By Peter Hercky and Michael Pasqua
Knowing how your customer buys your products is just as important as knowing who and where they are. Every Purchase Decision-Making Process (PDMP) consists of seven distinctly separate steps. Whether you market water softening systems or Caribbean cruises, the PDMP takes the same path.
The first step is Recognition of a Problem/Desire. If your customer doesn’t have it (problem/desire), you can’t sell it (your product/service). Some promotions, therefore, create or heighten consumer awareness of a problem/desire in order to bring the consumer to the next stratum.
Once a consumer has recognized a want/need, he/she must take the next step, which is Awareness of a Generic Solution to the Problem/Desire. A generic solution might be defined as a product category. If you enjoy soap operas, but work during the day, that’s a Problem/Desire whose generic solution is a VCR. This step is important because your promotion will vary in accordance with where your product is in its life cycle.
The third step a consumer takes is Preparing a List of Sources of the Generic Solution. Advertising plays a key role in this regard because if you’re not on the list, you won’t be considered. Once the list has been prepared (cerebrally or formally), the customer enters the Familiarization stage wherein a short list of brands is evaluated.
This, in turn, is followed by the Preference stage. Here the consumer identifies their choice as being the one offering the best solution to the identified want/need. Here is where many marketers think the process ends. However, just because you’re the preferred option doesn’t mean you’ll be selected. Lots of folks might prefer a Mercedes…but plenty of those same folks drive Hyundais.
After a preference has been made, the customer needs to take Action (actual purchase), the sixth step in the PDMP. Action is an independent step from Preference. One may take Action on a product other than the one he/she prefers for many reasons. The perceived cost of the preferred item might be too high; it may be unavailable or the financial terms may be unattractive: Such considerations lead to Action being taken on a less desirable but more judicious selection. Now, this is where most marketers think the process ends.
We encourage you to go a step further and address Post Purchase Evaluation which consumers perform after any major purchase. Cognitive dissonance is easily allayed by a simple follow-up call. Make sure the product is performing satisfactorily. Reassure the customer that the right purchase has, indeed, been made. “What’s the major difference your family has noticed?” is a good leading question if you’ve just installed a POU/POE system.
One of the most common errors is believing that you and your customers have the same beliefs and values. Successful sales representatives carefully ‘read’ their customers before making their presentations and modify them accordingly. There are four basic personality types used in describing a prospect: pragmatic, amiable, analytical and extroverted (there are different names for these personality types, but we feel these are most descriptive). Identifying which one you are dealing with enables you to customize your pitch to the individual, thereby maximizing its receptivity.
We use this knowledge in creating promotions for our clients. As an example, if a product is to appeal to a pragmatic individual, the case for its purchase must be made quickly by relating it to the bottom line. Pragmatists don’t linger. They decide almost intuitively, trusting their instincts. To these people, a delayed decision is worse than a wrong decision.
On the other hand, if the product is to appeal to an amiable personality, its promotion must be couched in comfort and convenience. Amiables tend to avoid confrontation and negativity and must therefore be approached with messages that assure security and the elimination of risk.
Next we move on to the analytical personality. This individual craves information. You can’t possibly overload them with it because they inherently tends to ask for more. The analytical will frustrate you because of “decision-delay”, as they always ask for just one more bit of data. To win him/her over, you must be patient, accommodating and complementary on his/her perceptiveness. We liberally use charts and graphs in promoting to analyticals.
Finally, there’s the extrovert who is likely to be a manager of people because of their “seemingly” positive, outgoing attitude. This individual is less trusting than the others and will always be looking for the flaw or catch in your argument. In order to persuade the extrovert, you may need to let them set the rules. Then the decision is yours as to whether to accept their terms.
Please understand that each of us, and each of our customers, is actually a combination of all four personality types, although generally, one type predominates. In creating advertisements, we paint a detailed picture of our target prospect and tailor the message and medium accordingly.
You’ve learned how people buy and how to type the people buying; your sales representative is now tailoring their presentations accordingly. They ultimately reach that final, all important moment with the customer. What happens?
“I’ll have to think about it.” “I have to talk it over with my boss.” “I want to look at some other vendors.” “We’re not ready to make a decision yet.”
In the sales game, these are called “stallers”. Would it surprise you to learn that most sales representatives are actually glad to hear these remarks at the end of their presentation? They’re glad because they didn’t hear the words “I hate your product. I hate you. Leave and never darken my door again.” Most sales people see their job as presenters. Once the presentation is over, they’re happy to leave, knowing they haven’t screwed up the sale.
Sales representatives need to be trained to ask for the order before they leave. Some counselors advise placing a contract in front of the customer as the presentation winds down and assuming the posture that the deal is imminent. “Just sign this contract and I’ll get the ball rolling.” Depending on the product and industry, that technique actually works.
The likelihood, however, is that a favorable decision can’t be made because of concerns that haven’t been satisfactorily allayed during the presentation. If only your representatives could read customers’ minds, at least they’d stand a chance of overcoming those objections.
In truth, they needn’t be mind readers. All they have to do is ask. We don’t mean asking some innocuous question such as “well, Mary, what do you think?” Refer to the top of the page for the most likely response.
A better closing question is “Mary, on a scale of one to 10, how does our product rate in terms of satisfying your needs?” The only appropriate answer is a number. If it’s a 10, bring out the contract. If it’s anything less, the follow-up question is “what does my company have to do to have you rate our product as a 10?”
“Lower your prices.” “Speed up delivery.” “Improve the quality.”
You may not want to hear some of the answers because sometimes little, if anything, can be done about them. However, there are times when you may be able to offer a “new customer discount”, a “special delivery accommodation”, or an “upgrade at no extra charge”. Unless the question is asked, the problem won’t be addressed and solved.
If, for example, prices cannot be lowered and the customer is a budget-buyer, the representative has the option to ask, “what additional service do you think we can provide to make the price fit your budget?” They may answer with “free delivery”, “just-in-time delivery” or “favorable leasing terms”.
If you ask, the customer will tell you exactly how he or she needs to be sold.
About the authors
Peter Hercky and Michael Pasqua are founding partners of Hercky Pasqua Herman, an award-winning, full service advertising, marketing and public relations agency specializing in business-to-business clients. The firm offers a full range of services to clients in every budget category across a broad span of industries. Contact Hercky Pasqua Herman at 324 Chestnut Street, Roselle Park NJ 07204, telephone (908)241-9474, email michael_ [email protected]