Why It Takes So Long For People To Buy (And What You Can Do To Speed It Up Without Being Gross)

May 26, 2021 | Customers & Clients, Marketing, Sales, Top Articles

I often hear from business owners that their customers are on their email lists or following their social media accounts for years before making a purchase.

Maybe you can relate.

Since there’s overwhelming evidence that customers take years to materialize, these business owners have concluded that “the kind of person who buys my offer takes at least a year to decide to buy.”

Or, maybe they’ve decided that the kind of offer they’re making requires months or years of trust-building to purchase.

I am in no way denying that the circumstance of what these business owners (and maybe you, too?) are experiencing is valid. They have customers who have taken years to buy and, by extension, often feel frustrated that today’s marketing efforts won’t pay off for over a year.

But what I do want to question is whether “that’s just the way it is” or whether it’s a situation they’ve inadvertently created.

Is it possible that the messages they’re using, the content they’re creating, the people they’re speaking to, the way they’re structuring their offers, the platforms they’re communicating on, and the way they’re building their brand is actually making it harder for people to buy quickly?

Yes, oh, yes. It’s more than possible.

I’m not trying to point blame here. For the last 10 years, there’s been a telephone-game way of teaching marketing online. Many of the people you might have learned marketing from (or at least modeled your own marketing after) aren’t so much trained as marketers but, instead, sharing what worked for them in a limited way and generally passing it off as accurate.

It’s also a function of our discomfort with being clear and direct regarding our businesses and offers.

It’s not a personal failing.

But it is something that we can address so that more great customers buy in days or weeks instead of in months or years.

Let’s start by taking a look at the other extreme: impulse purchases.

Impulse purchases are the result of proximity.

That might mean your proximity to the candy bar in the checkout line, of course. It can also mean proximity to the desire for change and access to a tool to make that change.

You probably don’t buy the candy bar just because it’s close to you. You buy it because it’s close to you and your blood sugar is crashing. You might also decide that it looks delicious, and putting something tasty in your mouth hole is precisely the kind of change you’re looking for!

Even when you buy a new cereal or salad dressing to “give it a try,” you’re sidling up to your desire for newness.

Now, I’m not suggesting that turning your offer into an “impulse purchase” is the move to make.

I value people who carefully consider buying from our company, and I suspect you feel similarly about your own customers. We want people to make thoughtful buying decisions.

But maybe they don’t have to take so long to do that, right?

I’m also not talking about selling more aggressively to shorten the buying cycle. While many business owners could use more direct sales messaging and calls to action, that’s not our primary focus today.

Today, I’m talking about appealing more to people who are oh-so-ready to make a change and simply offering what they’re looking for.

Considering why someone would make an impulse purchase—even if it costs hundreds or thousands of dollars—can shed light on the reasons that someone might go from a new-to-you follower to a loyal customer in a short time.

People who make impulse purchases are primed to buy—whether it’s a candy bar, a pack of Procreate brushes, a couple of kayaks. The people who find out about your business and become customers within days or weeks are also primed to buy.

So who are the people who are primed to buy?

People who are primed to buy are highly motivated to change. That doesn’t mean they have to be ready to change their lives. As I mentioned earlier, it might be that they’re simply looking to change their blood sugar or their breakfast routine.

People who are highly motivated to change have different questions and needs than those who are curious but not highly motivated to change.

Most of the advice for building your audience, though, is designed to help you attract curious-but-not-highly-motivated (CBNHM?) followers because there are so many more of them the highly motivated folks. And that’s fine! Especially if you’re focused on building an audience more than you are finding clients.

But then we can’t be surprised when it takes them a long time to decide to buy—if they ever decide to buy!

So how do we attract people who are highly motivated to change?

That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?

The first thing to keep in mind here is that there will always be far fewer people who are highly motivated to change than there are people who are “just curious.” But there are still plenty of highly motivated fish in the sea!

The second thing to keep in mind is that people who are “just curious” are not bad. I know that’s obvious, but many people have developed a way of talking about this group that’s just not okay (tire kickers, freebie seekers, etc). There is absolutely nothing wrong with not being highly motivated to change (or, more likely, prioritizing a different change right now).

Okay, with all of that squared away, let’s talk about actually finding these people.

If you’ve been in business any length of time, you’ve probably dealt with both the curious and the highly motivated. You’ve talked with people who ask lots of interesting questions but rarely make a move. And you’ve spoken with people who only really think about what to do next and how you can help them do that.

See if you can think of a few people who fall into each group.

  • What kinds of questions were they asking?
  • How did they talk about their challenge or opportunity?
  • What were their priorities?
  • What were their goals?

Once you’ve answered those questions for each group, consider what the two groups have in common. Then, think about what’s different between the two groups.

If you notice that most of your social media or email marketing or blog writing speaks more to the questions and priorities of the curious, you’re not alone. As I said, this is what you’ve been trained to do—if not explicitly, then by inference.

How could you start speaking more to the needs and questions of highly motivated people?

You might also consider how curious followers behave differently than highly motivated buyers.

Curious people might say things like, “I’m ready to learn more,” “Eventually I want to…,” and “That really makes me think differently…”

Highly motivated buyers might say things like, “I’m ready to make a change,” “What I’m doing today…,” and “I know what I want to do next—and I need help!”

Curious followers tend to be more thinking-oriented, and highly motivated buyers tend to be more action-oriented. Again, nothing wrong with either orientation, but they’re pointing in slightly different directions.

Now, we need to add another layer to this distinction.

In addition to curious people and highly motivated people, there are brand-aware people and brand-unaware people.

I’ve noticed that many business owners assume that curious people are brand-unaware and highly motivated people are brand-aware.

The truth is that there are curious people and highly motivated people in both the brand-aware and brand-unaware groups.

So you can set this up in a quadrant analysis. One axis is the continuum from curious to highly motivated. The other is the continuum from Brand-Unaware to Brand-Aware.

Let’s start with the simplest quadrant to understand.

Brand-Aware & Highly Motivated

The Brand-aware & Highly Motivated group is the one that screams “take my money” every time you launch a new offer. God, I love these people. I’m betting you do, too.

They’re loyal customers and big action-takers. They genuinely value your unique perspective.

These folks look to you for guidance on their next steps—so it’s no wonder they’re so keen to buy the new things you’re developing.

And this group is limited. You make an offer, all of the “take my money” people sign up, and then you run out of people to sell to. In a worst-case scenario, you end up creating offer after offer to keep these people buying—but eventually, that stops working too.

On to another familiar group…

Brand-Aware & Curious

Our audiences are full of these folks! The Brand-Aware & Curious group is the one that follows along, loves what you put out, but never buys (or it takes them a long time to do so).

These are probably the people who attend all your webinars or listen to your podcast religiously. They save your newsletters or Instagram posts for that day in the future when they’re ready to make a move.

It’s easy to get frustrated with this group. Why don’t they take action, aka buy from me? But they’re just people who aren’t ready to make a change yet.

When we talk about numbers, these are the folks making up the 97% of your audience who don’t buy when you make an offer.

The goal of marketing aimed at this group is to move them from curious to highly motivated. But this is probably the shift we have the least control over because the true motivation for change originates with the buyer—not the brand.

When brands try to amp up someone’s desire for change, we can end up with exploitative marketing practices and icky messaging. Not always, but often.

So while we can provide content or messaging that increases someone’s motivation to change, we need to be very careful about how we do it. Case studies work well here, as do sharing your vision for their lives beyond the change.

Brand-Unaware & Curious

The Brand-Unaware & Curious group is full of the people we’re often hoping to attract on social media. We don’t quite know who they are or what they’re looking for, but we know there are just some subjects that bring them in droves (for me, it’s things like money, assumption busting, and simplifying).

These folks are people who might catch your Instagram post on their Explore page, or they might receive your newsletter from a friend. Otherwise, they have no affiliation with your brand. But they’re also not in action-taking mode, either.

They’re keeping their options open and exploring some intriguing possibilities.

The marketing aimed at this group is likely brand-awareness oriented. You want to introduce them to who you are, what your company is all about, and how you can help—and you do that through the things they’re most curious about.

Brand-Unaware & Highly Motivated

Okay, this is the group business owners tend to have the least awareness of and experience with. The Brand-Unaware & Highly Motivated group is full of people who are ready to change—and ready to buy now—but they don’t know whom to buy from or what to buy.

These are the people who get a recommendation from a friend to listen to an episode of your podcast. Then, they binge ten episodes and buy your most expensive offer within a week.

They’re the ones who sign up for your newsletter and buy from the confirmation email.

They’re the folks who hear you speak and immediately book a session with you.

If you haven’t experienced this kind of buying behavior, these people might feel like the unicorns of marketing.

But I promise you: they’re real.

When have you been a brand-unaware, highly motivated buyer in the past?

Last year, I shared that my family was shopping for kayaks. We were highly motivated buyers, and so, after exhausting all of the retailers that I was familiar with (REI, LL Bean, etc.), I searched for “kayaks near me.” I landed on a boat & marine supply store about 15 minutes away. I had no idea it was there!

We walked through the door, asked about kayaks (and a paddleboard), and walked out an hour later, having ordered two kayaks, one paddleboard, and a roof rack for our Outback. We are nothing if not a caricature of an outdoorsy middle-aged couple. I believe we were both wearing our Chacos sandals at the time.

I happily forked over thousands of dollars to a business I hadn’t known existed 24 hours previously.

I didn’t know about the store before it came up on my Google search, nor did I know anything about kayak manufacturers or paddleboard brands. But I did know that I really, really wanted some kayaks and a paddleboard. I was brand-unaware & highly motivated.

You can think of the brand-unaware & highly motivated group as the frantic researchers, the up-in-the-middle-of-the-night ruminators, the people desperate to know what their next steps are.

They were ready to make a change yesterday and, today, they’re on the lookout for the tool, guide, or service that can help them make that change.

Your job is to put your business in their path.

But here’s what so many business owners do instead.

They get really good at talking to Brand-Aware & Highly Motivated people. They get used to feeling frustrated by the Brand-Aware & Curious people who don’t buy, no matter what they’re offering. And they try and try to appeal to Brand-Unaware & Curious people to expand their reach and grow their audiences.

We expect that to reach more people, we have to expand our message and speak to people who are just finding their way into the world of whatever we do. We often assume that the brand-unaware folks are all beginners who have a lot of learning to do before they’re ready to buy.

Or, we expect that to make sales, we need to spend gobs of time helping people find the motivation to change.

But what happens if we start putting more and more of our attention on the group we’re least likely to be reaching, the Brand-Unaware & Highly Motivated group?

So. Many. Good. Things.

How to reach ready-to-change, new-to-you people

The good news is that you don’t have to learn a whole bunch of new skills to do this. You just need to approach how you create messaging and content from a different angle.

Step 1. Identify the goal or change.

What is it that your buyer is looking to accomplish? (Hint: that better be what your product helps them do.) Why does it matter to them? What’s motivating them to make that change now?

Step 2. Brainstorm.

What questions does your buyer have about making the change or accomplishing the goal? (Not questions about your offer…) What information are they looking for? What still feels fuzzy or incomplete for them about what they want to do? What haven’t they considered about making the change yet?

Step 3. Consider your unique perspective.

How can you answer these questions in a way that reflects your brand, values, and process? Why is your perspective especially valuable to the right people?

Step 4. Review.

Take a look at the content you’re creating or messaging you’re using and hunt down any language or references that only appeal to your most aware audience members. This could be language that’s unique to your community or jargon that’s specific to your part of the industry.

Step 5. Edit.

You can either remove that language to create something that makes sense to a new-to-you person. Or, you can take a bit of time to explain the term or reference in a way that welcomes new people into the fold.

Step 6. Put yourself in front of new people.

Many of the places we share content are only really good for reaching people who are already following us: email, podcast, and even much of social media. But to reach those brand-unaware, highly motivated folks, you need to put your message or content in places they can actually find it.

Search engine optimization works for this as a long-term play. But writing a column for another website, doing a webinar with a colleague, or going on someone’s podcast is a quicker way to get in front of some of these people.

You can do steps 1-5 perfectly, but if you’re not putting your content where new people can find it, you won’t reap the rewards of targeting highly motivated buyers.

What’s next?

The bottom line here is that there is likely a bevy of people who have no idea how your business could help them—but would buy super fast if they did!

The reason those people are out there (and not among your favorite customers) is that you’re not marketing to them. Marketing to this group of people runs counter to what we’ve come to expect based on the results of our marketing so far.

But it’s a self-perpetuating cycle!

The more you market to people who are “just curious” or who would buy from your business regardless of your marketing, the less you end up appealing to people who don’t know your brand but would love to.

Consider who is most likely to buy sooner rather than later—and create content and messaging that appeals to them. And you just might find an untapped market who’d love your help.


Host of What Works

Tara is a podcaster, small business community leader, strategist, and speaker. She’s been helping small business owners build stronger businesses for over a decade.  

Tara McMullin, What Works Weekly Newsletter

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