You don't have to work in sales to see how dramatically buying patterns have changed in recent years. Consider grocery shopping. You're in the baking ingredients aisle, and in need of chocolate chips. You've never baked cookies before, but who cares? You pull out your smartphone, read a recipe, and look up reviews for the competing brands of chocolate chips in the aisle. You still have to figure out the whole baking part, but at least you know you've got the right ingredients.
Now put yourself in the same position, but 20 years ago. Forget to bring the recipe? Too bad. Don't know which brand of chocolate chips is the best? Take a guess. Today, even the least-informed shopper can become something resembling an expert, without talking to a single human being. The purchasing process has changed dramatically, which presents a major opportunity to businesses willing to evolve with the times.
Start Early, Stay Busy
The modern buying process starts long before a buyer directly engages one of your sales reps. Whether you're a B2B or B2C seller, you're dealing with a very well-informed target audience. According to a survey of over 2,000 sales reps by CEB Global, the average B2B buyer is 57 percent of the way through the purchasing process before they contact a seller directly. That's a big number, and it doesn't appear likely to stop growing anytime soon.
The bulk of that 57 percent comes from customer research. A motivated buyer with a bit of Web savvy can learn much about your company in a short time. It's not just about products and services, either. If you deal with the public, there's a good chance there are reviews of your company online.
Your customers have a variety of options and preferences for finding information online. Some might look to social media, while others turn to Google. They may learn about your products through your website, or through the site of a competitor that offers similar products. There are no more lines in the sand between B2B and B2C, either. A B2B customer is just as likely to use social for research as their consumer counterparts.
Embracing the Modern Buying Process
You can probably see where this is going. If you want to take advantage of the “new” buying process, you need to have a strong web presence. While it's true that most customers wait before engaging directly, you can still make an early impression. It's all about being in the right digital place at the right time.
Leverage your social accounts to make instant impressions on potential buyers. You can use social to guide prospects to your content, and answer questions to fill in the gaps that their research may have missed. In doing so, you provide a valuable service that will be remembered when it's time for the prospect to make a purchase.
Your website and content are the keys to the process. All that pre-purchase research prospects do? They need somewhere to do it. By offering valuable, informative content through your website, you become a trusted adviser to prospects.
Offering great content alone doesn't ensure that people will read it. Your website also needs to be visible. SEO, PPC ads, and social media are all solid tactics for boosting your site's visibility. Land high in the search rankings, and you gain early influence over the buying process of your prospects.
All of these changes in the buying process have also altered that basic role of the sales rep, in some respects. You'll still get the occasional customer with no clue what they want, but most buyers will bring some advance knowledge to the table. You might find more value in being a trusted voice and answering questions than you will with a point-by-point pitch, depending on the situation.
Consider your sales reps guides, rather than directors. If a prospect already has a firm idea on what they want, trying to change their mind will often backfire. It's a fine line to walk, and your tactics will vary by customer. The one thing you can't afford to do is neglect your digital marketing. It's the only way to have a say in the 57 percent of the buying process that happens before the customer engages your sales reps directly.