How Knowing the Buyer's Journey Can Help You Make the Sale Online

As we increasingly conduct business and market ourselves online, it’s easy to start to divorce the process of how we sell online from how we sell in person. But there’s a lot to be learned from the way we sell person to person, without a computer screen to divide us.

In November, I traveled to Puerto Vallarta for a wedding. On our last day we went into the city and I was determined to go home not only with a few gifts for some special people in my life, but a meaningful souvenir for myself. We had gone into the city for a few hours the day before and I noticed the beautiful huichol animal art.

If you don’t know, I love horses. I have two of my own and have been riding for almost two decades (!!) I always say that horses are a lifestyle, not a hobby. So of course when I saw the huichol animals, I knew I had to go home with a horse, un caballo huichol.

This turned out to be easier said than done. Luckily we had a few hours to kill…because it took me a few hours and many visits to different street vendors and shops to find one! Many thanks to the boyfriend for indulging me and accompanying me on this hunt!

Spoiler Alert: I did eventually find and purchase one. And as we sat in the airport going home later that day, I thought back over the hours it took me to find that souvenir and how my journey as a buyer searching for a physical product in a shop is not that different from what a buyer experiences when they shop online. That’s something I think people tend to forget so I wanted to share this story with you in hopes that it will help you contextualize things for your business and maybe make some changes.

You’ve probably heard that the three stages of the buyer’s journey are Awareness, Consideration, and Decision. While I used that same framework below, I’ve subdivided each stage with the important mile markers I passed through on my buyer’s journey. I would encourage you to apply this framework to your own business. It may help you make some changes (for the better!) in the year ahead.

Awareness Stage

Mile Marker #1: Desire

Most customers will come to you with a desire, a goal, an outcome they want fulfilled. I was determined not to go home without un caballo huichol.

But you may need to find a way to motivate a desire in your customer. This is for those Henry Ford type businesses. The ones where if you asked your customers what they want, they would tell you faster horses.

If this is your business, creating desire is one of the most important steps in the buyer’s journey and one that should not be overlooked. I see a lot of people, particularly those with products to sell like food or other physical products wanting to cheap out and take product photos themselves…even if they’re not very good. And believe me I get it, running a business is hard AND expensive. But with a hundred other competitors in your city alone, you need to find some way to capture attention and if you don’t do it at step one, you’ll have a hard time gaining ground later.

Mile Marker #2: Pain Point

Every customer has a pain point whether they realize it or not. Sometimes it’s literal pain…their back hurts, they’re starving, or their shoes pinch their feet. But sometimes it’s as easy as needing to find a gift for a relative or needing to fill a blank wall in their house. Whatever it is, you need to find their pain point so you can address it. And if it’s a pain point that many people have that isn’t being addressed, so much the better - you might have a super lucrative business on your hands!

Luckily for you guys, finding that souvenir horse ended up being a major pain point. I lost track of how many vendors I talked to and how many tried to interest me in buying a donkey or a zebra because they didn’t have any horses. But I knew what I wanted and I was determined to keep going until I found someone who could satisfy that pain point for me.

Consideration Stage

Mile Marker #3: Getting Found

The day we were in Puerto Vallarta, they were observing Revolution Day, which is a celebration of the Mexican Revolution. A lot of businesses were closed that day so we definitely looked for open doors and lights on. We ended up having to walk all the way from out hotel to downtown because traffic was so bad in the street so when I say I looked at a lot of stores, I really mean it. We passed tons of stores along the waterfront.

We also went to an area in the city that had lots of street vendors. While most appeared to be open, there were some I skipped going into because they were dingy, not well-kept, or I didn’t get a good vibe from the vendor out front. Maybe one of them had my horse in it and I could have saved myself a few hours of looking, but because I didn’t get a good impression, I didn’t want to do business with them.

The takeaway here is to take stock of the impression your business is making with consumers online. Is your website up-to-date? Are you keeping your social media accounts active? How are your reviews? In the online space, it’s much too easy for consumers to consider (and dismiss) your business without ever getting in contact with you.

Mile Marker #4: Honesty

I actually found un caballo huichol pretty early on in the day at a street vendor’s stall. It looked well-made, was the size I was looking for, and even had a price sticker on the bottom. I got as far as the register and handing over my money when the vendor looked at me and told me instead of 150 pesos (or however much it was) it was 1500 pesos.

I walked.

The rub is, I actually ended up paying almost the same price for the horse I bought later. It was much larger, sure, but it was still about the same price. The reason why this vendor missed out is that she 10x’d the price at checkout and made me feel she wasn’t treating me honestly. If there was no sticker and she told me it was 1500, I might have weighed that in my mind. Or if there was a sticker than said 1500, again, I would have weighed that in my mind. I’d already been looking at prices of animals at other stores and knew the 150 was an amazing deal. I just didn’t really appreciate the price being jacked up like that.

It should go without saying, but be honest and upfront in your business dealings. There are a lot of marketing people who teach the concepts of upsells and downsells. While these do work, some consumers find them slimey. I recently purchased a digital course online from a respected marketer and after purchasing, they had a button giving free access to their membership community. There was nothing on the page about it being a free trial until AFTER I’d clicked the button and they’d signed me up for a 30-day free trial. So now I have to go cancel that before they charge me. I’m still happy with my course and am going to their conference in 2019, but that experience kind of tarnished my opinion of them.

Mile Marker #5: Trust

Trust is similar to honesty, but in this case I want to apply trust at the level of how people’s personal information is handled and processed. It’s not enough to make the sale. You need to be sure people feel comfortable trusting you with their personal information. Just look at all the drama surrounding Facebook this year!

About an hour after I walked away from the lady, I walked into another stall where a guy was selling a lot of huichol animals. I saw a turtle I wanted to buy as a gift for my parents and it, too, had a sticker on the bottom. I asked him to verify the price for me and I was pleased he turned the turtle over and pointed at the sticker on the bottom.

I then asked him if he had any horses. He did, but it was quite a bit larger and more expensive than the turtle. And I didn’t have enough pesos to pay for both. I asked him if he took credit card and he said he did. He showed me his credit card terminal, which looked quite old. I looked at it and told him I’d take the turtle for sure, but may come back later for the horse.

My reason for not buying both for him? I was nervous about his credit card terminal. The bride at the wedding had told me a story of how on one of her first trips to Mexico with her now husband, they had gotten into an argument over the wisdom of withdrawing money from an ATM at a bank on the street. It hadn’t occurred to me until she told that story that those might not be safe. And if those weren’t safe, how could I trust that the swiping terminal at a street vendor’s stall would deal with my credit card safely?

Mile Marker #6: Customer Service

It took me another hour or so to find the next store that even had a horse to sell to me. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, you were crazy determined to buy this thing. And you’re right, I was! I’m exactly the customer we should all be so lucky to have!

Anyway, the store I eventually found was a real store with air conditioning. Air conditioning! They had lots of beautiful huichol animals in the window and inside, the store was a cut above anywhere else I’d been that day. It was brightly lit, the floors were shiny, and again, air conditioning. It felt like walking into an art gallery.

When the manager (or the owner) came over, he asked (in Spanish) if we spoke Spanish and I responded with the one phrase I’m really good at: un poquito. He switched into fluent English and I explained I was looking for a horse. He immediately swept into action and found three for me to look at it and took the time to explain the differences in how each was made. He was obviously very knowledgable about the product and again, I had the sense I was in an art gallery, not just a store for tourists. This put me at ease and helped prime me to buy.

Decision Stage

Mile Marker #7: Price

When the guy at the last shop left me alone to look over the three options he had presented, I decided to ask my boyfriend for his opinion. I think I phrased my question as, “Which one would you get?” To which he replied something like, “None. I wouldn’t pay one peso for that.”

He’s a very practical guy, that boyfriend of mine.

And he makes a good point. What I wanted wasn’t of value to him and it wouldn’t have mattered if it was nearly free, he still didn’t want it. But I did. Enough to spend three hours wandering around sweating in the heat and humidity!

As I looked at my options, I felt draw to the larger horse. And wouldn’t you know it, but it was about the same price as the first lady had tried to get me to pay? Granted, this horse was larger and looked to be a little higher quality. But still, the same price!

I asked if they took credit card. Of course they did and when I looked at their register, the credit card terminal was actually attached to a computer. That probably says nothing about the actual security of it. But my experience in the shop thus far was so much more like what I was used in the United States, can you really blame me for feeling more at ease about doing business with them?

As I mentioned above, I ended up paying about as much as I would have if I’d bought from the first lady. The guy in the middle actually had the cheapest price. But I ended up paying more to buy from the last vendor.

This is a really good point to internalize: don’t assume what people will and won’t pay. Set your price, own it, and work on making the other points of the buyer’s journey the best they can be.

If the first woman had priced the animals correctly from the start, I might have paid that price and saved myself a lot of time.

If the guy in the middle had had something like Square or something that looked a little less hackable, I might have bought from him.

But I paid the most from the last guy I met because he satisfied my desire, addressed my pain point, made a good first impression, treated me with what felt like honestly, and made me feel like I could trust him with my credit card. After those six dominoes were knocked down, the price wasn’t too hard of a sell. Besides it was a long walk back to the other two vendors and I was getting tired. I was ready to make this sale!

In Summary

I think sometimes when our business isn’t going well, we try to place the blame on the digital aspects of it.

-My Facebook ads aren’t working.

-My website needs better SEO to rank well and get found.

-The Instagram algorithm keeps changing and suppressing my content.

But sometimes the solution is to go back to the basics and make sure the fundamentals of the buyer’s journey are in place. Are you clearly articulating how you can solve their solve pain point? How good of a first impression are you making? Are you dealing with the client honestly? Can they trust that if they do business with you, their personal information will be protected?

It never fails to amaze me that when I talk to a prospective client about doing social media or some other type of online work for them, if I ask the right questions, I’ll often find that there’s something else that needs addressing far more urgently in the business and it usually has nothing at all to do with why they called me in the first place. Sometimes it’s the absence of any kind of follow-up systems, lack of clarity around what they sell, or just difficulty in closing the leads they do get.

So as we are just days away from the end of the year, I urge you to take some time now to reflect on the buyer’s journey as it relates to your brand and make sure that everything is shipshape at this most fundamental level.

And if anyone is heading to Puerto Vallarta in the New Year and is interested in huichol art, I bought my horse from Tierra Huichol in Puerto Vallarta. After we got home, I found the store online and it turns out they excellent reviews on Trip Advisor - which doesn’t surprise me in the least!