What is your customer thinking? For just about anyone in business, this is the mother lode, the philosopher’s stone. Indeed, pick any “holy grail” metaphor which up until now has been pretty much the stuff of crystal balls and fortune cookies. But no more. Because recently published research has shown that once a need to buy has been acknowledged, there is a very specific and consistent manner in which people and organizations go about their purchasing. It’s called the Buying Style.
To determine the buying style, we must look through the eyes of the customer to what they perceive to be true. And there are really only two things to consider. What to buy – the offering, and where to buy – the supplier. Two decisions – which we’ll indicate with two polarized scales – and only two options per scale. Here they are.
What to Buy: Solution & Product defines the buyer’s perception of what is actually required. At the Solution end of the scale, the buyer knows they need to enter into a buying journey, but they are unsure of precisely what it is they need. They will be looking for someone to advise them on their acquisition and to provide a specific solution. At the Product end is the buyer who knows exactly what they need, no help required. So, two perceptions; I need something but I’m not sure what, or I know exactly what I need. And important to note that there is no middle ground – it’s one or the other.
Where to Buy: Choice & Value defines the buyer’s perception of where to buy. When buying at the Choice end, the buyer perceives that they can pick and choose their supplier. Whatever the reason, they approach their buying journey believing they have a choice. At the other end of the scale is Value, where the buyer has one particular supplier who provides a unique value so important to them that they will purchase from that supplier with little or no consideration of anyone else. Again, two perceptions; I have a choice of suppliers, or I have a preferred supplier. And again, there is no in-between.
Of course, nothing happens until “what to buy” meets “where to buy”. And now a very interesting thing happens when we merge these two scales together. Think of a compass with its four cardinal points. Each point now indicates one of the four variables defined above. So, what to buy – Solution or Product (north or south), and where to buy – Value or Choice (east or west). And of course, in between each point is a quadrant, and it is in one and only one of these quadrants where the sale takes place.
This is the 4Q Buying Style model. This is what your customer is thinking. Here’s a quick look at each quadrant. And keep that compass image in mind.
This quadrant could be called Sort & Select. The buyer perceives that they know exactly what they need, and they have a choice of potential suppliers and/or offerings. A couple of examples could be the classic commodity sale, or an RFP/bidding purchase.
In the diametrically opposite quadrant, we find the buyer who knows that while they need help determining a solution, they already have a favored company or individual to turn to in order to acquire what’s needed. It could be a long-serving insurance broker or a trusted IT supplier. Call this the “Trusted Advisor” quadrant – ironic perhaps for a term that is likely the most misused in all of sales. However, in this case, it is an apt and accurate description of the buying style.
Search & Choose could define this quadrant because here we find a buyer who knows they need help in figuring out what is required, but at the same time, they perceive they have a choice of where to go. An example could be a company that has decided to upgrade their vehicle fleet to now include E-cars and hybrids – several vehicle options and a good choice of suppliers.
Product Value (south-east)
Here is the buyer who knows exactly what they want, where to get it and won’t look anywhere else. The Starbucks quadrant? Why not – self-explanatory in saluting a brand that has achieved such dizzying heights of “owning” a quadrant/segment of the market.
Now, if you’re on the sales and marketing side of things, you’re probably thinking, “What does this mean to me, how do I translate all this into actionable items? Here are a few takeaways.
The 4Q model can explain the buying style for anyone buying anything, so…
identify what quadrant your target market occupies because…
virtually no brands have ever been successful in more than one quadrant at any one time. Believe it.
And remember, the buying style is based on perception, and…
There is no right or wrong buying style.
From more of a wide-angle point of view, the research referred to earlier also concluded that:
It is the buying style that defines a market, not the offering. To explain…
If two buyers look to acquire the same offering but have different buying styles, then two distinct markets are indicated. This is important to note because consistent success in a particular quadrant demands different investments, approaches, and culture than another quadrant would demand.
For the selling entity, diligent investigation will identify where your target market is situated within the 4Q. Look for it, learn it, and clarity will prevail.