What really drives customers? How come that we’re rational people, but that our purchasing behavior still heavily depends on instinct? And, if the latter is the case, how can we approach instinctive sales in a rational manner? Enter: J. P. Guilford and the Customer Buying Process (CBP). The customer buying process is a three-tiered model that starts with a divergent process, followed by convergence to a decision. Right before we choose, we need to convince ourselves of the choice we’re making, which constitutes the third and last phase until a decision. Let’s zoom in.
Options, options, options
Guilford first proposed the concept of ‘divergent thinking’ in the 1950s, when he noticed that creative people tend to exhibit this type of thinking more than others. He thus associated divergent thinking with creativity, appointing it several characteristics:
- fluency (the ability to produce great number of ideas or problem solutions in a short period of time);
- flexibility (the ability to simultaneously propose a variety of approaches to a specific problem);
- originality (the ability to produce new, original ideas);
- elaboration (the ability to systematize and organize the details of an idea in a head and carry it out).
So, what does this mean concretely? First, let’s show you our model of the CBP.
At the top you see a light bulb. That’s the trigger that starts this entire process. Let me explain the model with a simple example:
Your TV broke down. That’s the light bulb in the model and your trigger to buy a new one. What’s the first thing you do? Right. Investigate! You go online and search for options. Maybe you talk to some friends and the neighbor and you go to a store for advice and to see one in real-life. In other words: you’ve entered the divergent process; you are considering the options. It’s a very creative and proactive process, since you initiate many ideas that could guide your choice. From a commercial point of view – the person on the other side of the table – it is proactive, because you are still open to the seller’s advice and suggestions. For him or her to have the most impact on your journey, it is important to be involved as early as possible. Being there at the start can help a seller to shape the customer’s need and generate some goodwill that positions you as the preferred supplier. Simply put: you are able to build a relationship with your customer at an early stage, which offers advantages throughout the entire process. Because ultimately: people buy from people.
Let’s go back to that TV example. You have arrived at the stage that you slowly start making some choices. You now know what size TV it should be and whether you want LED in it or not. We call this the converging process: you are eliminating options. It’s a somewhat more reactive and formal process from the salesman’s perspective, because you now have to show what you can offer or prove that you can deliver, rather than shape the needs to what you can provide. When your customer has made all choices, it is more difficult to influence the decision.
For example, consider an RFP; request for proposal. All requirements have already been listed. There’s usually little to no room to help design the request and you can only respond to what has already been established. At the bottom of the ‘formal process’ there’s a pro-forma decision and the first negotiations take place here. About that: later.
And then the time has come to buy. Or has it? We are all familiar with “the period of doubt” as a buying party. After all, there can be quite some money on the line. When you’ve gotten to this point, maybe you just consult with the rest of the family back home or talk to colleagues for feedback. As the selling party, you may be familiar with 2 to 3 weeks of silence when you have sent out the quotation: the customer’s period of doubt. Some free advice from my side: do not step into the convincing mode as the selling party, but into the questioning mode. What else does the buyer need to make the choice? Don’t step into the common pitfall of your stereotyped car salesman and don’t push your customer.
Back again to that TV example.
And then the moment comes when you make the purchase. Super! Let’s celebrate! At home, when you have installed the TV, set up a good movie or series and you can enjoy the image quality.
Understanding a customer’s buying process is an essential tool in your commercial excellence toolbox. We have more. Let’s talk and find out which could help you get even better?
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