Stages of customer buying process

This blog is a continuation of my previous blog post on ‘Why it is required for Product Managers to comprehend customer buying process‘. I have mentioned about ‘WHY’, ‘WHEN’ and ‘HOW’ of comprehending customer buying process. In this blog, i am expanding ‘HOW’ to talk in more detail about the buying stages of customer buying process.

As customers enter the buying process, not every customer journey culminates in a sale and it is sheer pragmatic sense on part of the Product Manager not to expect 100% hit rate. Because combination of both genuine buyers and frivolous buyers enter the buying process, Product Manager has to isolate the genuine buyers to further identify who among the genuine buyers are actual target customers and figure out what causes the target customers to quit the buying process. Identifying the exact set of causes is more easily said than done, but quest for answers can possibly help Product Managers expand the bottom line.

The stages in the buying process vary depending on the product. Nevertheless, there are already well defined stages such as AARRR (developed by Mcclure) and 6 stages derived by Bryony Thomas in her book – Watertight Marketing. I have listed them as a reference to aid in better discussions.

AARRR

Source: http://startitup.co/guides/374/aarrr-startup-metrics

Watertight Marketing - Buying Funnel

Source: http://www.smartinsights.com/marketplace-analysis/customer-analysis/consumer-decision-buying-process/

All those stages are self-explanatory, so I avoid dwelling into details of each of those stages.

Buying stages of a car

For ease of discussions, I will henceforth follow the 6 stages defined by Bryony. Nevertheless the thoughts or suggestions put forward in the following section of the blog will be applicable to any other stage approach of customer buying process as well.

Stages in the buying process of a car

I have constructed the buying stages for a car and a closer look will reveal that I have comfortably omitted the TRIAL stage. For me TRIAL makes more sense in case of B2B product where the customers will trial the product free of cost for longer duration (3-6 months) in their environment before they decided to purchase the product. For me TRIAL is a natural extension of evaluation stage where customers will attempt to evaluate the product in much more detail. In case of buying a car, there would not be any detailed attempts to evaluate the car and therefore I thought it is appropriate to drop the TRIAL phase while ascertaining the buying stages for a car.

Stages therefore referred in this article are only for reference and not for strict adherence. Depending on the nature of the product, Product Manager can either add additional stages or remove existing stages. What is critical is that Product Manager identifies an exhaustive list of stages for his/her product buying process. Otherwise it would not be possible to identify at which stage the product is experiencing customer churn. Once the stages of buying process are ascertained, it is time to embark on the journey of identifying various engagement points within each stage of the buying process.

Identify customer engagement points

With the advent of mobile, web and social media, the engagement points for customers to know about the product, to evaluate the product, to collect feedback about the product and to throw feedback about the product has only manifold. The task at hand for Product Manager is to identify exhaustive set of engagement points at each stage of the buying process.

Purpose of engagement points

The purpose of engagement points is to establish connection between the product and customers. Engagement points provide more details about the product in order to simplify the buying process of customers, solicit feedback on what customers think about the product and finally to deliver or enhance customers experience with the product. The nature of interaction and communication between engagement points and customers can be bi-directional or unidirectional. Engagement points can take any form – personal, digital, social etc.

How to choose engagement points

Engage points should be chosen depending on how customers would like to interface with product (in which form and in which location) at each stage of the buying process. All those drivers combined together define the engagement points at each stage of the buying process. Not all engagement points are defined by the Product Manager, certain engagement points are defined by customers. For instance, customers dictate where to throw feedback about the product. Engagement points also need to evolve. Existing engagement points should either be deprecated or new engagement points should be introduced in accordance with the changing behaviors of the customers. Ultimately when, where, and how (timing, location, and format to share information) of each engagement point would be driven by the customer preferences and conveniences. Engagement points should create a plethora of options for customers to engage with the product, therefore the criterion for selection of engagement points is not merely by choice but by convenience and preferences of customers.

Engagement points of buying process of a car

For sake of illustration, let me revisit the example of buying a car and list down all possible engagement points for each stage of the buying process.

Engagement stages of a car

Basic tenets for identifying engagement points

  • Engagement points in each stage of the buying process should be exhaustive
  • Engagement points across all the stages of the buying process need not be mutually exclusive

In the next blog, i will talk about how engagement points could be leveraged to facilitate customers to make right buying decisions.