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A guest post by Gary Gebenlian of Future Simple.

Most of us are guilty of not being focused. We want to sell our product or service to as many people as possible. So, we go out there and market with a message that's some flavor of "buy my product or service." The spirit of this is not a bad thing---after all, most of us are in business to sell our product or service. But marketing is about changing behavior. And if you're going to change customer behavior effectively, your marketing message needs to be focused.

To do this, you need to understand your customers' purchase process and then focus your marketing objectives on a specific stage or two within this process.

Here are the six general stages of your customers' purchase process.

1. Origination: What's the need that triggers your customer to buy? If you're a web design service, one origination trigger for your customer is the purchase of a domain or hosting service. Your marketing objective could be to "get people who just bought a web domain to use our web design service." If you're a flooring contractor, one origination trigger for your customer is the purchase of a foreclosed home. Your marketing objective could be "get people who just purchased a foreclosed home to repair their flooring with us."

2. Information Gathering: Where and how does your customer gather information to address the originating need? If your customer turns to mommy blogs to find a solution to her need, your marketing objective could be "get moms who are searching on mommy blogs to find our product." If your customer solicits the advice of her accountant for a product recommendation, your marketing objective could be "get accountants to recommend my product instead of competitor X's."

3. Category Choice: What category choices do your customers have when seeking a solution to their need? For example, a customer looking to create a website can choose between self-service web design services or full-service web agencies. If you're a web agency, your objective could be to "get customers who are looking to build a website to choose our full-service agency instead of choosing a self-service option." If you sell children's toys, your marketing objective could be "when a parent is looking to buy a birthday gift for their child, get them to buy a toy instead of a game, puzzle, or movie."

4. Brand Choice: Once your customer has made a category choice, which brands will she choose from? For example, if you sell PR services, you should identify your key competitors and focus your marketing objective on "get startups who are looking for a boutique PR agency to choose us instead of competitor X or Y."

5. Usage: How does your customer use your product? For example, if your customers use your software weekly but you want them to use it more regularly, your marketing objective will be "get my existing customers to use daily instead of weekly." Of if you offer a "freemium" product with a free trial, your objective could be "get more existing customers to signup instead of churn after the trial period."

6. Repurchase: Would your customer purchase from you again? Would she refer you? For example, if your repurchase rate is low, your marketing objective could be "get more customers to repurchase my service instead of lapse."

Sketching out your customers' purchase process is a critical step in helping you decide where you to focus your marketing efforts. And depending on where you decide to focus, your marketing message and efforts will be hugely different.

Gary Gebenlian is vice president of marketing at Future Simple—small business software.

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