You carry a cellular telephone. You’re reasonably happy with the service, the rate, even with the quality of your phone calls. Still, the phone you purchased two years ago was already proven technology by those standards, and is now considered old. Plus, you’re seeing the ads on TV for the newer touch screen phones, and you’re getting curious.
You’re vaguely aware that your two year commitment to your current carrier is drawing to a close, and you keep seeing all those ads for the newer touch screens. You head out to the mall. It seems a good idea to quiz a couple of salespeople at the cell phone kiosks.
You’ve just become an early-stage buyer.
Salespeople have names for early-stage shoppers: “lookie loos,” “tire kickers,” “time wasters.” Early-stage shoppers, very aware of their own ignorance, would feel much more comfortable at this point if salespeople were removed from their buying process. Early-stage shoppers say things like, “I’m just looking.”
Shoppers identify themselves by the questions they ask.
- Early-stage shoppers don’t know what they don’t know. They are are becoming aware of an itch, but don’t know yet how (or where) to scratch. Early-stage shoppers tend to ask questions about the process.Current early-stage questions in the cellular industry are along the lines of “What’s Wireless-N,” “Are you telling me I can use my phone to connect my laptop?” and “What exactly is a 4G Network?”
- Whether conscious of it, or not, mid-stage shoppers have eliminated the offers which don’t solve their problem, and are honing in on the solution which is exactly right for them. Mid-stage shoppers ask questions about specific equipment and its implementation.Middle-stage questions sound like, “How good is reception on this phone?” or “What’s the battery life on the Model 22XJ?”
- Late-stage shoppers are ready to buy. If they’re talking to you, there’s an excellent probability that you’ll get the sale. Late-stage shoppers ask questions about pricing and purchase terms.Late-stage questions might be “What’s the total price including the upgraded memory chip and sales tax?” or “Can you give me a better price on the hardware if I accept a longer service commitment?”
Salespeople pray for late-stage shoppers.
To most salespeople, selling will always be a numbers game. “Pitch” the offer to a large number of people and a few will purchase. If those few spend enough money, salespeople are rewarded for all of the time they spent with those who didn’t buy.
If you show signs of buying, salespeople will pay close attention to you. Show the opposite signs and they will move on to better prospects. They call this process “qualifying the lead.”
But, suppose you’re one of those ideal customers the cellular companies lust over. You buy expensive phones which lead to expensive add-on services, you buy the additional warranty, and you never invoke early termination. You’re not a tire kicker or a time waster. You’re a highly-qualified early-stage buyer who has very real questions about changes in technology and services since you last upgraded.
Wouldn’t you be more likely to trust someone who helps you understand the alternatives rather than pushing you to make an immediate purchase? Isn’t this the basis of relational selling?
Nurturing shoppers through the stages.
Put yourself into the mindset of an early-stage shopper for anything. If you found a reliable source of information, wouldn’t you automatically be more inclined to buy from that source when you’ve decided to purchase?
So far, the best side-by-side comparison I’ve seen for cellular service and phones is offered by c/net. The sad part of this analysis is that c/net doesn’t sell telephones or cellular service. Any cell company could publish this information. It is widely available.
Of course, the danger of inviting side-by-side comparisons between your company and your competitors is the risk of not being competitive. Maybe that’s why the cellular providers not only hide this information, they all bundle services differently which makes comparisons even more difficult.
But some businesses understand how to grow new customers.
Distinctive Kitchens Culinary Arts Center in Pensacola, Florida is a family business that for 80 years has sold premium appliances, and more recently wines and culinary accessories. Distinctive Kitchens offers demonstrations, classes, and in-store experts. Shoppers new to gourmet cooking or experienced cooks brushing up on new technique will find the answers they need, and a great source of product, too.
Sweet Maria’s Coffee in Oakland, California offers all of the information any coffee drinker could possibly want, from reviews of various equipment, to articles, to instructional videos, to selections of green coffees from all around the world. Plus, Sweet Maria’s hosts a community forum in which members discuss their opinions of coffees, roasting, brewing methods, blending, storing, and the selections of green coffees. Care to bet they have very little customer turnover?
Home Depot has a series of in-store workshops designed to give customers hands-on experience using materials, tools, and supplies in their Home Improver Club.
Think about the number of gallons of premium paints, glazes, and other supplies you can sell over the customer’s lifetime once you teach a homeowner how to apply a faux painting technique.
Can your business offer early-stage information while competing for late-stage shoppers?
- Could your insurance agency create a checklist for homeowners, listing all of the common furnishings, and leaving space for the homeowner to estimate the replacement cost of each?
- Could your photography store set up “good, better, best” packages of cameras, lenses, flash attachments, and instructional videos?
- Could your HVAC company produce a chart that shows how quickly a new furnace or air conditioner will pay for its self in savings due to higher efficiency?
- Could your furniture store create a layout grid with scale pictures of common furnishings and help shoppers envision their home with new sofas, beds, and entertainment centers?
- Could your music store create posters which explain the advantages of specific guitars in the performance of specific genres of music?
Of course you could. It only takes a little planning, and a little time. When you give early-stage shoppers the basic information they need, those shoppers will come to you now, and are likely to return as they move through the buying stages. And when we’re fishing for customers, don’t we all want them to return?
Your Fishing for Customers guide, Chuck McKay, gets people to buy more of what you sell.
Questions about focusing your messages on specific stages of shopping may be directed to [email protected]. Or call Chuck at 304-208-7654.
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