“Solving the struggle”: The six stages of consumer buying and how to close more deals in real estate

When Elite Agent Managing Editor Samantha McLean read Bob Moesta’s Demand-Side Sales 101 she instantly thought about how it could apply to real estate. The book identified the six stages a buyer must walk through before making a purchase, and how the demand-side of the equation helps the seller understand the purchaser and design their product to suit them. Here, Samantha reveals what the six stages are, how they applied to her personal real estate case study and what you can do in your next listing presentation to nail what the customer wants.

“Nobody wants to be sold to, but everyone loves shopping with their friends…”

That’s what Ryan Serhant told me about his approach to real estate sales on the Elevate podcast earlier this year.

And he’s right.

You think about it.

We all love buying new stuff.

I love nothing more than sitting down with my iPad and a glass of wine on a Friday night and looking at shoes and other shiny things. 

In my husband’s case, it’s buying one or more obscure boat accessories online.

And even though he won’t admit it, we both love the sound of the dog excitedly barking at the postman or courier, meaning said package is landing. 

Last weekend I decided to make the long trek from Runaway Bay to Pacific Fair because I wanted a new pair of shoes that I had been eyeing online, but wanted to try them on before handing over the credit card.

I was the only person walking into the shop at that moment, so the salesperson pounced on me and asked me if I was looking for anything in particular.

I jumped into defence mode and said, “just-looking” for the simple fear that I felt as though I was about to be sold to.

So we didn’t have a conversation, and I left the shop even though I was in “active buying” mode.

The upshot is, I’ll end up wearing something I already own, and she didn’t make a sale, your classic lose-lose situation when it comes to converting a prospect to a customer.

So maybe, just maybe, “buyers aren’t liars,” maybe they just feel like they are being sold to.

Let’s reverse the roles now

I’ve been ‘in sales’ in some shape or form for most of my life.

But I just typed that and wanted to backspace over the words ‘in sales’.

Because when you say it like that, it feels kind of icky; I mean, I just explained how much I dislike being sold to.

I particularly hate it when I feel like someone is just reciting a script or a canned line at me.

But why is it so hard, when we’re in sales, to reverse the roles in our minds and take a look at how our words and actions come across to the customer?

The six stages of buying

Nigel Dalton, a social scientist at Thoughtworks and well-known to the real estate industry, recommended I look at a book by Bob Moesta called Demand-Side Sales 101.

Moesta is a co-architect of the ‘Jobs to be Done’ (JTBD) theory alongside Clayton Christensen.

In this book, Moesta shifts the focus of sales from ‘selling’ to ‘helping people buy’.

In his research for the book, he uncovered the six stages a buyer must walk through before making a purchase:

  1. First thought – creating space in the brain
  2. Passive looking – learning, searching for solutions
  3. Active looking – seeing the possibilities
  4. Deciding – making trade-offs and establishing value
  5. Onboarding – the act of doing the JTBD, meeting expectations and delivering satisfaction and value
  6. Ongoing use – building the habit.

Moesta also says that set ‘events’ move people along the timeline or speed up the timeline.

Side note: Google’s own data on consumer real estate searches support this process (with the passive looking step taking longer than ever before…)

Selling real estate vs helping people move

Millions of people had their first thought about moving house online during the lockdowns of 2021. Mark and I had been thinking about moving even before that, but here is how the six stages played out for us:

  • First thought: I hate living above the freeway. Do I really want to be living in the Sydney CBD anymore if we could be somewhere nicer (and the kids have left school)? 
  • Passive looking: I’d love to live on the Gold Coast. Let’s see what’s online.…
  • Active looking: Darl’s, I found a place in Runaway Bay that looks just like us. Looks amazing. We can have a boat. And a dog….
  • Deciding/tradeoff: But… do we really want to go that far north in Runaway Bay? It’s so far from the airport. I’d really love to be further south in Broadbeach or Burleigh…where the cool restaurants are… But… the house is sunny – and big enough (yikes! How much furniture will we need to buy???!) for the young adults to come to visit, and it’s not that far from Brisbane airport, so there is a choice… Jeez, if we don’t go now, we will get locked down again and might not get out of here for another year… 
  • Onboarding: The bit nobody likes – typically being literally and physically crushed by applications, paperwork, admin, decluttering, cleaning, packing up and moving, connecting utilities, and nobody really caring about how difficult that process can be amidst lockdowns. Almost experiencing buyers remorse but trying to cling to the positives as to why we’re doing this… 
  • Ongoing use: OK, this is not so bad, but do we really want to stay here or go somewhere else… 

Supply-side vs Demand side

Moesta says the default sales perspective – focuses on the product or service and its features and benefits. He calls this the ‘Supply-Side’.

Your standard listing presentation is highly likely – if it centres on the features and benefits of listing with you (whether it’s PM or sales)- to be ‘Supply-Side.’

When you meet the prospective customer, it’s your job to find ways to sell your brand and service using said presentation to the person pouring you tea in the kitchen.

On the other hand, the ‘demand-side’ perspective tries to understand how people buy things and then helps you design your product – and your sales and marketing strategy – by looking at the situation through their eyes and meeting their needs.

Solving the customer’s struggle

In the deciding/trade-off example above, the struggle for us included:

  • The idea of leaving the kids (aka: young adults) and not being close enough to the airport.
  • The need to buy new furniture
  • The need to throw a whole lot of stuff out, while storing stuff

What got us off our butts (aka the tradeoff) ended up being

  • That where we were moving to was mid-way between two airports, so it was actually better.
  • We were moving to a place that is your classic relaxing weekender where they might want to come and holiday.
  • And the bit that accelerated everything: We’re going to have to move fast to beat another impending lockdown (which we did by exactly one hour).

Despite our internal struggles, nobody in real estate helped figure any of this out – we had to work through all of our problems ourselves.

So I think there is a massive opportunity here for the real estate industry to play a role in really helping customers make progress in a meaningful way – from where they are now to where they really want to be. Would we have paid for extra help? Probably.

Demand-Side in real estate

Moesta and his business partner Greg Engle did some consulting in the real estate industry in the form of selling new homes.

They interviewed buyers about their thought processes along the whole journey.


  • The pre-planned presentation did not impact their decision to purchase in any way.
  • Only a third of the pre-planned presentation ‘nailed’ what the customer wanted.
  • Some of the pre-planned presentations actually added to the customer’s anxieties (do I really need all of that?)
  • Customers fell into a couple of broad categories: Babies and generations moving in together (upsizing), and also the opposite – kids moving out (downsizing).
  • All of them struggled in their decision-making process with trade-offs that needed to be made. These were all based on different motivations: functional, social and, of course, emotional. And most of them were along lines similar to ours.

What can you do in your next listing presentation (Sales and PM)?

So, I’ve basically said that the standard PowerPoint or Canva listing presentation can be incredibly hit and miss. 

But – even after all my years in sales, after reading this book, I can’t unsee the possibilities for Demand-Side selling and JTBD as a real estate agent.

Here is what I would do:

  • Take a moment and think about your last few purchases. Where were the struggles? Can you connect the dots between your struggling moment and the actual purchases? And particularly, what was the moment that turned you from a passive buyer to an active buyer?
  • On the supply side, where are the struggling moments for your customer? They could be as simple as mine… or they could be completely different (remember, everyone is, it’s your job to figure them out – check out my article on OODA loop for more on that)
  • Take a look at your own onboarding process and the ‘habit creation’ part of your customer journey. What can you do to keep your customer in the habit of coming back to you?

I challenge you to grab a pen and paper and start making a list of struggle moments and how you might solve them for the customer.

Because right now – sales isn’t ‘selling’; it’s leadership – the ability to lead your customer safely and pleasantly through their struggles to help them make real progress.

Nigel and I will be unpacking a little more about Demand-Side Sales and how it applies in the real estate industry on an upcoming podcast on Elevate (stay tuned!)

Meanwhile, if you’d like to have that conversation with Nigel in person and pick his extraordinarily large brain, he will be at Elite Retreat in August. Download a program and book at https://eliteagent.com/eliteretreat.

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Samantha McLean

Samantha McLean is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Elite Agent and Host of the Elevate Podcast.