By Michael Fauscette
Consumer buying behavior has gone through significant changes over the past decade, mostly due to the availability of information and the ease of connecting to peers. We have all become hyper-connected and the result is a new found freedom to control decision making—particularly in what, when, and from whom we purchase “stuff.”
So what is different in buying behavior now? Here are a few observations. Buyers tend to distrust direct seller information like websites, marketing material, and sales representatives, as well as indirect information that can be easily linked to the seller, such as sponsored content. Because of this fundamental distrust and the readily available information from independent online sources, buyers tend to educate themselves and build a deeper understanding of products, particularly in complex purchasing situations like business software.
The education process tends to happen independently and because there’s a basic desire for trusted information, the seller is often not involved in a buying process until the late stages or after the decision is made. This limits or eliminates the ability of a seller to influence the decision, particularly around competition.
Buyers apply a series of trust filters to buying research. This information actually influences decisions. Trust filters are a mental model that establishes credibility and is subconsciously applied to an information source based on perceptions of the individual as to the level of trust assigned.
While the buying process varies, there is a basic flow that naturally occurs and appears as a linear process—although in reality it doesn’t necessarily progress in a linear manner. The process is more of a set of fluid phases where the buyer moves at their own pace and direction towards a decision. The buying process is generally made up of four phases—awareness, discovery, education, and decision.
In the awareness phase, buyers become aware of an issue—or issues—causing some disruption or inefficiency.
Through discovery, people work through the issues and determine that the solution needs to include new software and technology with a specific set of requirements.
During the education phase, requirements are used to guide a process of determining the best potential solution. All of the information used is trust filtered.
Finally, the decision process involves taking all of the collected information to evaluate solutions and arrive at a purchase decision. The actual process varies and ranges from informal to a very structured review and approval approach.
Influence and Influencers
Let’s focus on the education phase of the buying process and the latest evolution of influence in the space. Influential information can consist of anything that the buyer deems relevant, contextual, and trustworthy.
Peer networks are the newest independent information sources available to buyers in the education phase. They are generally public social networks, professional peer communities, or peer review sites. Social networks and professional communities are online versions of the information sharing that naturally happens between colleagues and peers. Peer review sites are different from other information sources and offer an opportunity to get a transparent view from people using the software.
The basic requirements to make the community influential, useful, and viable include an online platform that supports the community by collecting and designating information in an orderly fashion; some structured method to get new and refreshed reviews in an ongoing basis—a method for software end users with direct experience in a specific software to provide unbiased reviews of the product in a structured fashion that includes some form of a rating system.
As a part of the process there must be verification to prevent gaming of the system, making the data trusted and credible—an underlying structure that makes the information consumable and easy to find—and additional value-added resources to help the buyer find and evaluate the software.
With these basics covered, peer review sites provide trusted information for consumption by software buyers. The verified reviews—or information provided by users—quickly pass through the buyer’s trust filters and become validated, primary sources in the education phase of the process. Because this information is provided by verified users, the basic distrust is frequently circumvented.
Influence is Key
In the education phase, influence is a key part of the software buying process, providing trust-filtered ways for buyers to educate themselves on the available solutions and vendors. This is an accepted way of supporting the software buying process. The manner in which influencers are accessed is changing due to the hyper-connectivity provided by the Internet and its ubiquitous access to relevant information. It’s important for buyers to be educated on the available sources of information and to leverage newer sources to build a complete picture of available solutions. SW
Michael Fauscette is the chief research officer at G2 Crowd, an online platform and community where people connect and share experiences about business software and gain user experience-based insight to support business software purchase decisions. In his role, Fauscette is responsible for strategic research, community management, and the analysis, packaging, and use of data from business to business software users.
Apr2016, Software Magazine