Ten years ago, businesses held all the power. They controlled information and leaked it as needed; salespeople managed the process. Now, however, the power has shifted to the buyer.
Buyers have access to more information from more sources than ever. They ask questions, get answers, read reviews, do comparisons, and start conversations with people they’ve never met—all on the Web, all on their own terms, and all on their own time. In fact, research shows that 25% of all purchases start with an Internet search.
Sales and marketing professionals who are unable to adapt to this new system of buyer behavior are going to have a tough road in the near future. So, you have to adapt your marketing efforts to this new buyer behavior.
1. Know buyers expect to be educated, not sold to
Buyers are using the Internet to get information about the products and services they purchase in advance of contacting suppliers. Buyers are looking for a deeper, more detailed level of information, and they expect the businesses they solicit to provide it.
Forget about what you want them to buy. Instead, focus on understanding what your buyer is looking for. For example, if your buyers typically want a rate calculator on your website, provide it. Content that is highly relevant to the buyer (because it answers their questions) will be perceived as valuable.
The more helpful the content you provide, the more trustworthy your company becomes in the eyes of the buyer. Provide consumers with information that helps them solve their problems, and they’ll love you for it.
2. Remember that buyers are listening to what others say
While buyers are coming to your site to hear what you have to say, they’re also looking for validation from third parties. Most buyers will only stay at a hotel with favorable Trip Advisor reviews and visit restaurants with amazing Yelp posts. Companies that don’t participate and facilitate these reviews are less likely to make it to the short list. Asking your clients for reviews and testimonials is easy, and most clients are happy to give their opinions.
3. Understand that buyers are more informed earlier in the process
You must identify the influential industry sites that your buyers visit and implement a plan to create a presence on those sites—whether by sharing relevant content or joining in the conversation. The increase in the amount of online sources means your buyer is substantially more educated than ever.
You need to change your sales process in response. Buyers no longer have to wait to have sales meetings or presentations from traditional salespeople to get a better understanding of what solutions your firm offers. Many times, customers may not even be looking for your specific solution to a problem yet find your company as part of their daily search of the blogosphere looking to get smarter about what they do.
When your buyer does reach out to you, they’ll most likely be better prepared than even a year ago. They may even come to the table with specific expectations in terms of pricing. Nothing is worse than a salesperson trying to “sell” an educated buyer. Now is the opportunity to transition the “prospectors” and “closers” in your sales department to helpful “guides” who better match up with your prospects’ behavior.
And that’s why you have to fire your sales team today. No, we don’t mean to permanently fire your entire sales team. Fire them, but immediately rehire the qualified ones to a newly created position, the Sales Guide.
What Is a Sales Guide?
Let’s help you visualize the new Sales Guide position with a story about taking a four-day rafting trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. If your family decides to take that once-in-a-lifetime trip, chances are you will go on a guided tour and not venture out on your own.
To choose a company to help guide your family down the river, you could ask friends and colleagues if they have ever experienced a trip like that and if they can recommend a firm. In lieu of a recommendation, chances are you research companies on the Internet by searching “Grand Canyon Rafting Trips” or “Colorado River Rafting.”
You find many companies that offer the service, but you also find companies like Trip Advisor that provide third-party comments and ratings on the various companies. You visit the websites of the firms you are interested in. You watch videos on their websites, read testimonials of other guests, and check out trip options. After you have done your research, you might even reach out to a few companies by phone or email before you make your choice.
Here is where your sales guide comes into play.
In the case of the Grand Canyon Tour Company, once you reach out, you are assigned a guide. The guide reaches out to you to discuss the trip and your preferences. You will be asked many questions in preparation of the trip: How many people will be going? How many have done a trip like this before? Would you rather sleep under the starts or in tents? How old are the children in your party? How well can everyone swim? Do you want to walk or ride down the canyon? And so forth.
You get the idea. There are probably 50 more questions required to create the right trip for your family. Your guide suggests the right course of action and, as a result, you start to trust your guide. So when the package with pricing appears, you feel comfortable that this is exactly what you want. No haggling, no looking for a discount, and—guess what else—no shopping around.
Shopping has been eliminated for myriad reasons, but the most significant reason is that you and your guide have co-created your trip. This shared ownership brings with it shared accountability for the quality of the trip and the costs associated. This is an extremely important element of the guided sales process.
Can you see the correlation? As consumers in this new era of buyer behavior, we want to be guided, not sold. The challenge is changing the way you approach the sales function in your company.
For more information on the changes in buyer behavior, the guided sales process, co-creating solutions with your prospects and creating a Revenue Department (blended your sales and marketing teams) for your company, click here to download the first chapter of a new book, Fire Your Sales Team Today!
Co-founder of Square 2 Marketing, Mike is passionate about helping entrepreneurs and marketing professionals create Marketing Machines. Mike is the author of the popular Remarkablog and a frequent speaker on Reality Marketing.