We’re in the midst of the biggest communication revolution in the history of the world. The internet is revolutionizing our access to information and it's affecting your business every minute of every day. The last communication revolution started 575 years ago when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. His invention, like the Internet, revolutionized how people got access to information and the amount of information that was available.
Because of the revolution, your buyers have access to instantaneous, in-depth information. The access to information is causing a secondary revolution, the buyer's revolution. Your firm and your sales people no longer control the critical information. Your customers no longer call you to get information. This fact alone should have a dramatic effect on how your business goes to market.
Because of the availability of information, buyer behavior has drastically changed. Drastically!
It is critically important for manufacturing leaders, sales people and marketers to understand the difference between buyer behavior today compared to buyer behavior 10, 15 or 20 years ago.
- In a study by Sirius Decisions, a leading business to business research firm, they found that on average buyers don’t reach out to suppliers until they are 70% through their buying process. During the 70% phase, your manufacturing company can gain an edge by providing the very information for which your buyers are searching. As an example, back in the 1990s, buyers would have to engage at the 10% point. At this early stage of the buyer's journey, your company contacted, your sales person provided useful information and had plenty of time to forge a relationship. They would know there was a need, have a point of contact and get a chance to send in their crack salesman to make the sale. Typically, the best salesman got the sale.
- The days when your firm and its sales people control the information are long gone. Any and all information your buyers need is available with a quick Google or Bing search on anything, anytime, anyplace. Your buyers are investigating your offering, your firm and your competitors without your people ever knowing about the investigation until it's too late and you're fighting a price war.
- Buyers don’t care about your firm, your products, your service or your CEO. They care about WIIFM (what’s in it for me). This is a subtle but extremely different way to approach sales and marketing.
Let's take a look at the olden days of, say, 1990. When industrial buyers (and we're all buyers) made a considered purchase, it went something like this:
- If you needed a new evaporative cooling tower, you'd pull out the old Thomas Register, look up evap coolers and take down a few phone numbers. “Hello, Acme Coolers, I need to get a new cooler for my new warehouse. Could you tell me about the latest technology in evaporative cooling? Yes, that sounds good. I’ll see your salesman John, a cooler expert, first thing Monday morning”. This scenario would be repeated 2 or 3 more times and more meetings with a sales person would be scheduled. In this scenario, you engaged directly with the company at about the 10% point. The cooler company and the salesman controlled the information. And, usually, the best sales person won the business.
If you needed a new evaporative cooler today, it goes something like this:
- The first thing you do is a web search, but not for evap coolers, you search for the problem you want to solve. You might search for 'high-efficiency evaporative cooling' or 'how does evaporative cooling work'. Those firms that offer helpful useful information about your problem show up first. You continue your research, probably even getting an idea of price. You make a short list of potential vendors. After you feel you have most of the information you need (that's about 70% of the process) you call or email the vendor.
Those vendors that provide the best and most useful information are at the top of the list.
Today, in the modern age, when we make a considered purchase, 98% of us go immediately to a web search. We may click on an ad or we may click on the organic search results. We explore web sites. We might download specifications, technology white papers, attend a webinar or print out an infographic. These actions are repeated by most of the decision influencers. The investigation does not require any direct interaction with the sales team. We might even make up a short list of final contenders without ever directly contacting any of the firms. We get the information we want without having to deal with the company or the salesman. In most cases, the buyer is incognito as far as the company knows.
Your superstar, charismatic sales person never even has a chance against useful information that shows up on the web search.
Many firms are still selling and marketing like it's the 1990's, waiting for a prospective customer to contact them. It doesn't work that way anymore. Those manufacturers who can exploit the new buyer behavior NOW will win. Those who can't or won't change will lose.
This is the secret to gaining an edge:
You've got to engage with the prospective customers during this 70% investigative phase. The engagement needs to offer the buyer something they value. They don’t value product brochures or anything that tells them about your firm which is what most companies are doing. The buyer values WIIFM. They value the firm that helps them do better or solve their problem. Offer educational or entertaining information created by your experts and sharing your expertise. By engaging in the early phase of the buying process with helpful, useful information, you will gain two significant and critical components; TOMA and credibility. If you are able to accomplish TOMA and credibility, you will get a place in their minds. When the day comes and they are ready to make the purchase, your firm will get the call first and already have a privileged position on the short list.
The others (your competitors) will be hopelessly fighting to catch up with nothing left to pitch but a lower price.
There is a window of opportunity now open. Most manufacturers don’t understand the new buyer’s habits as it relates to their own markets. The firms that are able to leverage this incredible communication revolution and the buyer’s revolution will win in their market space. Winning means strong growth rates of 10, 20 or 30%.
You've got to be first or second in your market space to take advantage. As soon as your competitors learn about your success, they will level the playing field once again. Now is the time to act!