Every business owner needs to understand their customer. The consumer-buying decision process is an important way to strengthen your company's sales function as well as develop a sales and business development strategy that will continue to keep your pipeline of prospects full. Simply put, understanding your consumer-buyer behavior process will help you hone in on your customer's journey from the interest in your product or service to purchasing.

A Five-Stage Consumer Buying Decision Process

Introduced by philosopher and psychologist John Dewey in 1910, the five stages framework remains a good way to evaluate a customer's purchase-decision process.

Identifying the Pain Point

Identifying the pain point is often recognized as the first and most important step in the buyer decision-making process. A customer must need to fill a gap or some other sort of need for them to make a purchase. The need may be triggered by internal stimuli such as hunger or thirst or external stimuli such as advertising or word-of-mouth.

Research, Research, Research

Once the customer or prospect recognizes they have a problem or an unmet need, the next step is researching to find a solution. The buyer may use a Google search online, read product or service reviews, seek word-of-mouth recommendations and ask friends or family for their input. Buyers search internal and external business environments to identify and evaluate information to support their central buying decision.

Evaluating the Best Options

Once a buyer gathers all the information she needs, she evaluates it. The buyer will ask questions and decide which products, brands or service providers will deliver what she needs most efficiently. A factor that influences this stage in the buying process is the buyer's attitude. If the buyer has a positive attitude and is engaged and enjoying the research process, it is likely she will have a large selection of products to choose from. If she is disengaged and views the purchase-decision process as a chore, it is likely only one company or brand will be evaluated.

Making the Decision

The decision-making process ends with the buyer making her decision. At this stage, the research is done and choices evaluated – now it's time to make a buying decision. According to Philip Kotler, a well-known marketing consultant, the final purchase decision may be "disrupted" by two factors: negative feedback from other customers and the level of motivation to accept the feedback. For example, having gone through the previous three stages, a customer chooses to buy a new telescope. However, because his good friend, a keen astronomer, gives him negative feedback, he may change his mind. Furthermore, the decision may be disrupted due to unforeseen situations such as a sudden job loss or relocation.

Post-Purchase Behavior

In this last stage, customers will decide if their decision holds up to their expectations. They will either be satisfied or dissatisfied. This is critical for a company because if a customer is satisfied this will result in brand loyalty, which will keep the customer coming back and spreading good reviews about what they purchased.

Understanding how people make decisions will allow you to develop evidence-based strategies and make data-driven design choices. You may be tempted to rely on anecdotal evidence, but you'll get better results by employing surveys, focus groups, panels and other unbiased research methods to find the right direction for your sales strategies.

It's crucial that consumers feel they are in control of the buyer decision-making process for them to follow through and make a purchase. Businesses need to develop design, sales and marketing strategies that ensure their customers feel not only in control of the buying decision, but also that they have made the right choice.