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Understand The Buying Decision – Meet The Buy / Don’t Buy Scales

As marketers I think it’s vital that we understand the buying decisions of our prospective clients and customers. I’ve used the idea of the Buy / Don’t Buy Scales in my coaching to help understand what tips the balance towards or away from a purchase.

Imagine an old fashioned set of weighing scales where you weigh one item against the other, and the heavier side tips down.

That’s what I think goes on in the mind of a buyer and a recent book, Why People (Don’t) Buy: The Go and Stop Signals by A. Chakravarti and M. Thomas (available from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) has helped to clarify and extend my own model.

The Buy / Don’t Buy Scales

Have you noticed how some buying decisions you make are so obvious that they need little thought, how other possible deals just scream out “No” and some leave you conflicted and unsure. You want but you’re nervous and the more you think about it, the less clarity you get in your mind.

This is the Buy / Don’t Buy Scales at work in your own mind as you consciously and unconsciously weigh the factors that are in favour of buying and the factors against buying.

The presence of that feeling of uncertainty sometimes shows that there’s some resistance in the scales. Buying is not a case of knowing which side is heavier but feeling that the buying side is significantly heavier.

Let me explain, if you’ve got the buyer’s equivalent of 10 kg on one side of the Buy / Don’t Buy Scales and 2 kg on the other, say in favour of buying, the scales tip decisively. The decision to buy is clear.

It would be the same if it was the other way around only this time, the decision would be not to buy.

However, if you’ve got the equivalent of 10 kg on one side and 9 kg on the other, the resistance in the scales means that there is just a gentle tilt one way. Your mind knows that it’s a close decision and that makes you uneasy.

Tilting The Buy / Don’t Buy Scales

As marketers, we want to tilt the scales in our favour and we have two options:

  1. To load more reasons on the buy side of the scales.
  2. To take away or reduce the issues that are weighed against the decision on the don’t buy side.

It’s hard to understand just how much resistance is involved with the individual’s buying scales i.e. what the ratio of buy / don’t buy factors has to be or what the difference in factors needs to be.

It’s clearer if I stay with the idea of using weights. The 10/2 scales was clearly a buy but different buyers may view that balance in different ways:

  • One person may see the ratio as important – at 10:2 or 5:1, it’s clearly impressive and crosses the threshold, which for the sake of argument may be a ratio of 3:1.
  • Others may see the difference in weights as the vital issue – the 10:2 balance gives us 8 kg extra in favour of buying. The needed threshold for a clear buying decision may have been a difference of 5.

So if we’ve got the current scale reading 10/9, we have some restacking to do.

For the buyer who wants to meet a ratio threshold of 3:1, we can see the challenge in one of three ways:

  • Increasing the buy side by at least 17 kg so the scales read 27:9 or better. That’s a big increase on the buy side.
  • Reducing the don’t buy side by at least 6 kg so the scales read 10:3 or better. Proportionately that’s a big change but may be easier to do than pushing so hard on the buying side.
  • We can do both by adding items that improve the assessment of buying by 5 kg and by reducing the factors that count against buying by 4 kg. This gives us a new scales balance of 15:5

For the buyer who wants a difference in the ides to exceed a certain side, the changes are much smaller.

If the buyer needs a difference of 5 to buy, we can see the challenge as one where we change the 10:9 balance by:

  • Increasing the buy side by at least 4 to make it 14:9
  • Decreasing the don’t buy side by at least 4 to make it 10:5
  • Or changing both by a little to give us the needed gap, perhaps of 12:7.

What should be clear is that we’ve got one type of buyer who is much harder to convince than the other. This comes down to personality as well as the buying situation.

Some people are more cautious and more risk sensitive than others. They take more time to reach a decision and need more convincing along the way.

It’s also much easier to be less sensitive to risk if the purchase item is small relative to the buyer’s income and wealth. Buying something for £10 is relatively minor and it doesn’t matter much if things go wrong. Buying something for £10,000 is much harder unless you have a lot of money.

Some Factors Will Stop The Buying Decision

Some factors aren’t just good to have or good to avoid, they are essential to the buying decision.

I’ve talked before about order winners and qualifiers. Qualifiers are factors that are needed to get you into the game and without them, you’re not a contender.

Factors that cause disgust are typical examples.

When you’re looking for a hotel, there is a general assumption of cleanliness. It’s a qualifier and if there’s clear evidence that the room is dirty (e.g. stained bed sheets, half eaten food on the bedside table etc), you’re going to recoil in horror. There’s a level where you won’t drop below.

Buyers want to be confident that they’re going to get good value for their money and a wide range of factors go into creating that confidence. You can get away with missing a small number provided your product or service is rare and hard to find. Missing a lot of factors that create confidence or having factors that destroy confidence will kill the deal. Again there’s a level where lack of confidence becomes a disqualifier.

No matter how much you try to stack the buy side of the scales, this huge weight is stuck on the don’t buy side that can’t be shifted.

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