Consumers Do The Work:
According to a CEB 2012 study, the sales process for most products/services is between 57% and 70% completed before they even contacted you. I believe that if we were to update that study, we’d find the responses closer to 70% than 50%.
This idea was driven home for me as I was planning on some construction work around the home. We had several projects going at once, and we (my wife and I) did all the work of researching online first. After deciding on several different products— flooring, decking, paint, etc., we then went to the .
retail outlets for those products to make the final selections. Whom did we choose to do the work? Contractors who were recommended by friends as having done an outstanding job for them.
No, we didn’t bother with second or third bids; we researched only the “user ratings” where we could and looked at previous craftmanship in some cases. No salesperson, advertising, or marketing informed our decision. We controlled the sales process right up to the end. All we needed was a way to place the order. There was no salesperson involved in the sales process until the very end. No marketing except a few brochures we picked up or the contractor provided. Ours was very much a buying process, not a sales process. That’s the way I, and I suspect you, like it.
Of course, technology is what has made much of this change in the sales process possible. But some of it is “ancient” in that we relied on our network for recommendations. If we had not been able to get those referrals, we would have turned to a service (such as Angie’s List) or social media to see what “real customers” were saying about contractors or products.
The same is true when I’m struggling with a technical problem. I rarely, if ever, call a technical helpline—not that I could quickly get a live technician on the line. Instead, I merely “Google” an English language question such as “How do I change file permissions in Windows 10?” and voilà, the answer (usually several answers) appears. My old job as a technical salesperson is mostly being done away with because of the very technology I used to design-in and sell to customers. Kind of like sawing off the tree branch you’re sitting on, eh?
Of course, the question is, so what do we do? My take on this, well known to friends and colleagues, is that many of you (most of you?) would do well to shift your marketing spending to digital media. Of course, things change fast in social media, so you need to be fleet of foot to follow your potential customers to their latest social media nest. Make sure your customers find you when they are searching for information. Make sure you respond to comments, tweets, questions, and testimonials on the various platforms. That is only going to get “worse”—or in my view, more exciting. It also means you are no longer in full control of your image or sales process. Instead, your customers have a huge say in your success.
[Lightly edited in 9/2020 for our new website.]