A shift in buying process you need to consider

My last blog entry asked whether your content helps customers buy. I wanted to follow up with a focus on helping the customer during the pre-purchase phase when they are forming initial impressions.

Google’s Jim Lecinski calls it the “Zero Moment of Truth” or simply ZMOT (Lecinski, Jim 2011). Michael Bosworth and John Holland advocated that salespeople focus on the buying process, not the sales process (Bosworth, Michael and Holland, John, et al 2010). It is all around us. What is it?

Once upon a time marketing was aligned to an idealized, linear journey from awareness to action with stops at interest and desire along the way. If you got your brand into the customer’s consideration set in the first two steps, you had a good chance at becoming desired and driving purchase action. Things have changed with the world wide web and, especially, mobile devices such as smartphones. The cost of researching a solution to a need is now so low and the information available so vast, that customers are learning about their alternatives and forming impressions before they ever engage directly with your distribution channels.

For B2C, this means there is an essential need to support the buyer’s research before you have a chance to impress them with your end cap in your retail partner’s store. For B2B, this means your customer knows a lot and has formed preferences before they become a lead and before they meet your salesperson.

P&G coined the “First Moment of Truth”, or FMOT, to describe the first engagement with the customer whether at an in-store display or a prospecting call. If that was the first moment, then the explosion in the prevalence of pre-first moment research needs a smaller number. Hence, the ZMOT.

It is not productive to get too hung up on numbering the steps because they don’t always go in the same order and they are not linear. They may never have been. Awareness marketing may influence which brands a customer researches at ZMOT. Or, ZMOT may be how the customer discovers your brand. Does it matter which sequence happens? No. Does it matter that you win the ZMOT? Most certainly. I’m reminded of an old Madison Avenue gem: You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

You don’t entirely control the first impression. The consumer is in charge. Through word of mouth, reviews, ratings, blog posts and social media conversations, your brand and product are being described for you with words you may or may not desire.

Is it any wonder Google is evangelizing ZMOT? Where does ZMOT happen more often than not? Search. How do you improve your first impression? Well, first of all, make a remarkable product or service and take remarkable care of your customer. Then make sure the best reviews, ratings and customer stories are the top results in search. It doesn’t hurt to sprinkle in great contextual digital ads either so you have a good chance of your ad showing up when the customer is reading related content. Google sells that too. Google may not be the only or the largest player in social media but they are there and you need to be too. Social media is where many of the conversations happen that affect all stages of the buying process.

A B2B team has a big decision to make on a new CRM system. Where do they start? Probably with a mix of online and offline resources like CRM magazine, LinkedIn groups on CRM and marketing management, and their professional network via LinkedIn or Facebook. Which brands do they consider? Those with strong recommendations from people they respect, people like themselves in situations like theirs, but, also, brands that made a great first impression during the initial search. If Salesforce has experts answering questions on twitter about how to use or optimize their hosted CRM and Oracle is absent, Salesforce is winning the ZMOT (hypothetical example).

ZMOT isn’t new. What is new is that more people search pre-purchase, more often. Smartphones, tablets, fast connections and vast information have expanded and accelerated the consumer’s ability to have near perfect information, at low cost, for almost any purchase. Consumers don’t search for your brand or even product name. They search for things like “best clumping cat litter” or “HD Camcorder reviews”. Where do you rate in those search results? What are others saying about you? What does your prospect think of your brand or product before your salesperson walks in the door? If you don’t know, you need to find out. If you do know, and you aren’t already preferred before the First Moment of Truth, you need to work harder at winning the Zero Moment of Truth.

References

Bosworth, Michael and Holland, John, et al. (2010). Customer centric selling (2nd ed.) McGraw-Hill.

Lecinski, J. (2011). ZMOT: Winning the zero moment of truth (1st ed.) Google.