For many people who run a successful business, taking the next step to the online realm seems like a natural progression. Having said this, just because a business runs well in the real world does not mean it will transfer to an online platform that easily. There can be many roadblocks on the way to successfully integrating an online platform into your current business model. In this article I’ll look at some common stumbling blocks in the context of the buying cycle and simple ways you can help your customers avoid them.
First of all, what is the buying cycle?
There are many interpretations of the buying cycle but for the purpose of this article we will be using the following steps:
1 & 2. Awareness & Consideration:
Before a customer can be aware of your business, product or brand they have to identify their need for it. The cheapest and most effective way for any small business to be considered as a contender within the online marketplace is through Cost-Per-Click (CPC) advertising. The beauty of CPC is that you can assume that your customer is already aware of their needs and are actively searching for what you offer. With this in mind, you can be smart about the keywords you select giving yourself every chance to connect to your market without having to go out actively searching from them. This also aids brand recognition amongst your target market as well as their awareness of your products/services – meaning that you are considered as an option when they are looking to move forward in the buying cycle.
One way to look at interest as a stage in the buying cycle is to ask yourself; ‘what is different about me?’
By identifying what sets you apart from your competition, you are better able to present your product in a way that is interesting to your customers. This in turn creates interest in your products/services – generating leads and further on in the buying cycle.
Your website (your online shop front) is a huge factor in this part of the buying cycle. Consider how it presents your offering – Does it reflect the quality of what you offer? And, does it present itself to the standard your customer would expect? All of these questions should be answered with your customer in mind because interest in your product can very easily fade if your website is not easy to navigate or use.
A measure of success within this stage of the buying process could be the time spent on page(s) per visit. If people are spending a considerable amount of time on your site it means that they are looking around long enough to take in what you have to offer.
The next stage of the buying cycle, preference can also be defined by asking; question; ‘is this product the best value for me?’ Value itself is an interesting concept and can mean different things to different people. One customer may value the bottom line and only select the product or service that comes in at the cheapest price. Another customer may look at quality/warranty or how you support the local industry. If you can identify what your target market’s values are you can inject them into the product offering. Offering greater value to your customers means that they are more likely to choose your business as their preference over any other competitor.
In terms of measuring this step, you could look at enquiry forms submitted or items placed in a shopping cart. Both metrics offer insight into the intent to purchase. For someone to go as far as to enquire about a price or product, or to place the item in the shopping cart you can safely assume that they have considered your business, are interested in the product and are at the stage of determining their final preference before purchase.
Finally, the all-important step in the cycle - purchase. At face value, this might seem like the most simple stage and you could assume that if someone has completed all of the previous four steps they will almost certainly commit to purchase. However, roadblocks could still sit in the way of people completing that final action. If you find that customers are regularly expressing interest and preference in your product or service but you’re finding it difficult to get them over the line - perhaps you need to look into the processes during this final stage including your shopping cart and other means of closing a sale. Perfecting these processes can often be the biggest challenge for online businesses but the solution can often be simple - I’ve seen examples whereby making one or two fields within a form non-compulsory have made the difference between people purchasing and not.
If there is one piece of advice I would like business to take away from this review of the online buying cycle it is that they shouldn’t learn it off by heart. I like to think of it as a trouble-shooting exercise for when things aren’t working to plan. Looking at each step in the process, you can identify where things are working and at which stage you need to improve. By breaking it down into its core elements, you are able to analyse your business, your customers and how they interact online, making it easy to identify at which stage people are exiting the cycle. Armed with all of this information you can identify strategies to test, measuring and optimise your efforts – allowing your customers to avoid the roadblocks and drive more sales.
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