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Website Optimization: Understanding the Buying Process

We’ve talked often enough about the five steps of the sales process; it’s a mandatory structural element in the persuasive architecture of your site.  But at the same time you’re “selling,” an activity you largely control, your visitors are “buying,” an activity they largely control.

The trick to making your conversion rate soar is to construct your sales process so it is in tune with how folks decide to buy whatever you offer.

So let’s look at some of the factors that make up the decision to buy.

The Buying Decision Process

Whenever folks make a buying decision, that decision represents the culmination of a process.  It may take place almost instantaneously or stretch out over a long period of time – but it’s a process, not an event.

No matter how long the process takes, the buying decision always begins when folks become aware of a need.  Once they have identified that need, they begin to search for and explore possible avenues for meeting it.  While gathering information, they refine and evaluate all the buying criteria that will affect the decision to purchase and narrow the field of choice to the “best few” alternatives.  Once they reach a decision and choose, they take action by making a purchase.  (Keep in mind those horrid shopping cart abandonment rates – making a decision to purchase is not the same thing as completing the purchase!)  The final step in the process involves a reevaluation of the decision and its results.

To summarize, the steps of the buying decision process are:

  • Identify
  • Search
  • Evaluate
  • Decide
  • Purchase
  • Reevaluate

The Nature of the Buy

The way folks make buying decisions depends on the complexity of the problem they are trying to solve and the complexity of each step in the decision process.  This will affect how you manage the sale.

If their needs and the decision-making process are simple, all you need to do is make your visitors aware of you, build confidence, differentiate yourself, demonstrate value and guide them through a very simple shopping and buying process. This is why lower-end, branded products sell so well. Think of buying a book from

If the needs and the decision-making process are highly complex, then you need to make people aware of you, build relationships, educate them (and perhaps many different individuals or teams within the same organization), show sensitivity to the different decision-makers, influencers and groups, and resolve conflicting needs, so you can custom-tailor your solutions and make the buying process as painless and positive as possible. Think of purchasing a multi-million dollar piece of equipment that needs five departments to sign off to close the deal.

It also helps if you understand and incorporate how folks think about buying what you offer.  Are they going to compare similar models in different brands?  Are they looking for the range offered by one manufacturer?  Do they think of the purchase in terms of a hierarchy of benefits, with some more important than others?  Is the best way to showcase your product or service to compare it with someone else’s stuff?

Propensity to Buy

You get four types of traffic, and each group is primed with a different level of motivation and preparedness – the classic “propensity to buy.”  First, you’ve got the to-die-for perfect visitors; they are the ones who know exactly what they want and come to you looking for features, brands, and model numbers.

Then you’ve got the visitors who sort of know what they want. These are folks who have identified a strongly felt need, but they’re still in the process of narrowing down their search criteria.

Then there are the window shoppers, folks who aren’t sure they want anything, but might buy if they saw something that interested them. They have no strongly felt need in mind, but one could be suggested to them.

The fourth group aren’t really prospects. They’re lost or there by mistake. Be happy when they go away.

You don’t know where your visitors are in the process when they land on your site, so you’ve got to plan for each possibility.  You’ve got to help the folks who know exactly what they want get to it quickly; make them jump through too many hoops and they’re gone.  You’ve got to help the ones still mulling it over by offering pertinent information where and when they are most likely to need it, as well as persuading them you’re the logical business choice.   You’ve got to be most engaging and appealing for the window shopper, and you’ve got to let the lost soul quickly figure out he doesn’t belong there.

It also helps to consider that not all your visitors are prepared or even inclined to make a decision when they first visit your site – sometimes a successful conversion is the result of multiple visits.  So you’d like to give folks a reason to come back.

Buying is an Emotional Decision

Yeah, I’ve hounded you about this one, but it really is the piece that pulls it all together.  Folks rationalize the decision to buy based on facts, but they make the decision to buy based on feelings.  The single biggest motivator in buying is emotional response .  And that takes place on two levels.

In part, it’s the emotional response that comes when folks imagine themselves enjoying the benefits of what you offer.  Put them in the driver’s seat, and they are that much closer to being able to see themselves making the decision to buy.

Am I saying “Ditch the features?”  Absolutely not.  You should make your features available and present them as corollaries to benefits.  After all, some of your visitors, particularly analytic types who will pointedly look for this stuff, feel more comfortable emotionally with facts and specifications.

And that brings me to the other aspect of emotional response.  Folks buy when they feel comfortable, when they feel they can trust you, when the process feels natural and reassuring, and when they come to believe that buying will make them feel good. Ignore this, and most of your visitors will bail out. Tap into it, and watch your conversion rate climb.  Because, at then end of the day, it’s not facts that convince customers to go with your company.  It’s emotion.

Package Buying with Selling

The persuasive architecture of your entire site must recognize every step of the buying decision process. Each step feeds and leads to the others. Although the process ultimately is linear, there can be feedback loops within the process as folks reevaluate information. So, it’s not unusual to address multiple steps on a single page.

To successfully get your visitors to take action you must be able to see the world from their “buying” point of view.  So learn how to address and package the buying process within your selling process.  It will make a world of difference!

March 29, 2018
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