The 5 Step Path to Purchasing

by Joe Fontenot
This is an adaptation from my new book, Minimalist Marketing: How Entrepreneurs and Nonprofits are Reaching Their Audience Without a Marketing Budget.

The 5 Step Path to Purchasing

For every commitment, be it a retail purchase, a college degree, or volunteering at your local church, there is a sales cycle, or path to purchase, that a person goes through.

No one in your audience moves from not knowing about you to being completely bought in in a single step. And regardless of what the product is—be it an impulsive one-dollar Snickers bar purchase at the checkout line or buying your first house—every purchaser goes through five distinct steps.


1. Research

This is where the buyer looks at the landscape to see what is available.

Many in the research stage may not even be sure they need to buy anything at all. But they do have a need, and so they’ve begun searching to see what a potential solution may look like.

Because the research stage is so broad (for instance, if my budget is chronically tight, do I need to get another job or sell my car to buy a cheaper one?) some will visit your brand and decide it’s not for them. This is not a reflection on you or your quality. In fact, you want those early lookers to decide you’re not right as soon as possible.


2. Evaluate

This is where the buyer knows generally what they want and begins to weigh options.

During the evaluation stage, buyers will ask their friends for advice and read reviews. Even though they may not know exactly what they want during this stage, they have a general idea. We’ll get into the mechanics of a sales funnel later in this chapter, but this is generally where you’ll start to take an active role in nurturing a potential buyer.


3. Borrowing

This is try-it-before-you-buy-it stage.

Borrowing can be as simple as the buyer imagining their life with your product or service. Or it could be a form of content marketing, where you let them experience what their life would be like if they bought in.

The borrowing stage is important, because it communicates that they’ve narrowed their search down significantly. It may be between your brand and one or two others. Or it may simply be between going with your brand or moving back to the evaluating stage.

To signify the borrowing stage, there needs to be some form of commitment on the buyer’s end. If you have an expensive product, this may be them buying a lower priced product you offer. If you have a lower priced product, it may be them signing up to your email list to hear more from you. And if you have a church or community-based nonprofit, it may be a ‘buyer’ visiting a service or event before making a commitment.


4. Buying

This is the commitment.

This stage is self-explanatory. It’s when your potential customer does what you’ve asked them to do. They buy your product or service. Or they join your community. Until the buyer gets to this stage, they are not actually a ‘customer’ or member. Up until now, they’ve only been a prospect.


5. Re-buying

This is the golden area.

The re-buying stage is when a buyer likes your product so much they decide to buy again. In the context of a church or nonprofit, this is the volunteer who takes a significantly more active role.

The reason this stage is golden is because you no longer need to do any selling. Buyers who make it to this level are already sold on your work and they are proactively seeking more of it.

Your only job at this stage is to equip them to keep using your brand. They’ll naturally tell others (word of mouth), and this will directly impact others in the evaluation stage. The more members of your audience who move to the re-buying stage, the less you have to promote yourself.


Two Examples

Let’s look at two quick examples of these five stages in action. And to help illustrate how all five steps show up, regardless of the size commitment, I’ll use the extreme examples of buying a Snickers bar and buying your first house.

In the case of buying a Snickers bar, stage one is knowing what it is. Because a Snickers bar is so ubiquitous in America, this happens automatically.

In the checkout line, the impulse is to get something sweet. And so in the moment between picking up the Snickers and glancing over the rest of the chocolate bars, you make a snap-judgment evaluation (stage two). The borrowing stage (stage three) is almost just as quick. If you’ve enjoyed chocolate in the past, your mind prepares to enjoy it again. The craving gets stronger as you decide this is what you want.

(Notice next time this happens to you. It’s very difficult to put that bar back once you’ve already picked it up. You may also begin to salivate a little or feel a touch of hunger.)

Lastly are the purchase and re-purchase stages (stages four and five). If this is the first time you’re eating a Snicker’s bar, and if you like it, the impulse to buy again is reinforced in the positive experience.

For buying a home, the stages are a bit more obvious.

You research (stage one) by deciding between renting and owning. And then, once you’ve decided to buy, how much can you afford? And what other hidden costs will you have to pay for? Next, (stage two) is about deciding where you want to buy, what kind of house, and what other factors (like nearby schools) will matter. In the borrowing stage (stage three), you begin to visit houses for sale, and you may even talk to the seller about price. But you haven’t yet committed. Finally, you buy the house (stage four). And ultimately, you’ll sell that one and buy another one later (stage five).

The five step path to purchasing is the process each buyer goes through. Before you can build a sales funnel that works, you need to understand what these stages look like for your audience.


Are You Skipping Steps?

Often times you know you have a good product, because you’ve seen others benefit from it. But if your marketing is skipping steps that your audience will go through, then you’ll be losing customers that would otherwise benefit from you and your work.

Need some help working through some of this? Schedule a call, and together we can analyze a strategy that maximizes your reach.