within your target, but also to give them the information they’ll need to favorably assess your offering during the evaluation stage. To that end, as you’re getting to know your target, try to find out what motivates them: are they a wheeler and dealer looking for a bargain? Is quality their top priority? Are they focused entirely on their clients, to the detriment of other areas of their business?

This knowledge will let you target your communications with the individual in a more successful way. For example, if your prospect is the client-focused CEO who’s website is still showing an “under construction” page, you’ll need to illustrate to that person exactly how strong branding will help those clients remember the business, communicate the business’s professionalism, imply the company’s excellent service and customer satisfaction levels, and encourage personal recommendations that generate new custom.

So you might send the CEO a link to an article that explains how brands communicate, or deliver an in-person presentation on the topic. Maybe you’ll show them a study correlating brand recognition with client satisfaction. Such tactics may not be so relevant with the profit-focused CEO who ultimately wants to get a bargain on anything he buys, including branding. With this knowledge, you can target your communications to build desire while the target is in the information search and evaluation stages.

From evaluation to action: the purchase decision

Do your homework well, and you’ll likely also be able to anticipate the prospect’s information needs during the decision-making phase, which could give you a serious advantage over the competition. The prospect’s perception of your skills, and sense of your alignment with their own ideals and goals, may well permit you to establish greater rapport, and a firmer, closer relationship, which may make you a prime candidate for consideration. It may also mean that you can provide the piece of information or assurance at the perfect time — the ‘deciding factor’ that actually moves the client to purchase.

Responding to action to create a positive postpurchase experience

The knowledge you’ve gained about your client will, of course, help you to produce the product or outcome they want, but will also aid you in the postpurchase phase. At this point, you want to ensure that the client is happy with your work and, ideally, becomes an advocate for your services.

So perhaps you’ll do a little research and prepare a report to your customer-focused client on the (hopefully increased) satisfaction levels of their customers. Perhaps you’ll do a cost-benefit comparison for the profit-focused client to demonstrate the value your rebrand actually delivered.

If you plan these activities while you’re still in the project’s development phase, you may be able to get buy-in from the client, who’ll be pleased that you’re as enthusiastic as they are about making sure the rebranding delivers the benefits that are important to them.

These are just a few examples of the ways you can use your knowledge of the purchase decision-making process to hone your communications and sales effort to move individual clients to purchase. How do you apply decision-making theory in your sales and communications processes?

Georgina LaidlawGeorgina Laidlaw
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Georgina has more than fifteen years' experience writing and editing for web, print and voice. With a background in marketing and a passion for words, the time Georgina spent with companies like Sausage Software and cemented her lasting interest in the media, persuasion, and communications culture.

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