Purchase Decisions: The Four Forces at Play

Ever wonder what happens in the mind of a person right before they decide to buy something?

Yesterday, when I sold two of my monthly planners to a friend I was having lunch with, I saw a glimpse of what went through his mind.

  • This is some nice quality paper.
  • There’s plenty of space for extra notes.
  • I’m not sure if this is a good idea…

“I’ll buy two”.

Two? What just happened there?

Quick primer:
The Jobs-To-Be-Done theory states that people don’t buy products, they hire a product for a job.

I had created the monthly planner for the following job: When I have a lot going on and I’m tired of typing on a phone, I look for a no-fluff way to see the full month so I can freely just write and see what’s coming.

But it was for a different job that he hired those two planners.

“One for my girlfriend, and one for my mom”.

At that point I understood that he had probably hired those planners for the job of crossing off Christmas shopping off his list.

But there was still a hesitation, a pause, a moment of reflection right before the purchase. What went on in his mind? What made him go for it?

The Four Forces of Progress

The Re-Wired group came up with the Forces of Progress tool. It’s a diagram of four forces that are at play in the mind of the buyer.

Forces Diagram

The top two forces bring the buyer toward the purchase, toward saying yes, this, now.

The two bottom forces bring the buyer away from the purchase, putting a break on the purchasing momentum, toward the purchaser saying either not this or not now.

In the Top Right: Attraction to the Solution

The product has appealing properties, and its fit to the job is apparent. It’s attracting the buyer toward purchase.

  • →⚬ Nice paper!
  • →⚬ There’s extra space for notes
  • →⚬ My girlfriend and my mom will love this
  • →⚬ It’s unique, you can’t buy it in stores
  • →⚬ I’ll be able to cross off these gifts from my Christmas list
  • →⚬ The price is fair

The Attraction force pulls the buyer toward the purchase, toward hiring the product.

But there’s a force that started the whole purchasing process, and that one is:

In the Top Left: Struggle of the Moment

  • ⚬→ I’m running out of time for my Christmas shopping
  • ⚬→ I don’t have any ideas for my girlfriend or my wife yet

The force that starts the purchasing engine is the first one: the Struggle. It propels the buyer into action, into getting off her chair and doing something. There’s an element of urgency that develops. There’s an itch that just keeps scratching.

If there were only these two forces, most purchases would be pretty automatic. But there are two other forces which put the breaks on the purchase momentum.

In the Bottom Right: Anxieties About The Solution

  • ←⚬ My girlfriend might not use it
  • ←⚬ How is this planner going to wear over the year?
  • ←⚬ Are my girlfriend and my mom going to be okay with the colour?

In the case of the sale of these two monthly planners, there didn’t seem to be too many objections, or too many things that made my friend anxious about the solution. The struggle was felt, the product did the job well and its features supported that job. Easy sale.

Still, anxieties about your product can put a serious drag on the momentum to purchase a product.

Price is usually a point of anxiety about a product. Since there are usually other anxieties, it’s an amateur move to focus too much on price when gauging the market fit of a product. Make sure your product solves a struggle, has attractive properties to support that job, and make sure you solve all the other anxieties, and you can put a fair price on your product. In fact, a low price could be a point of anxiety in itself, especially when selling your services or a subscription product. “Is he still going to be around when I need him next time? I don’t see how he’s making a profit”

Anxieties aren’t the biggest drag on the purchase momentum. This last force is:

In the Bottom Left: Habits of the present.

Habits are strong things to change in a person. A buyer will prefer not doing anything over doing something. He will prefer his inefficient cobbled-together process over buying some software to smooth out the process and make it more efficient. He just won’t be upgrading his drill to a new model if the old one does the job, even if the new model has many attractive features.

“I will just…”: these are the words that end up pulling back the buyer into not buying the product, into ultimately saying not this or not now.

The force of the Habits of the Present are essentially the buyer’s fallback position. The place of highest entropy. It’s where the real purchase friction comes from.

In the case of my friend and his Christmas shopping, there might have been these elements to his fallback position:

  • ⚬← I’ll just continue shopping, I’ll find something else
  • ⚬← I had other ideas on my list
  • ⚬← I’ll figure something out
  • ⚬← I still got time

Habits are the most influential force in the mind of the buyer, the thing that most pulls back from the purchase.

All the other forces have to compensate for the pull of that gravity well.

All Together, The Four Forces at Play in the Decision

If all the forces check out, you’ve got a sale. If the top forces are stronger than the bottom forces, you’ve got a sale. If the bottom forces are stronger than the top forces, you don’t have a sale.

Crafting and shaping your product, its marketing, all the experiences around your product too, is the craft of tending to those forces.

These forces are at play not only when selling a product, but when selling just about anything: selling your services, getting buy-in for idea from someone, and even for signups to your newsletter.

Even if your product is free, there are still forces at play, pushing and pulling in the mind of the person making that decision to go ahead with what you’re offering.

If you’d like to uncover the forces that were at play in the purchase of your own product or service. Reach out. I’ve got a special interview technique to use when talking to your recent buyers.

Stay sharp.


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