The way in which organizations and individuals make both small and large purchase decisions has changed greatly over the past decade. Thanks in large part to the incredible access to information that the Internet now provides. According to a study by Google and the Corporate Executive Board, 70% of B2B purchase decisions are now made prior to the buyer ever speaking to a sales person. That is a significant shift in behavior and has major implications for sellers in all industries. The popularity of smartphones and tablets has made it even easier to research and purchase products on the go. Think about your single most expensive purchase. Was it a car, a house, a college education for your child? My guess is regardless of the item and the cost, your purchasing decision began online and may have even transacted online. Since we leverage the Internet for our personal research and shopping needs, it only makes sense that we do the same when making corporate purchases at work.
According to Inboundsales.net, “The traditional sales model as we knew it has changed. In the past, it was the salesperson who introduced a company and its services to the potential buyer. Today, however, before the salesperson even knows the prospect exists, the potential buyer is researching solutions on the Internet. The "hunter" salesperson has now become the "hunted," and more than ever before the buyer is largely in control. What was once a "sales process" has become much more of a buying process.”
With this major paradigm shift in mind, the true question becomes, what is your organization doing differently today? My experience has shown me that many large manufacturing organizations have not adapted effectively to the new landscape. They still rely very heavily on relationship-based salespeople and channel partners to drive sales. This focus on doing what has worked in the past is starting to fail. New players, who better understand the Internet driven approach that buyers use are gaining market share and disrupting traditional organizations. So what needs to change? Well, almost everything. Manufacturers must come to recognize that customers today want to have a direct relationship with the manufacturer. This trend started years ago in retail when clothing and accessory companies began opening outlet stores. These stores allow the manufacturers to develop a more intimate relationship with their customers, clear overstocked inventory and test new products more rapidly. Probably the best example of a manufacturer changing their distribution model is Apple. With over 432 stores in 14 countries as of January 2014, Apple has truly embraced the direct sales channel. It is not an “ either/or” strategy that makes the most sense; it is a “both/and” strategy. Traditional sales channels are still important and should not be abandoned, but they should be supplemented with a robust digital strategy and digital channel.
The digital channel strategy must contain these three key elements:
A content rich website that is mobile friendly and offers an easy to navigate user experience is key. Customers need to be able to access your information quickly and easily.
demand generation strategy that drives traffic to your website is critical. This should consist of inbound links from partner sites, industry blogs, and other sites. A clear social media strategy has become increasingly important to generating traffic. Email marketing is another important tool to maintain on-going connectivity to your existing customer base. Finally SEO and SEM strategies are very important when leveraging the power of Google and other search engines to drive traffic.
conversion strategy with powerful analytics must be in place to measure your effectiveness. Some organizations will choose to leverage their digital strategy for lead generation only. This is a good first step, but today some form of e-commerce is extremely important. If setting up a direct e-commerce play is overly daunting, there are other options. A well orchestrated “where to buy” strategy can achieve great results. The key is making it easy for your customers to be guided down a path to purchase.
ith the hunter now the hunted, it is time to adopt a new strategy for success in the digital age. Those that embrace the opportunities will flourish and the companies that drag their feet and stay married to their traditional sales channels will pay the price in the long run. This is an exciting time for both new and old companies; most importantly it is a great time to be a consumer because the access to products, services and data has never been so great. Be digital or be gone!