Customers break down their buying decision criteria into basically 3 three interconnecting realms:
A - Crucial – These attributes must be available or no sale, e.g. a family may consider side air bags to be a requirement in an automobile purchase
B - Important – Features or functions still considered as priorities but some substitution may be acceptable.
C - "Nice-to-Have" – Incidentals which are a plus but to be strictly considered as bonuses in the overall buying process. For example, a copy machine may make coffee but that usually will not factor into the purchase criteria.
During the evaluation, the buyer will place different levels of importance with each attribute, e.g. safety, performance, ease of use, cost of ownership. The buyer will evaluate and rank how each brand rates on each attribute. Much of this evaluation may be highly subjective. The attributes and order of importance may be based on a customer’s particular set of problems that needs to be solved and past experience. Marketing and Sales may influence the list and order by raising unforeseen problems or benefits tied to solutions based on their product* attributes. Advertisements, Case Studies, and Buyer’s Guides are just some of the tools to influence the Buying Decision Criteria.
A Seller must understand the buying criteria from a customer’s perspective and honestly assess how their products fulfills the attributes in addition to how aligned their attributes are with the buyer’s order of importance. This also applies to assessing their competition and alternate sources.
I find the diagram above to be a clear and simple way to illustrate the customer’s buying criteria relative to one’s own product and the competition:
- List the attributes that a Buyer’s will base their purchase decision on ranked from “Critical” on top to “Nice-to-Have” on the bottom.
- List your product’s related features, functions, differentiators in order of strength from “Strong” on top to “Weak” on bottom.
- Do the same for your competitor’s related features, functions, differentiators in order of strength from “Strong” on top to “Weak” on bottom.
- Draw a line from the Buyer’s “Critical” (A) list to where they would reside on your Strength to Weakness list. Repeat for the Buyer’s “Important” (B) and “Nice-to- Have” (C) list.
- Draw a line from the Buyer’s “Critical” (A) list to where they reside on your Competitor’s Strength to Weakness list. Repeat for the Buyer’s “Important” (B) and “Nice-to- Have” (C) list.
You will quickly see what the Buyer perceives as your strengths and weaknesses in comparison to your Competition.
From here, you can take action. Tactics may be to raise the order of importance for your unique attributes if they rank lower on the Buyer’s list, improve your offering to match the Buyer’s list and order, or exploit any competitive weaknesses in comparison to your attributes and ranking. Another important consideration is to reflect upon whether your product(s) and offerings are out of step with the market and really need technical improvement to be competitive.
* Attributes may be more than product related. They may be service support, installed base, name recognition, etc.