© Linda Gorchels 2011
Do you like to be sold to?
That's a question I frequently ask of product marketers. The majority say no. So I probe a bit deeper. "Have you ever been in a restaurant and asked the waiter what he would recommend? Or been trying on clothes and asked the associate for an opinion?"
If you answered yes, you were asking to be sold -- but your perspective was, “please help me make a buying decision.” So it is with your customers. They don’t want a laundry list of features and benefits; they want guidance in decision-making. And while the benefits of your product’s features play a role in the decision, there are potentially a host of other factors as well.
There are emotional as well as rational motives for purchase decisions. Some decisions (such as for consumer goods) lean toward the emotional side while others (such as complex business products) lean toward the rational side. Both are important, however, since customers sometimes make an emotional decision that they justify using rational, logical factors. So arm them with the necessary tools to convince themselves AND others that this is the correct decision. As you do this, remember that customers may choose to buy for reasons beyond your product entirely. So let’s look at some of the factors influencing purchase decisions by asking a series of questions.
First, why are customers making this decision – what are their goals? Let’s say buyers are making a decision to purchase lab equipment. Do they want ease of use, current functionality, or future capabilities? Are they trying to position their company for efficiency or growth? Can corporate factors (such as brand, relationships and history) influence the purchase decision? The more closely the product marketer can align with the customer’s goals, the easier it will be to facilitate a buying decision in your favor. Demonstrate how your product can contribute to their profitability, efficiency or competitive advantage.
Second, what words do customers use to convince themselves to make the decision to buy the product?
Here is an example of almost verbatim promotional material from one of my clients, modified slightly to camouflage the company and industry. “XYZ Company’s solution is a comprehensive, integrated, and strategic customer care solution consisting of products and services that provide analytical capabilities, channel integration, process and sales improvement, and subject matter expertise to the industry.”
Say what? Do customers really talk that way? What is the mental self-talk they engage in to become more comfortable with their decision? Think about having a conversation with customers, and revise the statement in the prior paragraph. What “analytical capabilities” are important to the target customers and how does that relate to their goals? What is the importance of channel integration or subject matter expertise? And how should the prospect feel about the purchase (relief, trust, premier status)? What information do they need to believe this is the lowest-risk decision for them (testimonials, statistics)? If you can’t answer these questions, customers will be thinking, “So what? Who cares?” That makes it really hard to help them make the decision to buy your particular brand.
Third, how (and where) would customers prefer to buy the product? While many product marketers might not have authority over this decision, it can nevertheless be a critical component of the purchase process. Different market segments have different expectations regarding online purchasing, immediate availability, access to complementary products from other manufacturers, or related services such as installation and repair. Simply focusing on the benefits of specific product features ignores these factors. Build a case internally to be present where and how customers want to buy.
Product marketers will always need to balance science and art. A fresh perspective on how customers buy may yield new insights into improved marketing. Envision a conversation where you help customers make buying decisions by focusing on their goals, on the mental framework of words they use to argue in favor of the decision, and on their preferred process for purchasing.