The six stages of the buying process – and how to build your marketing roadmap

Ever wonder why people don’t buy from you? It could be that you’re marketing the wrong messages at the wrong time. Here’s how to follow the six stages of the buying process, and build your marketing roadmap. 

Kara Stanford is an independent strategic marketing consultant who helps SMEs review and plan their marketing. Here she explains how to structure your marketing so that it delivers the results you need. She became licensed to use the Watertight Marketing approach described below for one very simple reason: it works.

Marketing your own business can be daunting. There’s so much advice and so many marketing ‘things’ to use and do; do Twitter, do newspaper advertising, do taster sessions, give away free products, write blogs, create a Facebook page…the list of these marketing tools is endless and new ones appear every week.


So, how do you decide what marketing to do? And just as importantly: what not to do?

You need to make sure that you are choosing the right marketing tools in the right way, at the right time. Here’s how to do that.

The buying process – your marketing roadmap

In the 1950s, Philip Kotler (FYI marketing GOD) articulated the human psychology behind a purchase decision. We don’t just leap into buying something. Kotler broke down the definite phases we all go through before handing over our hard-earned cash.

He identified them as: Awareness; Interest; Desire; Action, with Action being exchanging money for a product or service. This theory is one of basics that all qualified marketers learn.

Fast forward to 2013. A smart and experienced marketing consultant, Bryony Thomas wrote the award-winning book, Watertight Marketing. In the book she begins by expanding Kotler’s Buying Process, so that it looks like this:

Having worked in corporate marketing and then with 100s of SMEs, Bryony saw that there were six stages we all go through when making a purchase decision.

The best marketers in any organisation make sure that they have the right marketing in place at every step of this process to help people move through each stage of the buying process.

The six stages of the buying process

Let’s look at the six stage buying process in more detail.

Stage 1) Awareness

First, your prospective clients have to become AWARE of your company, its products or services. They need to know that you are out there. At this point, your marketing needs to make sure that you are where they turn. This promotional marketing is what many people think of as marketing and they’ll do this but stop here.

At this stage, you need to do awareness raising marketing activities such as advertising, social media, networking and other marketing that gets you noticed.

Stage 2) Interest

Once your prospective customers know you exist and you’ve got their attention, when they are ready they move towards finding out more about what you offer; they are showing an INTEREST in you.

At this point, you need to have a slightly deeper level of content for them so they get to know you better. This might be short videos, blog posts, LinkedIn articles, visiting your website or facebook page to find out more.

Stage 3) Evaluation

When the time is right for them to purchase, they now need to decide which company to buy from. They will be comparing you to others and weighing up the options (see my blog, “Planes, Trains and Trucks” to help you figure out who your competition really is) to determine which company they want to spend their money with.

At this stage they are EVALUATING you to see if you really do offer what they want. Your job is to prove you do.

Your marketing here needs to include testimonials, case studies, reviews, ratings, external accreditations etc to show that everything you’ve said is true.

Stage 4) Trial

They’re ready to invest a bit of cash or time with you but not the whole amount. We’ve all done it; we find a company that provides exactly what we need but…we’re not quite sure. So instead of buying a whole outfit from them, we buy the shoes first; a TRIAL to find out what it’s like to be their customer.

Your marketing here needs to focus on allowing people to try you out. This might be by offering free trials, taster sessions, or smaller versions of your main product.

Stage 5) Adoption

Great! You passed their trial and they decide to buy from you! They’ve reached the ADOPTION phase where they part with their cash and make a true purchase. To make sure you avoid Buyer’s Remorse (when someone buys something then regrets it) you need to convince them that they’ve made the right choice. At the very least, you have to deliver what you said you would when you said you would.

Even better, add those little touches that make your new customers go, “Ah! That’s nice” and feel like they have totally and utterly made the right choice. This could be personal thank you cards, welcoming emails, a free welcome gift; something that is appropriate for your business and give your new customers a warm feeling.

So, you’ve made the sale, you reassured them it was the right choice, time to go home.

Stage 6) Loyalty

Hang on!

It’s not over yet. Because we all know that repeat business is worth so much more than new business. You want LOYALTY from your customers. You want them to purchase from you again and again and, even better, to tell their friends to buy from you. If you want that, you have to work at it.

You have to stay in touch with them, treat them as if they are special (I’m sure I’m not the only one that feels put out when my bank offers better deals to new customers…huh!), and use your marketing budget to offer them perks, freebies, special deals and gifts.

This is your marketing roadmap

These are the steps that all of us go through when making a purchase decision. Your customers, whatever your market, are the same.

Your job, as the marketer in your business, is to understand what your customers need at each of these stages and ensure you have some marketing in place for them.

So, next time you are faced with that seemingly insurmountable decision of, “Do I do Facebook, Instagram, radio advertising, freebies, promotional material, advertising, gifts…argh!!” Stop. Think. How can it help your customers move through the buying process and which stage are you using it at?

The buying process is your marketing roadmap. Master it and you’ll master your company’s marketing.

If this makes sense to you, then do visit my website for more blogs about how to review, plan and implement your marketing successfully. I’d also like to offer you a free e-copy of Watertight Marketing by Bryony Thomas. Click here to download it.

Photo by Jessica Furtney