The Five Stages of the Consumer Decision-Making Process Explained

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Scott Weiss
Scott Weiss

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The consumer decision-making process may seem more complicated than ever. That's especially true with Gen Z influencing buying channels, AI-powered websites surging, and tightening recession budgets. Luckily, the basics of the consumer decision-making process haven’t changed and are more important than ever.

consumer makes a decision

So, what does that process look like, and how can you leverage your marketing and sales to make it easier for your customers?

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In this article, we’ll detail the consumer decision-making process, differentiate it from the buyer’s journey, and give you some tips to simplify your prospects’ process.

Table of Contents

What is the consumer decision-making process?

The consumer decision-making process is the stages consumers go through when purchasing a product or service. Their five phases of decision-making include identifying a problem, researching solutions, evaluating the options, making a purchase decision, and reflecting on their level of satisfaction after a purchase.

When sales and marketing teams understand this process, they can simplify the decision-making process for their clients while optimizing their marketing efforts.

Stages of the Consumer Decision-Making Process

The consumer decision-making process can be easily divided into five simple steps. Consumers want to gather enough research to feel confident in their choice and will evaluate competing products accordingly. Check out the infographic below for more details.

The five stages of the consumer decision-making process

Stage One: Identifying the Problem

During this first stage, customers will recognize that they have a need or problem that can be solved with a new product. During this stage, the customer will become aware of their need while also forming their idea of what an ideal solution might be.

Stage Two: Search for Information

Once they have identified their need, customers will search for information on how their problem might be solved. This research phase may include discussing with friends and family, reading online reviews, searching social media, and stumbling on company websites.

The goal of this stage is to gain a comprehensive understanding of what products are available on the market, as well as making an educated decision.

Stage Three: Evaluating Alternatives

This stage begins once the customer has accrued enough information to feel confident in evaluating different products and services. This stage also involves comparing different options, creating a shortlist of products that meet the customer’s expectations, and then comparing:

  • Price.
  • Product features.
  • Reviews.
  • Brand reputation.
  • Deals and promotions.

Stage Four: Purchasing Decision

In the purchasing stage, the customer will make their final decision on which product they want to buy. They will then work with executives if purchasing for an organization to ensure the product is within budget.

Stage Five: Post-Purchase Evaluation

The consumer decision process isn’t over once they purchase your product or solution. The value of your offering will be quickly assessed after their purchase and also when it comes time for renewal. Make sure to offer value to your customers and quickly.

Try to reach out to the customer at this stage to get a review or testimonial.

Consumer Decision Process vs. Buyer’s Journey

The consumer decision process is all the buzz in sales these days, gaining traction and comparisons to the Buyer’s Journey, which shares many of the same steps.

The buyer’s journey outlines the process in three main steps: the awareness stage, the consideration stage, and the decision stage. While both theories evaluate how a customer decides on a purchase, you’ll notice that the decision-making process highlights a few additional phases of the customer's journey.

One addition is the post-purchase reflection. This step of the consumer decision-making process is often overlooked, but it determines whether or not a customer will repeat their purchase and recommend it to their peers.

If a consumer is satisfied with a product or service, it makes the process simple for them to repurchase.

This additional insight highlights one of the main reasons why sales reps and marketers need to understand their consumers' decision-making processes to simplify them, making it easier for their clientele to feel confident about a purchase.

Three Tips for Better Understanding Your Customer

1. Gain Customer Insight

So, how do you simplify the process? First, you need to understand your customers’ needs. There are many avenues to gaining customer insight that you can tailor to your company and your customers. Some examples include using questionnaires and star ratings to see where you did well and what needs to improve.

The main point of any review should be gaining feedback to recognize what challenges your customer is facing. Resolving barriers in the customer decision-making process should add value while also increasing revenue.

Pro tip: If your business isn’t large enough yet for questionnaires or online ratings, you should explore third-party data to understand the market better using Hubspot’s free SEO tools, Ahrefs, Google Trends, or SEMRush.

2. Develop a Buyer Persona

Using these customer insights, you can then develop a Buyer Persona. Understanding who your audience is allows you to tailor your products and services to meet their needs.

You might have several different types of buyers, but start small and identify a persona or two to help you target your marketing efforts more accurately. Building a buyer persona should be an ongoing process as you gain more data and insight.

Pro tip: Use Hubspot’s free Buyer’s Persona Guide or Make My Persona generator to get started.

3. Make and Use a Customer Journey Map

Creating a Customer Journey Map will help you recognize where your company or brand fits in the bigger picture. A customer will have specific touchpoints on the buyer’s journey where your company has the opportunity to simplify their purchase decision and prove to be the best option. Understanding what those touchpoints are and tailoring their experience can help focus your marketing and sales efforts.

Pro tip: Check out the free Customer Journey Map templates to help your team better understand your customers’ experience.

Four Steps to Simplify Your Prospect’s Decision Process

Streamlining the buyer’s process can lead to better marketing and sales outcomes. Here’s how:

Step One: Use Calls-to-Action (CTAs)

A customer’s decision to make a purchase relies on clarity. When they are in the decision-making process, the last thing they need is to be bogged down by too much information. Using CTAs can help your marketing team clear up their path to a purchase or repurchase.

On your website or social media pages, clearly signpost the actions they should take. If you want them to book an appointment or follow your page, extend that specific invitation.

Pro tip: Not all CTAs are created equal; be sure to research which CTAs fit your specific market and customers.

Step Two: Deliver What’s Advertised

Your brand or company can earn the trust of a consumer by being straightforward and avoiding bait-and-switch marketing. Again, a customer’s level of confidence in your company determines whether or not they eliminate your product during phase three of the consumer decision-making process and instead settle on an alternative company’s product.

Pro tip: Customer confidence isn’t limited to only delivering the correct product. Check out this blog on five ways to improve customer confidence.

Step Three: Include Product Guides

In an effort to earn their trust, be transparent about the product you’re offering. Detailed guides can provide them with the information they need to rule out other options and discover if your product will suit their needs.

Pro tip: Technical writing can be difficult, especially if you hire freelancers to write your product guides. Be sure to have an experienced product manager review any product guide you produce.

Step Four: Share Testimonials

Phase five of the consumer decision-making process is essential for increasing repurchases and advertising to new clientele. By sharing real testimonials of past customers, a consumer will have an unbiased view of the product or service.

Good reviews can help you stand out from your competitors and increase the level of trust a customer has in your product or service. In fact, user-generated content and reviews are “8.7 times more impactful than influencer content and 6.6 times more than branded content.”

If you use tools like a buyer persona or a customer journey map, you can also improve the accuracy of your persona and resolve challenges your customers face in their journey to purchasing your product by reflecting on past testimonials.

Pro tip: Testimonials shouldn’t just exist in your inbox or on Google reviews. Be sure to post current and compelling testimonials on your website, and include the author’s title, industry, and name to generate more leads.

Leveraging the Customer Decision-Making Process

Now that you understand the customer decision-making process, it’s important to include it in your marketing and sales approach.

Incentivize your sales reps to reach out during the final stage of the process to secure valuable reviews. Make sure you have a solid CX (customer experience) strategy that offers value to your customers quickly, making their evaluation of your product or solution more favorable.

Finally, look at each stage and determine where you lose people and strategize ways to keep your product in the running during their decision-making process.

Editor's note: This article was originally published in July 2012 and has been updated for comprehensiveness. 

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Topics: Decision Making

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