Interviewing thousands of customers about their buying process has convinced me that while the buyer is attempting to buy something he wants, he is also determined to see through any deception or manipulation. Sellers are often convinced by gurus that manipulation is the right way to increase sales; it is a strategy that directly contradicts one of the buyer’s main goals: “I will not be fooled.” Here is Part 2 of a 4-part series, in which we examine how customers choose a product or service. Part 1 (How Customers Decide to Buy) is here, if you haven’t read it yet.

Once buyers have developed a need, they begin their buying process. They go online and do their research, and/or ask around. But just knowing that buyers go online, and having a website and a social presence, is not enough to ensure the buyer will choose you. You need to know specifically what matters to your customers as they attempt to buy from you.

Here are the things you need to know, which you can find out using the customer interviewing method I teach in my book, Roadmap to Revenue.

What’s the “gating factor”? When I interview customers for my clients, they always tell me about a requirement that must be met in order for them to consider buying that particular product or service. For example, I am interviewing clients for a website development firm. All of their customers have invested heavily in a particular content management system (CMS). If they were to look again for a website developer, they would start by only looking at firms that specialize in that content management system. They want a developer who knows their CMS inside and out – the nooks and crannies, the pitfalls, and best practices. That is their gating factor.

My website development client knew that content management systems played a role in the buying process, but they didn’t see it as a gating factor. Their current website mentions content management systems, but it’s one item buried in a long list of qualifications. If they want to attract more buyers like their current customers (and they do), they will showcase their CMS expertise front and center. A buyer coming to their site will see this right away, and my client will jump to the top of the buyer’s short list.

Can they trust you? Customers engage in dozens of buying processes every week. When they come to a website, they either think, “Whoa – this site is very confusing and looks unprofessional. I’m working too hard to figure out what they’re selling, and how the product or service might help me. They really haven’t got their act together.” Click.  Back to the search results. Or, they think: “These folks look successful and professional. They understand me. They’re making it easy for me to get my questions answered. I like them.”

If you pass this first test, the very next question is, “Who are these people?” They will go to your About section and look for pictures of the leadership team. They want to look in your eyes. If there are no pictures, they will be less likely to continue, since you have refused to answer a very important question.

What do your own customers say about you? Customers don’t give much weight to seller messages anymore. They talk directly to each other. What your current customers are saying about you will either help you sell more – or drive away business. If you know what they’re saying about you, and you have a bad reputation in one area, you can immediately fix what is broken, then communicate those improvements to current and potential customers. That way, when asked, your current customers can say, “They used to be weak in this area, but they’re much better at that now.”

Will you do what you promise? They’ve already heard all the promises – thousands of times. There are really only a few selling promises, anyway: “You’ll be happy/fast/successful/skinny/smart/sexy/rich if you buy our stuff.” Your competitors are making the same promises as you are, in slightly different ways. That’s why it is so important to interview existing customers to find out specifically why they chose you. They will tell you the exact words and phrases they say to others, when asked why you’re special. These concepts – real customer vocabulary – will ring true for your prospective customers, and should be used in your marketing copy. They are golden.

And remember, as I say in my book: “Branding is the promise that you make; your brand is the promise that you keep.” It’s what you do that matters. That’s what people tell each other about you. What you do is more important than ever, in an age when customers can easily talk to each other.

Are your prices fair? People don’t object to paying a fair price. But they really hate being taken advantage of. If any of your product reviews say, “Not worth the money,” you’re losing more sales than you can imagine. In your interviews, ask them: “Do you think our prices are fair?” Interestingly, if you include the “fair” word, they will tell you the price they would be willing to pay, and it will include a decent profit margin. If you were to ask them, “What would you like to pay?” their answer will not include a profit margin. This is just one of the reasons you’ll want to ask the questions I have tested and described in my book, Roadmap to Revenue, How to Sell the Way Your Customers Want to Buy.

As you can see, we haven’t mentioned the actual product or service very much. That’s because people will avoid buying a product – even one with a good list of features – if you don’t pass all these other tests.

Most managers pay very little attention to these non-product factors, because they don’t realize how important a role these factors play in their customers’ decisions. They lose sales every day, without knowing it, because the customer came, looked, and went away – all without contacting the company.

Interviews of just five to ten customers can answer these questions. You’ll know exactly what you should be doing to make it easy for potential customers to decide to buy from you. Roadmap to Revenue spells out the simple method that will do the best job of extracting this essential information.


Next article in this series:

How Customers Want to Be Contacted: Debunking Common Marketing Myths – Part 3 of 4

Companies launch campaigns with the goal of filling the pipeline. But customers don’t care about your pipeline, nor do they respond positively when your contact methods irritate them. Here’s how to make sure you approach them the way they want to be approached. I will post the next article Wednesday night, November 21.