How People Buy The 4 Steps From Problem to Purchase


Did you know that every single time we make a purchase we do the same four things? Did you also know that the world's most successful businesses are now organizing their corporate structures around helping customers with these 4 basic steps? It is no longer enough to just understand the value of your products and services. You must understand the actions people take once they decide to find a solution to their problem to ensure you are not missing out on big opportunities to satisfy your customers, and build customer loyalty.

Let's assume for the moment that someone knows they have a problem, and they've decided they want to solve it. There are 4 steps to finding a solution that people always follow:

1. Search for things that could address the need or want

2. Decide on a solution and set out to get it

3. Take it and get it ready to use

4. Use it

All problem solving can be broken down into these four basic stages. Here's a more familiar way to look at it:

1. Go shopping

2. Place an order

3. Take delivery

4. Start using it

Let's look at the four stages in a little more detail.

Go Shopping

Think about the last time you needed something. What did you do first? I was fixing the brakes on my son's bicycle the other day, and needed an extra hand to pull the brake handle. "Hey Logan, can you come pull the brake handle?" I asked someone around me for help. I wanted a new cell phone plan because I learned that my bill was regularly twice as high as my fiancÚs. "Honey, what company do you use again?" Her response: "I think I have a pretty good plan, but why don't we go the mall and ask someone who actually knows. There are at least 4 cell phone stores there". So we did.

Searching for solutions generally starts with asking your friends, family or co-workers. If you're still not sure you seek out an expert for more advice. You may even test-drive, or try on a few things to see what you like best. Finally you pick something you either like, trust or recognize from the suggestions offered.

Place an Order

Placing an order can be as simple as "I'll take this one". It can also be a complex series of decisions on options, delivery methods and payment options. When I placed an order for my new cell phone, they wanted to know if I would like to add a case, how I wanted to pay, and if I would like them to transfer my contacts over from my old phone to my new phone.

When I worked with equipment for utilities and industrial plants there were dozens of ordering options for different voltage levels, cabinet types, communications equipment options, system configurations or configuration services, wiring harnesses, the list goes on. The sales people didn't even know all of the available options. There was a separate orders team to guide customers through the ordering process and ensure they got a solution that fit their needs correctly.

Take Delivery

So after the order has been placed, someone needs to fill your order. With my recent cell phone purchase the same person who sold it to me and took the order then took my old phone, went to the back room, and came out a few minutes later with my new phone. It was all set up complete with all the contacts from my old copied onto it. I have no idea whether he did it himself or handed it to a technician to do. Frankly, I don't care. I just know my salesman took care of it.

In the industrial world, taking delivery is a little more complicated, but it follows the same basic steps. Instead of going into the back room, the equipment is ordered from a factory, and team of people are engaged in building and configuring the equipment. Shipping is then arranged with the customer including transport and cross-border customs clearing. On first deliveries the customer often comes to the factory to do some tests and provide formal acceptance. Some changes are almost always made at this point. After shipping the first ones to the installation site, an engineer is often deployed to help set it up and ensure everything is working correctly. All part of the delivery process.

Use It

And finally you get to use it. But the story doesn't end here, there's more. Remember when you got that brand new PC home? You got it set up, you started using it, and then you tryed to print out that first piece of paper and nothing happened. You tried everything you could think of and still nothing happened. Enter Customer Service.

Even after things are delivered and paid for, people still need help. If you get good help you are happy, and you go back to that store and recommend them to your friends. If you get bad help, or no help, you may never go back there. You will also probably make sure everyone you ever meet looking for something similar knows to stay away from that company because they will cause them nothing but pain. After all, that's what happened to you.

A pleasant experience with the Customer Service team after you buy something is often the difference between loving and hating the people that sold it to you.


Whether we realize it or not there are 4 steps we all go through every time we purchase a product or service.

1. Shop for potential solutions

2. Decide and order something

3. Get it

4. Use it

It is not enough to have a great product, or friendly customer support. You must address all four stages of the customer decision making process if you hope to build a long term relationship, and a long term business. Remember all successful businesses help themselves by helping others.

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