Buyers are officially in control of the buying process. This fact is no surprise to marketers and salespeople who have found their roles completely redefined in the past several years.
Thanks to the Internet, social media and other major online influences, self-educated prospects are postponing interactions with salespeople until the latest possible moment in the buying process. In fact, a recent study by the Corporate Executive Board reported that buyers get 57 percent of the way through the buying decision before they’re even willing to talk to a sales rep.
“Today’s buyers control their journey through the buying cycle much more than today’s vendors control the selling cycle.” –Forrester Research
How to Satisfy Self-Educating Buyers
The challenge for marketers and sales reps is dealing with self-educated buyers who are smart, resourceful, and socially connected consumers. Andrew Gaffney, Publisher of DemandGen Report makes the point, “Because buyers are engaging with a sales representative later in the process, the content and messaging a brand delivers really shapes the initial perception of a brand and can have a defining impression on brand preference.”
To make the most of this self-edification, many companies have begun leveraging inbound or automated marketing software that’s integrated with their CRM to proactively detect “buying signals,” such as content shared by people, questions posted online or information downloaded from the website. Understanding buying signals can help sales people better target relevant prospects at specific points in their research and also help marketers run targeted campaigns to further qualify prospects within the sales funnel.
Three tips when learning your prospects buying signals:
- Mine your current sales database for insights and buyer signals. For example, a behavioral email marketing effort can help to quickly segment the sales prospecting database into categories such as Hot, Warm and Cold leads.
- Create truly useful information. Don’t create another ad for the sake of advertising. Rather, educate buyers and point them towards beneficial information that will help them make the right purchase decision.
- Invest in data — it really is the new black. You’re not going to change the buyer who continues to self-educate, so use that to your advantage. Let them study as much as necessary until they are satisfied with their own edification (and track everything they do). Then, use that insight to shorten your sales cycle and improve your close rate.
By tracking consumption of content, smart companies are listening for the buying signals and proactively reading prospects minds. In doing so, they are arming their sales teams with insights that otherwise would require a qualification call to obtain. Proactive listening for certain the buying signals allows companies to shorten the sales cycle and improve conversion rates.
Where Are Buyers Looking For Information?
Like it or not, your company’s online content has become an extension of your sales team. If you aren’t providing the relevant information that your prospects are searching for, you may be losing a significant amount of sales opportunities – and you won’t realize it’s happening before it’s too late.
As we embrace the age of Social Selling, there are the four key cultural and technological drivers that marketers and salespeople should focus on to improve their lead generation and conversion efforts.
Consumers and prospects are trained to look to the Internet first for product information, pricing, and reviews prior to making a purchase because it’s fueled by positive reinforcement of efficiency and empowerment. Delivering information immediately to satisfy a curiosity, meet an intellectual need, or provide a foundation for a purchasing decision – we need look no further than a simple Internet search.
There was a time when a person searching for information would have turned to a library, opened an encyclopedia, or maybe contacted a professional for the answer. Today, we literally walk around with a computer in our pocket—and we are using it to do a whole lot more than just talk. A 2012 Nielsen Report found that, as of June 2012, nearly 55 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers owned smartphones, rending information easily accessible right from the palm of their hand.
Many buyers cloak themselves behind Internet search engines, leaving them almost invisible to organizations. Whether using a computer, smartphone, or tablet, buyers usually point to Google (or another search engine of choice) to quickly render multiple answer sources within seconds. The ease of using search engines to find answers allows these buyers to shop invisibly and hide behind the anonymity of Google’s freely available digital content. So, companies need to develop online content that caters to otherwise “invisible” queries, helping customers in their research before you even know they exist.
Social media plays a key role throughout the entire sales cycle, beginning before prospects are even identified (while they research or follow thought leadership on social media sites), to after they become customers, (as they remain loyal customers through retention and cross-and upsell opportunities). Marketers can use social media to reduce feelings of risk and build trust with prospects, and ultimately drive revenue and new business. Here’s how:
- Listen to what unidentified prospects are saying through social media, in which valuable relationships are built through blogs, Twitter and other nontraditional marketing vehicles.
- Engage prospects with greater relevancy by using what they say on social media sites to enhance profiles, trigger more targeted nurturing flows and provide deeper insight into their conversations with sales.
- Continue to build profitable relationships with new customers through more informed retention marketing and cross- and up-sell activities.
How This Shift Affects Your Sales Prospecting Process
The effect of this cultural and technological shift on the sales industry cannot be ignored because it fundamentally changes the buying process. Ideally, salespeople would have access to easy-to-use tools that provide content relevant to where their prospects are in the sales cycle. A well-defined CRM process can help, allowing salespeople to remain agile and deliver a great customer experience. CRM can also help manage these self-educated buyers to ease challenges associated with otherwise traditional sales efforts.
The more you can educate your prospects and clients on what you sell, your industry, competition, and future trends that may affect them, the better chance you have of building that trust and confidence that is needed to make a purchase decision.