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How to use the “stages of buying” to increase and nurture your leads

Are you scaring off leads? Are you trying to get too serious, too fast? Discover how a little insight into customer buying behavior can fill your pipeline with leads and greatly improve your marketing efforts!

Ah, the risks of misreading people…

My husband and I recently attended a home and garden show in Denver to gather ideas on ways to add more space to our house.

Shortly after the event, one of the companies we’d briefly chatted with at the show began pursuing us.

First date with different expectationsThey emailed us a project proposal, which we hadn’t requested. They also left us several voice mail messages, asking us to schedule our start date.

Uh, what?

I’m sure they had good intentions, but I’m not sure how we jumped from the first date to a proposal! They were oblivious to where we were in the buying funnel. As a result, they came across as pushy and lost their chance for a sale.

The five stages of buying in the marketing funnel

This awkward exchange got me thinking about how much more effective companies can be when they understand customer buying behavior and specifically, the five stages of buying.

(If you’re struggling to create effective marketing content, getting a good grasp on the stages of buying can open up a new world for you in content!)

There are a variety of ways to think about the stages of buying. I’m going to share the five stages that have always made the most sense to me.

Your prospective customers:

  1. Become aware they have a need or problem.
  2. Explore possible solutions.
  3. Explore companies that deliver those solutions.
  4. Evaluate and compare a set of contenders.
  5. Make a decision.

There is a preliminary stage in which people don’t know they have a need yet, but for purposes of this post, I’m going to start with people who are aware they have a need.

The mighty perks of understanding buying behavior

What can you gain from understanding the psychology of buying?

I’m so glad you asked…

#1: A new perspective on your competitive set

It’s natural to think about your competitors as companies that have similar offerings to your own. But in doing so, you’re assuming that all of your buyers are down at the end of the buying cycle.

The cool thing about thinking through the stages of buying is that you become aware of a new set of competitors that could be taking business away from you, and you didn’t even know it!

Consider my story… As my husband and I explore ways to add square footage to our home, we’re considering a variety of solutions, from building an addition, to converting crawlspace into a finished basement, to moving to a new house.

If you were a business that offered crawlspace conversion and basement finishing services, your competitors aren’t just other contractors. Your competitors also include realtors. And naturally, as realtors, they want to convince your consumers that moving is a much better solution to the space problem.

So here’s the question: What do you do with this knowledge?

How do you fish upstream and minimize unexpected competitors?

How do you find and catch consumers who are in the early stages of buying, so you can greatly expand your lead potential and pipeline?

#2: You use your knowledge to develop highly targeted marketing content!

Chances are, you already have marketing content that’s targeted to consumers who are in the middle to later stages of buying. (This is your content that covers “here’s how our company makes life easier for you,” “here’s what makes our company special” and “here’s why you should choose us over the other guys.”)

But now, with your insight into consumer psychology, you can plan out new web pages, blog posts, and sales sheets that are highly targeted to consumers in the early stages of buying too.

For example, if you were a business that converts crawlspaces into basements, your “early stage” content could include the following types of articles:

A Unique Way to Add Livable Space to Your Home

The Pros and Cons of Expanding Your Home’s Footprint

10 Reasons that Crawlspace Conversion Makes
Better Financial Sense than Moving or Building an Addition

What Your Realtor Doesn’t Want You to Know about
Adding Space to Your Home

If you’re creating this type of content for your website, you want to ensure it’s fresh, compelling, search-friendly, and easy to share.

Your goal here is to attract early stage buyers to your website with highly targeted content.

In addition, you want to ensure that you create really high-value content (such as some juicy secrets or expert insight), but you offer this content with a catch.

You ask your website visitors to share basic information about themselves in exchange for downloading your high-value content. Once you have their contact information, you gently nurture those leads, occasionally sharing useful information with them to stay top of mind.

Suddenly, you’re no longer pushing your company out at customers; you’re willingly pulling them in.

This “inbound” approach targeting customers at each stage of the buying funnel is very cost-effective.

According to HubSpot’s 2012 State of Inbound Marketing Report:

  • Inbound leads cost 61% less than outbound leads.
  • The average cost per lead for outbound-dominated businesses was $346, compared to only $135 per lead for inbound-dominated businesses.

Just as important, this approach drives results!

One of my web partners and I recently created a downloadable whitepaper for a client. The whitepaper is on a very compelling topic that’s targeted to our client’s early stage buyers.

Since launching the whitepaper four months ago, our client has gotten 28 new leads from it—a significant number for his business!

He’s in the process of nurturing those leads as they work their way through the stages of buying. He isn’t pushing them to buy, buy, buy.

And that leads me to the final point…

#3: Understanding the stages of buying helps you nurture leads, rather than scaring them away

Perhaps this goes without saying, but the most powerful perk to understanding customer buying behavior is that it empowers you to nurture your leads, rather than scare them away.

When you make an effort to connect with those early stage buyers in a way that appeals to them, you demonstrate that you “get” them. You create a connection, and you begin to build their trust in you.

Sure, we’d all like to have highly-qualified prospects who are ready to making a buying decision.

But if you don’t take the time to understand legitimate buyers who are in the earlier stages of buying, you’re greatly limiting your pipeline and opportunities.

Parting thoughts: Think of the stages of buying as a guideline, rather than a rule

Do the stages of buying apply to every consumer?

The short answer is no.

Case in point: Consider how much of an impact a referral can make on buying behavior.

Referrals tend to “fast track” consumers through the stages of buying. When a consumer ask a trusted friend for a recommendation, the friend’s endorsement of a company can jump the consumer from the early stages of buying straight into making a decision.

It’s no wonder referrals are so valuable!

In general, though, understanding consumer psychology is a powerful way to improve your marketing and sales efforts.

When you appeal to early stage buyers and nurture those leads, you begin building trust and greatly expand your pool of potential buyers. Cheers to that!

Until next time…