Many businesses concentrate on how to sell their product or service, e.g. over the internet or face-to-face. But by thinking about how people actually buy, companies can generate huge increases in sales or increased conversion rates.

As an example, think about how someone buys a bar of chocolate. The obvious answer is that they go into a shop and buy one. The reality is actually much more complex.

The Customer ‘Buying Process’

It starts off with a ‘need’. It could be hunger, a desire for a sugar boost or seeing an advert. Whatever it is, something is triggered and the hunt for chocolate starts, rather than the hunt for a sandwich, a coffee or a bag of crisps.

More choices and decisions follow. Firstly, where to go to fulfill the need. A garage? Convenience store? What if there are several places available – which one is chosen? What about the choice of chocolate bar? Will it be the person’s favorite or the one that was promoted on television last night? Would a special offer of three for $1 or £1 influence the choice?


What if there’s a queue at the store – will customers stay and queue, or leave?

That simple purchase has many steps and decision points, each one having the power to make or break the sale.

Identify the Customer’s Process

The trick is to identify these steps for your product or service to see exactly what prospects do before they purchase.

Then, for each of these steps, identify what the prospect is looking for – the things that interest them or what they want to know most. An effective marketing approach is one built around these factors, the things important to people when they buy.

If prospects need face-to-face reassurance before purchasing there may not be any value in building an e-commerce website. Alternatively, if they are happy to buy online and sufficient information can be provided on the site for them to make a purchase, why bother having a shop? An eCommerce website could be better, with pay-per-click to drive people to the site for those products where a specific advantage over competitors is offered.

If you identify that customers prefer a known brand then you’ll know you have to spend money on brand and awareness advertising.

Create Marketing Activity Around the Process

Because you know what people are looking for at each stage in the process, you can make the words, imagery, and content of your materials more effective. For example, if someone searches for potential providers online, your meta descriptions and entries in directories should be geared towards what they are looking for. A common mistake is to repeat what your service is – the searcher already knows.

Also avoid using jargon or clichés – ‘friendly, professional, quality service’ is seen everywhere but doesn’t really say anything unique. Much better to say; ‘we deliver at a time that suits you’, or another aspect of the service which demonstrates its uniqueness and which is important to them.

Focus on why your offering is perfect for them (based on what they want) and why they should call you, or visit your shop, or visit your site, rather than that of a competitor.


Use the mnemonic AIDA to help you identify your customer buying process steps and the key factors involved at each step. AIDA was originally created by Strong in 1925 to train sales people (as cited in Marketing Communications by C. Fill, FT Prentice-Hall), but it still works equally well today. It stands for Awareness, Interest, Desire and Action and perfectly describes the steps every prospect goes through before they become customers.