Selling More by Understanding How Customers Buy

This is Part 3 of a 5-part series on how to drive more sales for your business or company with Content Marketing.

Don’t want to wait for the full series? Download it now for free in PDF format.

In last week’s post I went through the reasons why your customers tend not to buy. This week I want to go through the solution to that challenge.

The challenge I’ve noticed from both Marketers and Business Owners is how to make the connection between brand awareness and how it drives sales. What I’ve realized is that this connection is difficult to make because most don’t understand the Buying Process of a customer.

Think of it as the process or journey a customer goes through from not knowing about your brand or what you offer, to becoming a paying customer.

Note that I used the term Buying Process and not Sales Process. That’s because your job is not to try and sell to them. Your job is to show them why you’re the best brand to buy from to address their wants, needs, and challenges. It’s a simple switch in mindset, but it’s one that will have a huge impact on your sales numbers.

The 5 Stages of the Buying Process

There are 5 stages of the Buying Process:

  1. Unaware Stage

  2. Aware Stage

  3. Interest Stage

  4. Desire Stage

  5. Action/Purchase Stage

Each stage is part of an entire journey, where one part of the journey has to be completed before you can move on to the next. Your job is to help your potential customer complete each stage until they become a paying customer.

Unaware Stage

I'm going to spend a bit of time on this stage because it's the one that's the most important foundational aspect of the 5 stages, yet the one most people aren't aware of.

At this stage the customer doesn’t know who you are or what you offer. In some cases they may not even know that they have a problem that needs to be solved that you have the solution to.

Your job here is to create content that brings them awareness to the problem they have (not your brand, or product or service).

Reason why you don’t want to focus on creating content to promote what you offer is because at this stage customers are looking for solutions to their problems, not benefits of a product or service.

In order to identify these challenges to know what type of content to create you have to do research to better understand your customers.

There are four (4) ways I typically use to do the research needed.

1. Surveys

Asking key questions to get a better understanding of your customers’ needs and wants.

Here are three (3) you can ask:

  1. What do you want to achieve in the next 12 months?

  2. What are the challenges that is keeping you or has kept you from achieving that goal in the past?

  3. What do you believe needs to happen for you in order to achieve that goal?

You can use free tools such as Survey Monkey or Google Forms to collect the data.

A key point here is to ensure you offer them an incentive to take the survey, something that they would value and believe it would be worth their time to answer your questions.

2. Sales Meetings

Personally, I prefer sales meetings as one of the main ways to gather customer feedback.

If a potential customer is willing to schedule time to meet with you to talk about what you offer, it’s expected that they would be willing to openly share their challenges with you, as they believe you can help them solve them.

Also, it allows you to ask follow up questions and gain real-time feedback that a survey can't provide.

If you’re a retail brick-n-mortar business then you wouldn’t necessarily have sales meetings. Therefore, use the time customers walk into your store to ask before they leave questions relating to what your product will do for them. In other words what brought them into your store and why (even if they don’t buy anything).

If you have an eCommerce business set up a short questionnaire (3-5 questions) at the end of the checkout (something we recently did for a promotion and got great feedback to improve the campaign).

3. Scheduled Appointments

Whether it’s a phone call, email, or in-person visit to your customer’s location you can take this more personalized approach to discuss with them one-to-one.

Tell them that you would love to schedule a quick 15-minute meeting or call to better understand their needs so you can better serve them.

What you want to focus on is what problem they had before they became your customer and how your product or service solved that specific problem.

If your business is just starting out and you have no customers think about who are the customers that your product/service would be of the greatest help to.

Next create a profile of that ideal customer, then ask people who match the description of that ideal customer what are the challenges they have that tie back to what problem your product/service solves.

4. Environment Immersion

Another approach I like to use is to place myself in the environment or real-time scenario of the customer. I observe everything that they do, and when I notice something important I ask them why did they do that or what frustrates them about getting that specific task done (if possible).

I use the same approach online to observe what type of content or topic the audience responds well to so I know what type works.

This approach takes the most time but also gives the greatest feedback and information.


Because often your customers can't really describe what they want or what the problem is. Other times they can describe it, but what they say and what they do doesn't always align.

By being in their space as they execute their daily tasks you get to see first-hand what challenges they struggle with and how it ties back to what you offer.

Once you collect the data needed use this information to now craft your attention grabbing message to get the attention and attract potential customers.

So if someone who is a lawyer says “I can’t seem to get things done and be more efficient”, your message at this stage should be “Are you a lawyer that can’t seem to get things done and be more efficient?”.

If it's a customer to your clothing store that mentioned she is going out for a night on the town with her friends your message should be "Going out for a night on the town with your friends? Shop XYZ where we have the chic styles that will make you stand out", I'm paraphrasing but you get the point.

In other words, match their challenge, but more so how they word the challenge to your messaging.

By highlighting and bringing to their attention the problem they have, they will inevitably learn about your brand as a byproduct.

Aware Stage

At this stage the customer is aware of both their problem and your brand.

However, now is still not the time to sell. Now is the time to educate. Educate them on the solution to their problem. The main focus here should be on the solution itself, not on promoting what you offer as the solution.

Your customer is feeling overwhelmed that they have this problem and they are searching for information on how to fix. This is why a customer will do a Google search, and why customers complete 70% of the entire sales process even before walking into a store or talking with a sales rep.

The last thing they want now is to be pitched.

This is your chance to differentiate yourself from your competitors and leave a positive lasting impression to your potential customer because everyone else is going to try and sell to them. Sure you can mention what you offer indirectly once or twice in your content, but don’t overkill and push a “Buy Now” message.

Interest Stage

If you were able to complete the last stage successfully, now the customer will be interested in what you have to offer because you were so helpful, even before they gave you money. Not only do they know you but they like you. Their thinking is that you actually want to help them and have their best interest at heart. It may not seem like a big deal to you but to them it is.

They are more open and receptive to what you have to say. They also feel a bit more at ease that they have found the solution to their problem. Now is a good time to introduce them to your product or service.

However, don’t do a hard sell, do a soft sell by talking about how what you offer provides the means for them to solve their problem. You can also briefly mention features and benefits or in a subtle way mention an example of a how a customer benefitted from your offering.

Desire Stage

By now they feel more confident in your brand and that what you offer can help them solve their problem. This is where trust has slowly begun to develop, and in any sales engagement, whether B2B or B2C, trust is a major factor in getting someone to buy from you.

They have also made the connection in their mind between the problem, the solution, and what you offer as the bridge to help them get there. However, your work still isn’t done. You don’t want to leave them alone with the expectation that they are going to take out their money and throw it at you just because they have identified the need for what you offer.

You have to think of your customer as a baby that you need to guide and nurture from birth to adulthood.

To close the gap between need and purchase create content of case studies and success stories of other customers who have done business with you or has used your product and are thrilled (not just satisfied). The best type of case studies are the ones that match the problem of your potential customer. That way they can relate more to it, and can now see themselves being in the same position of feeling confident/happy/relieved by doing business with you.

A good practice is to also offer free trials or free discovery sessions to increase the likelihood they will purchase when the time comes. This increases the desire in your potential customer and the thought of “I need this!” in their mind.

Action/Purchase Stage

The final stage is to get them to purchase.

Again, don’t assume that your customer is going to buy just because they are excited and see the need for your solution. They still need baby guidance.

The final step to getting them to buy is creating a sense of urgency. Do this by creating a limited or one-time offer that they have to take advantage of by a specific time. Let them know there is an introductory price offer, but the price will increase after a period of time, then have a coupon they can claim the offer with.

You can also offer them a discount on your products or services if they take advantage of it within a set time. Another tactic is letting them know that this particular product or service is available only until a specific time, and once it’s gone it may never come back, or they would have to wait an entire year for it again (assuming it’s true).

My Final Thoughts

I know I tend to overemphasize this point but it’s for a reason, to get you to make that mental shift. To help you understand selling has changed. You can no longer rely on the slick sales and persuasion tactics to work, because your customers today are smarter, more informed, and worst of all for you more skeptical. Therefore, changing your approach to selling is the only way to get pass their barriers and set yourself a part from your competitors to secure the sale.

Understanding these 5 stages is a great start to converting eyeballs to paying customers, and leverages brand awareness to drive sales.

Of course each business is unique so the exact break down of how this will look for your business will be different from everyone else’s, but this should still give you a good enough framework to start with.

I’d love to know what was your number one takeaway from this article. Reply below and let me know.

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