Have you changed how you sell in the era of the informed customer?
The Wall Street Journal reported that UPS struggled with last minute Christmas demand from Amazon, Kohl’s, Wal-Mart and other online sellers. It should be no surprise to businesses that there’s been a big shift in how consumers conduct their holiday shopping. Most of us are, by nature, are procrastinators. Given the chance to make a last-minute decision with guaranteed delivery and easy price comparison, why would we commit early?
Consider the ways in which you purchase travel, entertainment and cars, and how this has evolved over the past 10 years. Using the Internet to research and make these purchases is now our standard process, to the detriment of travel agents, music producers and car salesmen.
Life on the car lot has been transformed as the power of information has shifted from the dealer and the salesman to the consumer. Most car buyers now have copious information on a brand’s reliability, invoice price and options. The old days of the salesman in a plaid jacket keeping customers on edge while they “check with the manager” are coming to an end in the era of the informed buyer. According to NADA Data 2013, gross profit is down 26% and employment at car dealerships is down over 15% in the last decade. Much of this is due to the increased efficiency that the informed buyer is driven. Christina Rogers reports in the WSJ that consumers now spend 3 ½ hours visiting dealerships, down 44% from in just the last two years.
Against this backdrop, have you considered how much more informed your buyer is today than five years ago? How has their buying process changed? If you don’t adapt, what will happen to your gross profit and employment?
In a B2B setting, your customers and potential customers are able to conduct a great deal of research prior to their reaching out to you. Most experts believe that an industrial buyer, like the car buyer, has completed over 65% of the purchasing process prior to reaching out to a vendor.
How can you reach the informed buyer most effectively?
1. Tune your audiences, and your messages
Segmentation of target customers and messages is now more important and easier to execute than it ever has been. I see many clients trying to broadcast their message to broad audiences, rather than creating micro audiences and messaging effectively to each of them. This does not create a lot of additional work, but does exponentially increase your messaging effectiveness. The blog “7 Ways to Develop Customer Tribes for your Business” from 2011 by Nichole Kelly at Social Media Examiner provides some good thought starters.
2. Provide useful, insightful content that educates
Your website and social media content should focus on industry trends and issues and not be an ongoing commercial for your products. In the era of the informed buyer, your mission is to be positioned as the best solutions provider for customers in the segments that you have a compelling offer for. They will engage you in a buying conversation when they are ready.
3. Don't be afraid to share
As a vendor you are probably spending time reading industry articles and blogs that are of interest to your customers. By creating multiple means of sharing this information you’re providing a service to your customers that helps to build your brand as an industry expert. Options for sharing this content include a weekly newsletter, Twitter and LinkedIn updates and shared links from your website.
4. Use your team
There is a great deal of content available to you within your organization. By asking your inside and outside sales teams the most common questions that they get, your service technicians ways that your customers have developed to adapt your solutions, and your customers what their biggest challenges are, you will be able to develop a range of content that is both appealing and impactful. If you don’t have a content manager, consider hiring a ghost writer to interview your team and build a range of content from their learning’s.
In his blog “The Truth About Social Media that most CEO’s don’t get”, Bryan Adams of Ph Creative states “Social media is a primary means of communication that has quickly become a fundamental requirement to businesses just like the telephone, the website, or the email.” As you consider how your shopping behavior has changed, can your business afford not to be involved in the conversation?