How ‘Buyer Modalities’ Affect Your Conversion Rates

by Angus Lynch on February 3, 2015
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When I was a vacuum cleaner salesman, I used to do my level best to ‘profile’ prospects while I was in their homes.

Were they neatfreaks? Parents? Gearheads? Newlyweds? Seniors? All these things would affect what I focused on during the sales presentation.

Salespeople have used these tactics forever, but on the web, we don’t have that kind of flexibility.

Instead, we’re stuck with somewhat static landing pages with a bit of dynamic content, but not much else.

So how do we know we’re sending the right message to the right users? The best way I’ve found is to make sure a landing page appeals to the four buyer modalities.

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The concept of buyer modalities was introduced by Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg in Waiting for Your Cat to Bark. The Eisenbergs argue that they are necessary for gaining insight into how buyers:

  1. Approach purchasing decisions
  2. Behave during a purchase

According to the Eisenbergs, customers can be segmented into four fundamental buyer modalities: competitive, spontaneous, methodical, and humanistic.

Each modality has its own buying characteristics. Looking at the breakdown below, you can probably pick out which modality you fall under.

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Competitive Buyers

Competitives are driven to make smart and assertive decisions quickly. They respect achievement, and view speed and decisiveness as a competitive advantage.

The best way to market to competitives is to convince them your product is superior. Use facts, logic and rational probabilities to close the sale.

And since they’ve usually done their homework, make sure to avoid unsubstantiated claims.

Methodical Buyers

Methodicals are the largest segment in the buyer modality spectrum (45%).

Methodicals are uncomfortable making any purchasing decision without taking time to review all available information; they’ll go to great lengths to make sure questions are answered.

When marketing to methodicals, make sure to nail the hard evidence. Use numbers, and back up all your claims. Don’t ask for too much information, and be careful of the fine print—they’ll likely read it.

Spontaneous Buyers

Spontaneous buyers make up the second largest segment in the spectrum at 25-35%.

Spontaneous buyers are driven by the perceived emotional benefits of making a purchase. They make decisions quickly.

Feelings take priority over logic with spontaneous buyers, which makes them prone to distraction, distasteful of traditional processes, and generally impatient when it comes to purchasing decisions.

Marketing effectively to spontaneous buyers requires a measure of excitement and creativity. These buyers love trying something new, and respond well to sales and discounts.

Humanistic buyers

Humanistic buyers are driven by a desire to help others, an interest in social well-being, and a need for ethical approval from peers.

Though humanists comprise only 10-15% of the total buying spectrum, this is the fastest growing segment of buyers. The Web is equipping more and more buyers with the tools to align their values, beliefs and ethos with like minded companies.

Humanistic buyers are a valuable customer, since they’re most likely to also become social ambassadors. To convert them, focus on social proof, and throw on your storytelling hat.

CASE STUDY: Alight.com uses buyer modalities to profile visiting traffic, boost sales

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Alight sells plus size clothing and accessories through their primary domain at Alight.com.

After noticing a high rate of drop-off on a specific category section of their page, Alight sought conversion optimization services to correct the problem.

The optimization team studied customer surveys in order to develop personas, and hypothesized the following about Alight’s target customer:

  1. Users were largely methodical buyers who reviewed as many options as possible before making a decision.
  2. Most users chose Alight because they value the wide selection of products.
  3. Most visitors were shopping for themselves.

So why were visitors bailing once they got to the category page? With such a deep selection, shouldn’t the category section be a strength?

The team hypothesized that since the category section allowed users to browse just 15 items at a time (before clicking through to an additional page), that this was creating a burden on shoppers.

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Alight.com’s original (control) category page for plus size dresses

The team hoped that if they could allow methodical shoppers to access as much selection as possible without clicking through, that this friction point would be neutralized, and dropoff rates on the category pages would go down.

And since scrolling is less burdensome than visiting additional pages, the optimization team decided to introduce “infinite scroll.”

Additional changes were also introduced: a small subheadline on Alight’s size of inventory and return policy was added, and the first row of products were highlighted as “Best Sellers” with larger images. Screenshot below:

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The new variation increased purchases by 46.36% at a 98% confidence level.

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This experiment won a Silver Ribbon at WhichTestWon’s 2014 Online Testing Awards.

At the core of this case study’s success was the use of customer surveys. The optimization team made a concerted effort to understand the target user as much as possible.

Once a profile was developed, the team was able to identify friction points that were increasing site abandonment and reducing conversion rates.

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  1. How to Sell to the Humanistic Buyer | @JeremySaid - April 6, 2015

    […] research and industry experts, there are fewer humanistic buyers than any other type of buyer. Around 5-15% of all buyers are solidly within this […]

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