Ray Collis

Oh, that buying was so simple!!

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You are probably familiar with the traditional 5 step model of the buying decision.  Be careful however – in the context of today’s more sophisticated buying it is a model that comes with a health warning.

The Traditional 5 Step Model

Now gone past its ‘best before date’ this traditional model is shown in a diagram below, with its intuitive steps – need recognition, information search, evaluation of alternatives, purchase decision and post purchase evaluation.

Alternatively it can be labeled slightly differently (but with the same outcome): (i) need arousal, (ii) information search, (iii) evaluation behavior, (iv) purchase decision, and (v) post purchase feelings.

The problem is that this relatively one dimensional picture of buying, if used, is likely to catch the salesperson off his, or her guard.  Buying unfortunately is a lot more complicated!

A key challenge in respect of the five step model, is perhaps its greatest strength – that is its simplicity and universality.  The model is so familiar to us all because it is used so widely.  It is used for high B2B value as well as commodity sales, it is even used sometimes for B2C selling.

Problems With The Traditional Model

Little wonder the that the model can present problems in terms of describing the complex sale.  These include:

  1. It does not communicate anything about the buying decision, or more to the point the business decision behind it.  Specifically, it does not address the issue of the business case, so vital in getting even relatively small purchases approved.
  2. It suggests that decisions move logically from one step to another.  However, as sellers we know that buying decisions can move forwards as well as backwards.  For example a buyer can move from need recognition to evaluation of alternatives and back again, as new alternatives, or requirements emerge.  In terms of the steps of the buying process, the sales person is going to need more detailed prospect specific information regarding how the decision is going to be made.
  3. It could be argued that information search rather than being a stage in itself, takes place at each step in the process.  The need recognition and evaluation of alternatives are all about information and analysis.
  4. Evaluation of alternatives is a very broad term and it suggests selecting between different products, or services, rather than the totality of choices to be made, including different projects, the decision to do-it-in-house, or a decision to delay a decision.  We know that the main competition faced by most sellers is not a competing vendor, but a competing project.
  5. The focus is on the purchase decision.  However, in respect of the complex sale it is not the purchase decision that generally causes problems, but the business decision that underpins it.  All major purchases require a more fundamental strategic business decision and that is where they often become unstuck.
  6. It does not convey the complexity of the buying decision in terms of the extent of consultation and collaboration that it is likely to be required.  Buying decisions are being made higher and wider in so many organisations.  Managers have been stripped of their power to make buying decisions that exceed a low spend threshold.  The decision requires buy in from a cross-functional buying team and is likely to require sign-off at the highest levels.

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