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Fast vs. Slow Purchase Decisions: When to Use Inbound Marketing

by Mary Ann Hegvold on May 24, 2016

I've attended a few conferences lately and one of the questions I heard asked by those who are new to to inbound marketing was related to the usefulness of an inbound stategy for business-to-consumer (B2C) products and services versus inbound for business-to-business (B2B) products and services.

This got me thinking. Regardless of whether it's for personal use or for company use, a human is making the decision. Shouldn't it be more about the time it takes to make the decision? 

 5 Stages of the Purchase Decision Process

There are things that every human will likely do when they're considering a purchase:
  1. Awareness : Your targeted buyer needs to be aware of how you can solve a need that they've identified. And in some cases you may even help identify the problem for them. 
  2. Consideration : Once a need is established the buyer will think about how your product or service meets this need. This process typically includes looking at other options -- aka: your competition.
  3. Preference/Intent : The buyer will start to form opinions based on what they've learned and who they've grown to trusth along the way to making this decision. About 60% of the buying process is completed before they ever talk to someone at your company. By this point they're pretty sure they know what they want to do.
  4. Purchase : This is the actual act of making the purchase. This may be a complex process with contracts and clauses or it can be a simple purchase that can be done online -- this depends on specifically what you're offering. 
  5. Repurchase: The emotional and logical process that (hopefully) leads to a repeat purchase.

What I really want to know is: How long does the purchase process listed above take for the product or service you're selling? If the answer is less than a day you wouldn't have time to collect a lead through the website and then nurture them through the sales process.

There are situations when you just don't have time to do a lot of research. Things like: your HVAC is broken, you need an emergency room, or you need a repair to a critical piece of equipment. People are more likely to rely on personal references, online reviews and coupons so they can act quickly. These types of decisions may not be as ideal for the inbound marketing process.

This doesn't mean that inbound marketing can't work for HVAC companies, healthcare companies or repair shops. It just means that the process of building a relationship with potential customers through content and lead nurturing would need to focus on decisions that most people don't make overnight.

For example: You may know that your HVAC unit will need to be replaced and you'd like to research the products and their features before making that high-dollar purchase. Or you may have been told by your doctor that you need knee replacement surgery and you'd like to research your options before surgery .

Both of these examples are B2C  decisions. A human is going to purchase something that they'll use for personal reasons in their home or for themselves. But is that process really all that different if it's a B2B product or service? I would venture to say that it's the same. The difference tends to be that people will spend more time making business decisions than they do on personal purchases.

Let's look at those five stages of the buying process from the perspective of a sales representative selling to a human at another business. Note how the exact same process applies: 

  1. Awareness: You still need to make the potential buyer who is representing a business aware of a need or how you can solve a need they already know about. They're going to find you through online searches related to the problem they need to solve. Your first step is to be found in those search results.
  2. Consideration: There will still be an evaluation of your product or service against at least one competitor. That's just what smart buyers do -- no matter what they're buying. Helping them along here by continually educating.
  3. Preference/Intent: The buyer has probably been reading your blog, watching videos or taking assessments (hopefully on your website) that help them decide which product or service seems like it would work best for them. This is where you're going to nurture those leads by educating them on things that they show interest in. The following statement still holds true in a B2B sales situation: About 60% of the buying process is completed by this point in the decision making journey.
  4. Purchase: B2B purchases aren't usually quick and simple. There are often several executives and a few lawyers who are making sure their liability is minimized and assets are protected. That's normal. But again, these people are humans who make both B2C and B2B purchases.
  5. Repurchase: Whether you would like to renew the contract for your service or sell them another product in the future you need to consider how you communicate with your existing customers. They can be your best billboard!

Is Inbound Marketing Right for You?

My recommendation for marketers is to consider the time it typically takes for your target audience to make a decision on your product or service. Then go from there to see what kind of inbound process you need to create -- if it's a good fit.

If your process is 1 week - 1 month, you may need to speed up the nurturing that you do. These decisions are often for lower-dollar items that may need to be re-purchased sooner than a more expensive item. So have a plan for how you're going to approach the repurchase nurturing process.

If your process is 1 month or more then you will need to have a lot of good follow up content that you can spread out over the course of this longer period of time. And don't forget to include content for those who are just starting to learn about you, those who are in the Consideration phase and those who are about to make a final decision. You never know where your visitor's head is at when they get to your website.

Using inbound software like Hubspot makes all of the work you do to attract visitors, turn them into leads and then nurture them through the sales process so much easier to manage and monitor. The number one reason to use inbound marketing software is to prove an ROI on your investment in marketing to humans.

Remember... we all put on our pants one leg at a time. And we make purchase decisions in a very similar way regardless of what we're buying. Use inbound marketing when it makes sense and follow the steps for the purchase decision process and keep your timeline for purchase and target market's needs in mind as you proceed.

If you'd like to learn more about proving the ROI of marketing for your company, please download our free ebook. 

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Topics: Marketing ROI

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