The goal of inbound marketing is to attract your ideal visitors and ultimately convert them into delighted customers.

It is imperative that you create buyer personas to make sure you are not only attracting qualified leads, but that you are also creating content that engages them. In order to move them from leads to customers, you need a thorough understanding of the buying process.

There are five stages to the buying process, and as inbound marketers, we need to have a deep understanding of each stage. The relevancy of the content to the buyer persona is largely dependent on what stage they are currently at in the buying process. Understanding what stage they are in, will allow us to move them along in the buying process and eventually convert them into customers.

The buying process is not anything new. John Dewey first introduced the concept in 1910. The stages are as follows:

1. Problem/Need Recognition

2. Information Search

3. Evaluation of Alternatives

4. Purchase Decision

5. Post-Purchase Behavior

The problem/need recognition stage is the awareness stage. This is where consumers first realize they have a problem and they want to solve it. Before this stage, consumers are filtering out and ignoring information that is not relevant to them. For example, if you are not currently experiencing the wonderful early years of raising a child, subconsciously ignoring ads for diapers is easy. However, once you have changed wet crib sheets because of a bargain brand diaper, you are less likely to filter out the ad for super absorbent nighttime diapers that keep your baby dry, and you have now begun to move through the buying process.

When a consumer recognizes the problem/need, they move to the information search stage. They are not ready to buy, but rather are performing their research. This is going to be the majority of your website visitors; therefore, it is important to have content that is relevant to them. "Request a demo" and "free trial" offers will not work here. Instead, whitepapers, tip sheets, eBooks and blog posts will be the content these consumers devour. These visitors should be your primary focus when creating content.

As people gather information, they will naturally progress to a stage where they are analyzing the information and evaluating their options. This is the stage where they are most inclined to speak with someone from your company as they are establishing their buying criteria. Webinars, case studies, product spec sheets and free samples work best during this stage.

Once consumers establish their buying criteria, they will begin to evaluate vendors. This stage is where those "free trial" and "request a demo" calls to actions are going to work. These visitors are almost ready to buy and giving them a subtle push in the right direction can help move them along.

When you make the effort to be with these consumers throughout every step of the buying process, and provide them educational and entertaining content, you are surely front of mind when it comes to your product/service. This is the beauty of inbound marketing! When done correctly, your properly nurtured leads are selling themselves. You do not have to waste your sales team's time with nonqualified and uninterested leads, and you do not have to worry about turning off a customer by coming on too strong too early.

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