People will find your company website through many different channels and not all of them will be prospective customers for your organization. But the ones that are will arrive with various goals, and often times they will not be ready to make a buying decision.
My study of the millions of visitors to my various websites has allowed me to categorize these visitors into three groups, which I have identified as the three stages of the Internet Buyer. The are information seekers, comparison shoppers, and buyers.
Information seekers consist of the people who have just started the process of buying your product or service as well as people who need to know something about your industry or organization. This is a very broad group of people and not all are real prospective leads for your organization.
These people are drawn to large aggregate sites that offer basic information about the process of buying a product or service similar to yours. In real estate, information seekers end up at sites like realtor.com, zillow.com, trulia.com, etc. They want to see pictures of houses (even if the houses are in markets where they will not be buying).
The types of information that draws people in the first stage of the buying process is very general in nature, so to attract them your company website must have answers to the general questions that arise in your industry.
We know that information seekers are not going to be making a buying decision during their first visit, but there are wise strategic reasons to attract these people to your site. This is important enough that it will be featured in a later section of The Internet Squeeze in great detail.
Comparison shoppers have worked through the information gathering stage of the buying process and are ready to narrow their focus. They have learned enough from reading information from your site (and others) to allow them to have some specific needs identified and a rudimentary budget established.
Much like the information seeker, the comparison shopper is not likely to be making a purchase decision during this visit to your website, so it is important that you have the tools and resources that will keep this future buyer engaged on your site and have them starting to feel comfortable working with your company. This is the stage in which a customer “relationship” can be forged.
The final stage of the buying process occurs when the comparison shopper has identified what they believe is their desired goal and all they are lacking is an emotional trigger that will cause them to make a purchase decision. This stage of the cycle could be minutes, or it could be months, depending upon the nature of your industry.
I have found that on average, the entire buying cycle (all three stages) for the real estate consumer is about nine and a half months. Your industry could observe all three stages in just twenty minutes. The most important thing to understand at this point in our journey is that it is mission critical for you to learn the length of each of these stages for buyers of your product or service.
As an example in the real estate brokerage industry, the first three months are spent bouncing around from one large site to another, taking in information about all the aspects of home ownership, methods of acquisition and disposition, financing, insurance, and all the related issues that correspond to buying and or selling a home. Additionally, this stage is often begun without the customer even realizing that they are going to be making a purchase decision in the near future.
The second stage in the real estate industry also lasts about three months, and it begins with a realization by the consumer that they are actually in the market to buy a home. They begin to narrow their focus to a specific area and start comparing one neighborhood to another. They develop a list of features that they need in a home, as well as ones that they would like to have as well. The comparison shopper needs local market reports, a great property filtering tools, and lots of lists in which to become involved (more on this in a later post).
Finally, once the comparison shopper has zeroed in on a neighborhood (or a few), they are ready to “look at homes” in person and will be making a decision as soon as the proper emotional trigger is sprung. For the real estate industry, this is when we finalize the human to human relationship that will create a true customer for life relationship.
For other industries, the buyer is able to purchase the product or service directly online, so it is important to have an effective sales process that will take this educated, prepared, and decisive buyer to your check-out window. If your site is prepared to serve the needs of the internet buyer through all three stages, then your company will find incredible results with a well-executed internet marketing plan.