Most sales training courses will tell you that a salesperson must follow the AIDA process to get a sale, this being first to get the person’s Attention, then arouse their Interest in the good or service followed by getting the customer to develop a Desire for the product or service and eventually get the client to take Action and make a purchase. Many inexperienced in sales take this information and try to apply this information to their sales patter and wind up trying to explain (tell) the customer why their good or service is better for them than the competition and what it can do for them etc, to try and get the customer to be attentive, interested and hopefully become desire ridden and action oriented. The failure here is not the desire of the salesperson to be helpful but the ‘telling’ bit, which actually misses the point of the exercise.

I want us all to take a fresh look at this AIDA process but from the perspective of the customer/client. Instead of looking at it as a sales process I would ask that we conceptualise it as the customers buying process and examine the process from that point of view. The quickest way to examine this is to take your own personal experience in buying a high-ticket item. Let us say buying a new/newer car for example. What were the questions that you asked yourself when buying your last car (or bike, stereo system, apartment if you prefer) and how did you go through the four AIDA steps along the way?

The Attention phase of the buying process is usually associated with information gathering. It starts with a premise that I like my car but I really should be looking to upgrade before anything starts to go wrong (or from a B2B perspective, I am happy with my current supplier but maybe we should have a look around to see if they are giving us a good deal…). So what am I going to do? I am going to look around for car buying options. I will check the internet for car selling websites, visit car lots in my area and ‘kick tyres’. The point at this stage is that the client is not committed to the purchase but they have a ‘cognitive dissonance’, they are uneasy in the back of their mind even though they are happy with their current car they have a psychological unease which they probably cannot even put their finger on. So what are the types of question that the customer will ask and, need to answer for themselves, before they move to the next stage…

‘What are the possible options I have: buy a new car, get an upgrade by a few years or stick with what I have?’

‘What are the cost implications of the different options?’

‘Do I really need to change from the current situation?’

‘Do I really want to change from the current situation?’

If the client cannot satisfactorily answer these questions for themselves the chances are that they will put off the discussion/decision until a later point when the impetus for change has increased. If the customer cannot dissuade themselves from continuing with the process or have decided that they do need/want change then they will move to the next stage.

The Interest stage usually relates to clarifying options for the client. In the first stage the client may have gleaned some information on their different options but were really only making a go/no go decision. Now the customer will want to clarify the different options in more detail and examine the best/most preferred options available to meet their potential needs. Remember, the client has not make a buying decision; they are still driving their current car and still have a cognitive dissonance. So what are the questions that the client will need to answer for themselves if they are to move to the next stage and not stop the process on the grounds that ‘nah, this is too much hassle!’

‘What are my needs if I do make a new purchase?’

‘What are my options if I lay them down on paper?’

‘Can I exclude some of these options and bring my choice down to 2-3 preferred alternatives?’

‘Are these 2 or 3 preferred options better than my current situation?’

‘How committed am I to taking the time to have a real look around at my preferred options?

Actually, I reckon if they answer the last question positively and do spend the time to investigate further their options, then the sale becomes more concrete as up to this point there has been no ‘commitment’. So, if the client has now limited their choices down to 2-3 options and decided to explore further, the client has moved a significant way to making a decision to buy but they are not there yet!

The Desire phase is where the client moves from 2-3 options down to one preferred choice. The client has now taken the time to go around the lots and look for their specific options, have asked the salespeople about reliability, warranties, colours, specs etc. If it is a new car buy then they have taken home the brochures, colour cards etc, if it is a second-hand car then they have to take one that is currently in the lot. Now what are the questions that the client must answer for themselves at this stage in order to move to the final stage?

‘Do I really like this car compared to the other options and, most importantly, my current car?’

‘Do I like the interior?’

‘Do I like the colour?’

‘Will it be expensive to insure, tax and maintain?’

‘Will it be more or less expensive to insure, tax and maintain than my current car?’

Now the key point for the client here is to convert their Interest into Desire and that requires the ‘Oh, wow, I really like that…’ moment. It happened to me several years ago when my one year old VW Passat got written off (without me in it!) and I had to get a car. I couldn’t wait 16 weeks for a new Passat so I had to buy a good second hand. I was looking for a replacement Passat but when I visited the second-hand part of the VW dealership, which also sells Mercedes-Benz, my eye caught a CLK-200. It was a coupe, gloss-black paint and gleaming, full black leather interior, alloys and looked gorgeous. It was the ‘oh, wow, I really like that…’ moment. Without a ‘oh, wow’ moment the client may decide that there is nothing that they currently prefer and will put off a decision until the buying impetus increases at a future stage. With the ‘oh, wow’ moment then you move to the final stage.

The final stage is the stage where the client takes Action. In this case they make a decision and actually buy their preferred option. However, this is not a foregone conclusion and the client has to answer another set of questions before they make the actual ‘sign on the dotted line’ decision. These questions are:

‘Can I afford this?’

‘Can I put together a mix of my personal savings and get a car loan for the rest?’

‘Can I get credit?’ (not such an insignificant question in the current economic environment)

‘Do I trust this salesperson and can I believe what they are saying?’

‘Am I getting a good deal?’

‘What response will I get from my significant others, friends and family’ (flash git or great buy)

‘Will my significant other kill me?’ (never underestimate the effect of the answer to this question in a final buying decision)

But ultimately… ‘Do I really love this?’

If the answer to the question is ‘yes’ then the buy decision is made internally and then it gets down to negotiating. Incidentally, when I said earlier about the ‘oh, wow’ decision over the Merc I certainly didn’t tell that to the salesperson, in fact I tried to say that it was too flash etc. These internal discussions are internal and the person will not be telling the salesperson, in many cases, what they are actually thinking. The client having made the buy decision in their mind will now negotiate the best deal they can but will buy once they get a reasonable deal.

So how does the salesperson respond to the client’s internal buying process?