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Q. How do people decide who to buy from?
I know that people shop around before they buy. I do the same thing. But I've always wondered, how do people usually make their final decision about which business they are going to buy from. I'd like to increase the odds that they will choose mine!

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A. Marketing expert, Joe Gracia, responds:

Terrific question. By understanding the answer, you will give yourself a great advantage over your competitors.

Knowing what your potential customers are looking for, and then giving it to them, practically guarantees that your business will attract the lion's share of new business.

When potential customers begin their buying process, they start by searching for information that will help them make their buying decision.

Here are the three basic questions people want the answers to when they begin thinking about a possible purchase:

-- What is available?

-- Where is it available?

-- How much will it cost?

1. WHAT IS AVAILABLE?

Before they can begin to decide who they should buy from, their first step is to determine exactly what is available.

They want to know what features are available and how they will benefIt them. This way they can determine which features are important to them and which ones are not important to them.

They can't determine exactly what they want, until they know what is available. This is their learning stage.

Some people learn about products and services from their friends, neighbors and associates. Others learn from watching TV, surfing the web or reading books and magazines, and still others learn directly from the businesses who offer the products or services.

They may stop by the establishment and browse, or they may talk directly to representatives of the businesses, either in-person or on the phone.

Some people want a lot of detail and others want just the minimum, but they both need to know what is available and how it will benefit them before they can proceed to the next step.

When you see people browsing in your store, this is the stage they are in. They want to see what is available. Don't discount these prospects. For, just as a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, prospects turn into customers.

When someone calls you for information, don't discount them because they are not quite ready to buy. They are learning what is available so they can make the right buying decision later in their buying process.

These are just the people you want to attract to your business. Many are going to buy from someone, why shouldn't they buy from you?

Attract these prospects to your business by offering free information that will help them learn what is available. This may be as simple as offering a free catalog, a brochure, or even better, an informational tips pak, or newsletter.

This is the stage that offers most business owners the greatest potential for growth.

Why?

Because many of your competitors disregard and ignore browsers and information seekers as a waste of their time. As incredible as it may seem, that is exactly what happens in most businesses.

These business owners unknowingly send dozens, even hundreds of potential customers to their competitors.

Remember, these prospects are in the first step of their buying sequence. Many are going to buy from someone. If not from you, then it will be from one of your competitors.

If you are not getting your prospects' names, addresses, or e-mail addresses and adding them to your Prospect List for follow-up, you are disregarding them, and losing out on hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in future sales.

Don't give these prospects the opportunity to forget you over the next few weeks or months. Send them some informative literature, or a special offer, or even a simple note letting them know that you are here to help them with their buying decision.

More often than not, prospects buy from the businesses that followed up with them consistently after their first step.

If you don't follow up with your prospects -- and how can you if you are not collecting their follow-up information, and adding them to your Prospect List? -- then, there is a good chance that your prospects will have forgotten about you and your business when they are ready to make their final buying decision.

2. WHERE IS IT AVAILABLE?

It's not until prospects know what is available that they care about 'where' it is available.

However, if you have done a good job in letting your prospects know what is available, and you have followed up with them consistently, they will already know that the product or service they want is available from 'your' business.

If you offer good value, and excellent service and you treated them well, there's a very good chance that you'll be at the top of their list of possibilities.

But you're not home-free yet. Once your prospects discover where it is available -- by using the Yellow Pages, asking friends, seeing ads, or by receiving your follow-ups, etc. -- then they need to choose one of these sources to buy from.

How do they choose?

They choose the one that offers them the most benefits. They choose the business that gives them what they want.

What do they want?

-- Convenience
-- Easy to buy from
-- Made to feel special and important
-- Trust in the business
-- Confidence in the business
-- Best value/deal, etc.

This is the stage where you need to prove to your prospects that they can trust you if they buy from you. They want to know that you are honest and professional, and that you stand behind your products and services. They also want to feel important when doing business with you.

Make it as easy to buy from you as possible. Stand behind your products or services with an iron-clad, money-back guarantee. Do everything you can to remove the risk from your potential customers, so that they would feel foolish to buy from anyone else.

If you want to convert a lot more of your prospects into customers, then treat them the way you would like to be treated if you were a prospect. Treat them like gold.

3. HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?

Don't make the mistake of thinking that prospects always buy the lowest price. It just isn't so.

Prospects often equate value and quality with price. If they perceive something to be of higher quality or more highly valued, they will often choose the higher price.

Of course, there are some prospects who are only looking for the absolute lowest price -- but don't lump all your prospects into that group.

Having said that, all prospects still want to feel like they received special consideration -- a special deal. They want to feel important.

That doesn't mean offering them the lowest price, it could mean including more value in the sale for them at no additional cost. Perhaps, you can include a low cost bonus, that has a high perceived value.

Customers want to do business with people they know, like and trust. These considerations very often outweigh price.

Having absolute faith and confidence that you will come through with your promises, and that you have their best interests at heart, is a highly valued attribute.

Customers are often willing to pay more when they are assured of this added value. It's called peace of mind.

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