The first 4 stages of buying: how to spot the ‘buying signals’

This blog post by Heather Townsend, co-author of ‘How to make partner and still have a life’ answers the question what are buying signals? Heather will be leading a session for Emerging Leaders' on 28 June 2017.

What are buying signals

Before a client will buy your services, they are likely to pass through at least four stages of buying. It is important for consultants to understand this process, and to be able to empathise with their potential clients. This analysis will help you build a constructive relationship with your client.

Status Quo

This stage is characterised by everything being fine in the client's world. It is incredibly unlikely that you will be able to get face-to-face or air time with a client in this stage. After all, everyone is just too busy to embark on a sales conversation for a service they don't need.

Problems and needs

With the pace of business moving so fast these days, virtually no one is in Status Quo. They are more likely to be in 'Problems and Needs'. This is where they may have a niggle or something to worry about. Or it could be a massive crisis. However big their problem, they have a problem. When potential clients are in Problems and Needs, they will be searching for answers to their questions or problems. One of the things they want to know is, 'do I need to worry about this problem?'. At this stage, you may not see buying signals. Your role now is to explore with them their problem and help them understand the severity of it. Only once the potential client is motivated to act will they start to Define Their Outcome.

Define Their Outcome

When your potential client gets to this stage they will start to give off early Buying Signals. By this, I mean their conversation will turn very logical and tactical. You may be asked questions such as 'how long will it take?', 'what do I need to watch out for?' Only when your client gets into Define Their Outcome can you start to suggest and explore solutions with them.

Supplier selection and explore solutions

When your client gets to this stage they can be very serious about buying and will be giving off clear buying signals. These are typically questions which check your credibility to deliver and how much it will cost. E.g.

  • Where have you done this before?
  • What will the work cost?
  • Can you send me a proposal (this has a health warning)

It is at this point in your potential client's buying journey that you can start to talk about submitting a proposal and closing the sale. You may even find that your client does the closing for you, e.g. they may ask you, 'so when can we get started with this?'.

Why 'send me a proposal' is often a full stop not a close

Sometimes, potential clients will ask for you to send them a proposal when they have absolutely no intention of buying. For the potential client it is a way of quickly bringing the conversation to a close and getting you out of the door. Unless you have heard clear buying signals such as questions about your credibility and cost to do the work AND the client has explored with you a solution, then 'send me a proposal' is unlikely to be a buying signal.

In summary

What are buying signals? Buying signals are evidence that your potential client has gone through the early stages of their buyer journey and are in 'supplier selection and explore solutions'. They may have got very interested in the 'how' and 'what' of a solution/service for them, and checked out your credibility and likely cost.

This article was first published on the How to make partner website

Heather Townsend is the global expert in what it takes to make partner in a professional services firm. She is the award-winning author of 4 books including ‘The Go-To Expert’ and ‘How to make partner and still have a life’ (co-authored with Jo Larbie) In the last year, her team of coaches have helped 7 people make partner and coached clients from all the major continents of the world.