The new ‘Buyer’s Path.’


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Here’s a stat that oughta make any marketer in her right mind reach for the Pepto: a survey conducted by CEB’s Sales Executive Council in 2011 revealed that in nearly ? of transactions, the buying process is being conducted WITHOUT the involvement of a sales representative.

And we’re not just talking about DVDs from Amazon or return customers here. We’re increasingly seeing this happen with greater frequency for big ticket items, like appliances and cars (sometimes even homes). Even in complicated business-to-business markets, where conventional wisdom says buyers need a shepherd to navigate the purchase process.

So what’s driving this increasing desire to DIY sales? In short, we’ve trained customers to act this way. Oh, maybe not literally. But we’ve made so much information available to potential buyers, and third-party reviews and experiences are so close at hand, that even the most naive among us can be excused for thinking there’s no need to involve the voice of the company.

Perhaps more importantly, we’ve also trained customers and prospects that we’re about “selling,” not necessarily about “solving.” Trust is viewed as a by-product and the not the #1 reason to interact with an organization. If I feel a salesman is primarily looking out for his interests, do I need any other reasons to look elsewhere for answers?

Acknowledging that customers are looking to other resources and other voices before pulling the trigger should incite us to use the sales process as a way to “add value” to the customer’s experience. Here are a few thoughts on how you might do this:

  • 1) It begins by understanding that the customer is not looking for a product or service, she’s looking for a solution. Get to know your customers, their behaviors, and what problems they have that aren’t being solved via conventional means. What’s the context of your product’s usage? Understanding your customer’s needs not only help you better frame your products as solutions, it also provides invaluable feedback that can help improve your offerings and how they’re delivered.
  • 2) Be aware of what your potential customer is seeing. Go to Google and some other search engines, and try out some of the short-tail and long-tail search terms your prospects are likely to use, and see what shows up. This will give you a good start into understanding how your customer is educating himself and where he’s getting his information.
  • 3) Make sure you have a voice in the search process. If you’re not showing up the searches I mentioned above, figure out why. Is your web site optimized? Does it have relevant content? Has it not been updated since the Bush administration? Then, take steps to contribute additional fresh content to the mix that might be found by your prospects. Blogs are a killer way to get fresh solution-based content out there. Web video also indexes off the charts, and a how-to series or case study series both stand a really good chance of attracting eyeballs quickly.
  • 4) Reach out to your fans. Have some customers that rave about you online, whether on your web properties or elsewhere? Give them a shout out. Acknowledge them. That lets others who also like you know that it’s cool to talk about their experiences with you.
  • 5) Get feedback. Follow up on every request, every comment and every inquiry, not just with the intent of closing the sale, but to see if the prospects are getting what they needed or are looking for.
  • 6) Above all, emphasize the customer relationship over the sale. B-to-B marketers for the most part have been great at being sherpas for their customers, understanding that until trust is built , the chance of a sale is almost nil. Now it’s time for the rest of us to get on board.

The main thing is to avoid thinking that this “new normal” doesn’t affect you and your business. I guarantee it does. And the more proactive you are at embracing the new “customer path” to purchase, the better your chance for future success.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mickey Lonchar
Mickey Lonchar has spent the better part of two decades creating award-winning advertising with agencies up and down the West Coast, Mickey currently holds the position of creative director with Quisenberry Marketing & Design, a full-service advertising and interactive shop with offices in Spokane and Seattle, Wash.


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