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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Businesses must hop onto consumer purchase cycle

Jan Quintrall

Consumer habits have changed greatly in the past few years, and even more in the past six months. Last week I spent a morning with author Pete Blackshaw (“Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000: Running a Business in Today’s Consumer-Driven World”) at national Better Business Bureau meetings and got an earful about the new consumer.

There is a distinct “consumer purchase cycle,” and understanding your company’s position at each point in that cycle is more important than ever:

1. Pre-shop steps: education, awareness and consideration.

2. Post-shop steps: trial, loyalty and advocacy.

How does all this translate to the real world and your customers? Let’s look at the cycle in the real-world scenario of buying a car.

Dick and Jane Doe decide it’s time to get a new car. They have no strong brand loyalty and are open to American or foreign made. They know what they like in their existing car and what they would like to have in a new car. The Does are smart shoppers and have created two lists of features: those that “would be nice,” and the “must haves.”

Next step: the Internet and the many easy-to-use Web sites that allow you to compare features. There are a number of rating sites that show reliability and resale, so Jane does some checking. She narrows the search first by features, then by reliability and safety. She and Dick sit down and review four choices.

They take off on Saturday to visit the dealers, look at the cars, conduct some test drives and check pricing. They are not comfortable buying without seeing and doubt they will actually buy online. But that is how they located the dealers they are visiting. What about that nice dealer just outside of town? With no Web site, Jane and Dick are never going to see him.

Dick and Jane have different favorites. But that is fine; they have one more pre-purchase step to take. They Google the make and model of their two favorites and check out the “chat” from people who own these cars. Are the comments favorable? It gives them a good feel for how happy owners are with the cars. That final piece of research makes the decision easy.

Now all they have to do is select the dealer. A brief visit to bbb.org makes that an easy choice.

A week later they pick up the new car and spend some time driving it around. They love the smell, the way it handles and how pretty it looks in the driveway. More important, because they conducted so much research, they know the decision was educated and sound.

Fast forward six months, and the Does have photos on their Facebook page: them, the new car, the kids and the dog. They chat with friends about how much they like this car, they reply to blogs about the car – in essence they are evangelists about what a great car this is. Leap ahead a few years. Now they have taken it in for routine service a few times and they’re performing the same kind of activity about the dealer, the service and the whole experience of this car.

Here are some basic questions to ask yourself about where your company fits in this cycle:

•Is your Web site a good “window” for potential customers to window shop? Are your hours posted? Is a map available? Is your site up to date and attractive? Would you come and see you based on the passive Web site invitation?

•Are you managing your online reputation? Have you Googled your company name lately? Do you know what your past customers say about you? Do you actively blog about your products in an informative rather than a pushy way?

•What are your competitors doing online? Are you a trendsetter or years behind others?

A friend in sales relayed a story about an antique shop in Spokane. She was talking Web sites with the owner and he said, “All my customers are older and they don’t use the Internet, so I do not need a Web site.” His wife was sitting by listening to this discussion and said simply, “Well, that pretty much guarantees at some point all your customers will be dead.” Ouch!

Your happy customers have the potential to become your best marketing tool. And the Internet gives them the conduit to make that happen. As businesspeople, we need to make sure we are on the radar in the consumers pre-shop and the post-shop phases. Start asking questions and you might be amazed at what you find.

Jan Quintrall is president and CEO of the local Better Business Bureau. She can be reached at jquintrall@spokane.bbb.org or (509) 232-0530.
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