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Opinion: Buyer’s journey is changing — have you?

The Strategic Suite

Posted online

The buyer’s journey that most of us have experienced over our lifetime has changed. One of the best examples is the car-buying process.

When I bought my first car, I remember visiting many dealerships to see what was available. It was overwhelming and somewhat intimidating to look at cars, test drive them, consider what I liked best and try not to buy the first thing I liked (which I did). In the late 1990s, the average car buyer probably visited five dealerships before making a buying decision. It was quite intense.

Now, the average buyer visits more like 1.5 dealerships before making a purchase and that number seems to be shrinking.

Consumers have more information at their disposal than ever before. They are empowered with information. Virtually any research-based experience that was needed at the dealership in 1998 has been replaced online. Manufacturer websites contain videos of any vehicle type. Third-party sites offer reviews, discussion forums and user ratings.

The people you trust the most will tell you that seat is not comfortable or the cupholder is unmatched. Other websites can help you determine the value of your vehicle and how much you could get for it in a trade. Or you could sell it yourself on a different website that allows you to take pictures, post videos and show up in search engines. You can watch a YouTube video on how to negotiate. Then, if you’re searching for a pre-owned auto, you can employ vehicle search sites to find 53 of those vehicles in your area and shop in your pajamas. When you find one you like, you can run a report on it and find out its vehicle maintenance history. If all that looks good, you may click on the chat button on the dealership’s website and ask if the car is still available, prompting you to drop by, take a test drive and make a well-informed purchase.

This also has changed the face of the dealership, their processes and how they market themselves as a resource to their potential customers.

Most anywhere on the internet will describe this basic marketing journey in four categories: awareness, consideration, decision-making and buying.

It’s important to know how your customer interacts in this buyer’s journey and ask yourself if a majority of buyers make their decisions before they make contact with you. What are you doing differently to compete for their business?

Here’s a breakdown:

Awareness. Consumers know you exist and what your business does. They may have seen an ad on TV or billboard or maybe that you sponsored a charity event. It’s simple – they know your name among a list of similar companies.

Consideration. Something changes, and your potential customer has put a name to a problem they have in their life. They have to do their taxes soon and they weren’t happy with the last experience. Or their friend has a much nicer TV, and their longtime favorite NFL team seems like they may be better this year. Your potential customer’s personal need begins to blossom. With this newfound need, they Google questions like, “What’s the quietest dishwasher?” or “How do I improve company culture?” They begin considering their options and qualifying what matters most to them in solving their problem with the best provider. But the challenge is they rarely reach out for your advice because they aren’t ready to make a buying decision. However, they can be informed about what makes you different than your competition. Businesses that focus on their differentiators in the consideration phase of the buyer’s journey build value in potential customers’ minds when it matters most. When value is established early, price is put into perspective later.

Decision-making. Now that the buyer has researched, gotten referrals and made up their minds to take the next step, they finally get in contact with you. As a business owner, this can be really rewarding or really frustrating. In the customers’ minds, this is where they are aligning what is most important to them with the price range they’re willing to pay. Once they find a match, they make a decision. How do they get to you? Nearly nine out of 10 buyers go to your website or Google listings to read what you do and then contact you.

As you plan for 2019, focus on how you approach the consideration phase of your potential buyer’s journey. And focus on the entire funnel. Like a good mutual fund, you want to allocate your resources across the strengths of each phase of the funnel and make smart choices. The consideration phase often gets overlooked, because we are trained historically to build awareness and the decision-making phase is where the rubber meets the road. Consideration can be nebulous, but a well-conceived strategy to differentiate yourself from your competition will pay off for you.

Springfield Business Journal Associate Publisher Marty Goodnight can be reached at mgoodnight@sbj.net.

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