Demand Side Sales
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Demand Side Sales

The 6 Stages of Making a Purchase

The 6 Stages of Making a Purchase

(Royalty-free image:, Credit: Unsplash / Szabo Viktor)

The following is adapted from Demand-Side Sales 101.

You’re in a store looking around, and something catches your attention. Do you buy it or not? You’re lured by displays from businesses focusing on their product, with flashy advertising touting its features. You see the product and bam! You realize you want that product right then, and, on an impulse, you buy it.

This happens, but not often. More often, a buyer goes through several steps before making a decision. Sometimes it’s right there in the store and takes a matter of minutes, but sometimes with a major purchase, such as a car, it may take several weeks to go through the process. There’s always a timeline.

The buyer must also be at the right time and place in their life to buy that product. If a person sees a display of umbrellas and it’s hot and sunny outside, they aren’t likely to buy one. But if it’s pouring down rain, something will trigger a need in their minds.

What is that process? Through the years, we’ve uncovered the six stages a buyer must go through before making a purchase. These stages all occur whether someone is deciding on a coffee maker or a car, and salespeople can help them along at each stage to ease the anxieties and frustrations, improving the odds that someone will buy their product or service.

#1: First Thought

This is when the idea to buy something first gets planted in a customer’s head, and it’s an important step. If they’re not thinking about buying a new mattress, they’ll never buy a new one.

Something has to happen — a creak in the box springs, a hole in the mattress — for them to realize that there’s a need there. Without that first thought, there is no demand.

#2: Passive Looking

Passive looking is just what it sounds like — nothing serious. The customer is just window shopping. They notice the mattress store when they pass it now. They’re starting to fill their mind with information about the product or service. This isn’t comparison shopping or looking at features yet. It’s noticing that the product is there and letting it brew in their head.

Passive looking is about learning. Customers do a little research — noticing ads in the paper, talking to close friends about their intent. They’re not expending any effort, time, or money to make a decision.

#3: Active Looking

Active looking is what we think of when people go shopping or do research on a product. They’re actually spending time deciding whether to buy it. For our mattress buyer, it’s when they Google “best mattress” or actually go into a store to look at what’s available. For our impulse buyers, it may be looking at the product beside it and comparing the two, or looking at the features on the packaging and comparing it to their actual needs.

With active looking, people start to invest time, effort, and thought into their decision and see what is the right solution to their particular problem. What’s right for one person may not be right for another. Different people notice different features and attributes that may move them to the next step in the process. Active looking is about comparing and eliminating products that don’t help them move forward. Consumers are still learning about the process.

#4; Deciding

Here’s the big point in time: making the decision. The mattress shopper has thought about buying a mattress and the reasons they need a new one compared features and prices and eliminated the competition.

Sometimes the decision is difficult, and they must make tradeoffs. Mattress A may have better features — a pillow top, more springs — but it may cost more. People need to reject something before they can buy something else.

It’s a difficult process. The perfect product or service rarely shows itself without some kind of limitations. Deciding is where people realize they can’t have it all. That’s where the tradeoffs occur. Whatever is most important in the consumer’s mind — price, features, customer service — is what is going to sway their decision-making.

#5: Onboarding

Onboarding is the big moment. It’s where the consumer determines if you’ve met the expectations set when they decided to lock in and hand over their cash or credit card.

There’s no turning back now (unless you can return the product). This is always a crucial time because the consumer is going to be using the product for the first time and is measuring it against their expectations to see if they’re satisfied. If they’re unhappy, they may exchange it or return it, and may never do business with you again.

#6: Ongoing Use

Onboarding is just the beginning of the relationship between you and a product or service. After you buy it, you’ll be using it regularly to solve the problem you originally had. The new mattress shouldn’t creak, and there should be no defects after several months of use.

In ongoing use, the consumer is “hiring” the product every time they use it, and customer satisfaction relies on whether the product is doing the job. Are they pleased each time they use it, or are they still struggling with their problem? If they aren’t pleased, they may return it under warranty and start the process all over again. Ongoing use is where the jobs get done, and progress is achieved.

It’s All About the Steps

Businesses should think hard about each step of the buying process because it affects everything from product development to marketing and customer service. If the consumer is impressed with your product or service, you’ll make the sale and continue making sales throughout your relationship. And you won’t have to spend money on the flashy retail store displays to get their attention, either.

For more advice on the six stages of making a purchase, you can find Demand-Side Sales 101 on Amazon.

Bob Moesta is a teacher, builder, entrepreneur, and co-founder at The Re-Wired Group, a design firm in Detroit, Michigan. Bob has developed & launched over 3,500 products and sold everything from design services, software, and houses to consumer electronics and investment services. He’s an adjunct lecturer at Kellogg School at Northwestern University, lectures on innovation at Harvard and MIT, and enjoys mentoring at incubators. Greg Engle is a co-founder at the Re-Wired Group. Since the beginning of his career, helping people make progress has been part of Greg’s DNA. He’s worked in everything from food services and retailing, to construction, software, and now consulting services. Greg’s a native Detroiter and enjoys volunteering in the community, especially in local ice hockey leagues.



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Bob Moesta

Bob Moesta

BOB MOESTA is a teacher, builder, entrepreneur, and co-founder at The Re-Wired Group, a design firm in Detroit, Michigan.