I recently overheard a fellow talking about “the simplicity of the B2C sale.” He was comparing it to the complexity of the “considered purchase,” B2B sale. I had to chuckle, not at the thought one sale might be more complex than another, but at the thought that B2C sales, simply because they are B2C, are inherently less complicated. I wonder if that guy has ever bought a house or a car, booked a cruise, applied for a loan or tried to research dietary strategies that might remediate cancer.
Your business category is not the issue. The complexity of your sale is not the issue. Whether your sale is impulse or a considered purchase is not the issue. Buying into these notions as determining factors when it comes to your ability to design persuasively is thinking that will lead you down the garden path.
Understanding and managing your sale as a persuasive process is the only relevant issue.
Ever try to get a handle on what, exactly, constitutes a considered purchase? I have. Most folks agree it doesn’t include the impulse buy, but beyond that, things get pretty confusing. I did a little Google search on “considered purchase” and wound up mildly amused.
In no particular order: It’s to do with the things you might find listed in comparative consumer reports. It includes stuff like travel, electronics, furniture, and high-end cookware. A considered purchase costs more money, has less market competition, and is a more unique product. One business described their service as follows: “With content that ranges from food to furniture and from exercise equipment to electronics, including consumables, durables, daily needs, and considered-purchase items, [we] can help the consumer with all of her shopping needs.” So, that means consumables, durables and daily needs aren’t considered purchases?1
And then there’s this sort of fuzzy thinking about the nature of B2C versus B2B:
One thing differentiating business to business marketing from consumer marketing is a product's price tag. B to b purchases, like machine tools or enterprise software, usually start in the six-figure range. This is why the average b to b sale involves seven decision makers … [and] why b to b marketers call them "considered purchases." Consumer goods are a bit cheaper and less risky to buy.2
In business to business, most transactions are a considered purchase. Example: no one runs out and buys 13 jet engines on a lark. There are no frequent buyer programs for $250,000 machine tools or $500,000 enterprise software solutions. A mentor distinguished consumer purchases from business to business purchases like this: "Buying the wrong toothpaste leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Making the wrong business to business purchase can cost you your job." And that's just one reason why these sales are complex.3
How much time do you want to spend debating the classification of your sales process? It won’t bring you an inch closer to being able to design an effective, persuasive Web site, that much is certain. And if nobody seems the least bit clear when it comes to classification schemes, I figure it falls into the realm of utterly pointless activity.
Forget the categories. Think in terms of your persuasive process.
At the most elemental level, commercial Web sites come in four flavors (we bother with these categories only because they influence which Web analytics we employ to test, measure and optimize) – every commercial site you'll come across is a subset or combination of one of these four variations: e-commerce, content, lead-generation and self-service.
And here’s what every online business has in common:
Each business has an ultimate conversion goal
Each business has a series of steps (each one of these a separate point of conversion) that ideally help folks achieve that ultimate conversion goal
Each business has an audience made up of folks who have their own agendas and their own ways of satisfying their agendas
Once you’ve figured out what you’re trying to accomplish through your Web site – your business objective – you turn to understanding your persuasive process by answering these three questions:
Who needs to be persuaded? When you know who you need to persuade, you can create personas that allow you to design meaningful navigation scenarios.
What actions does this person need to take? Not all actions will be direct functions of your sales process; many will be actions your personas need to take to satisfy their buying decision process.
How will you most effectively persuade that person? Knowing “who” and “what” helps you create persuasive copy and content.
A year ago, Bryan Eisenberg wrote in his ROI Marketing column for ClickZ:
The essence of the Internet experience is how visitors click from one hyperlink to the next. How they feel about that experience is determined by whether each click fulfills the visitors’ expectations and needs. Satisfaction with each click (a microaction) increases their confidence they’ll get what they came for (the goal or macroaction).4
The click, then, is the essence of your persuasive process. Every click represents a question your visitor is asking. It represents your visitor’s willingness to try to stay engaged with you (for now). It represents a unique point of conversion. It represents continued persuasive momentum. If your visitors don’t click, communication ceases and persuasive momentum evaporates.
No matter how complex the sale, every persuasive process unfolds click by click, one microaction conversion at a time.
No two sales are ever exactly alike. But whatever you sell out there, certain factors pertain to the buying decisions your audience has to make. These factors are critical to shaping your persuasive process, and are the most important reasons why you have to map your audience’s buying processes to your selling process (more on this in the next issue). These are the factors that will determine the intricacy of your Web site’s persuasive process:
Knowledge. How difficult is it for folks to understand the nature of your product or service, or the procedures for buying? What do they need to know? Your persuasive process must eliminate the friction generated by confusion or lack of knowledge. Knowledge dimensions for the buying decision can differ based on who is doing the buying: is the customer buying for herself (she will be the end user) or is she buying on behalf of another (as in the case of a purchasing agent)? The knowledge assumptions and language – especially jargon – that work for one may be totally inappropriate for the other.
Need. How urgent is the need for your product or service? How fast are folks likely to make their decisions to buy? Will the need be satisfied by a one-time purchase (either impulsive or momentous) or is the need on-going? Folks might be willing to compromise their thoroughness for a casual one-time deal. But if that one-time deal is something like a house, or if they are choosing a long-term relationship to satisfy an on-going need, things get significantly more complicated.
Risk. How risky, especially with respect to issues of finance, is the sale? While price may not be an ultimate decision factor in a purchase (for many, safety and trust trump price), increasing financial risk necessitates a more intricate persuasive structure. Risk may also be associated with compromises to health, as when individuals or medical professionals have to make treatment choices. Or even, for that matter, when someone simply evaluates the safety of an herbal remedy.
Consensus. Just how many people do you have to persuade? An individual? An individual and her significant other? Several end-users and heads-of-department? Your ability to understand who is involved in the decision-making process allows you to provide copy and content that appropriately informs, reassures and persuades.
These factors apply differently depending on the nature of your sale. For example, home computers aren’t a terribly high-risk product anymore, but lots of folks find them unfathomable beasts, and they’ll take their time acquiring information before deciding to buy one. Unless the one and only computer upon which their sole-proprietor business depends just got zapped by lightening and must be replaced by tomorrow noon. By the same token, you might take a while to consider the purchase of a water-heater if you are building a new house, but if your existing water heater goes up the spout, you need to replace it pronto. Almost no one would say a pencil is a considered purchase – knowledge of pencils isn’t much of a problem and there’s generally no risk associated – but if the purchase of a case of pencils or a single pencil from a new vender requires several departments to sign off, consensus is an issue.
These factors can also be interdependent. Take knowledge. The more you know about something, the more you may perceive the risks involved. Conversely, more knowledge may afford you the perception of less risk. The individual facing heart surgery will consider the relationship between knowledge and risk differently than will the heart surgeon. As will the individual investor staking his life earnings on options, compared to the options trader for whom these transactions are daily occurrences.
Are you getting the idea?
B2C, B2B, impulse purchases, straightforward purchases, considered purchases, non-profit, lead-generation … it truly doesn’t matter. If you understand all the elements that make up your unique persuasive process and if you understand your audience, you will be able to apply persuasive principles to greatest effect. You, too, can have your Web site converting like a wild thing. Trust me. Persuasion isn’t just the best game in town … it’s the only game in town!
1 I’ve not provided url sources for these randomly selected observations that abound. Your own Google search will reveal lots of similar comments.
2 Strategic Public Relations. http://prblog.typepad.com/strategic_public_relation/2003/08/the_considered_.html
3 Strategic Public Relations. http://prblog.typepad.com/strategic_public_relation/2002/08/
4“The New Frontier: Complex Sales.” Bryan Eisenberg. ROI Marketing. ClickZ. January 30, 2004. http://www.clickz.com/experts/crm/traffic/article.php/3305521