Consumers Do The Work:
According to a CEB 2012 study, the sales process for most products/services is between 57% and 70% completed before you’re even contacted. My belief is 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 on-line first. After pretty much deciding on several different products – flooring, decking, paint, etc. we then went to the retail outlets for those products to make the final selections. Who did we choose to do the work? Contractors who were recommended by friends as having done outstanding work 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 workmanship 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. In fact, this 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 personal 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 so that we could see what “real customers” were saying about contractors and/or products.
The same is true when I’m struggling with a technical problem. I rarely, if ever, call a technical help line—not that I could easily get a live technician on the line anyway. Instead I simply “Google” an English language question such as “How do I change file permissions in Windows 10?” and voilà, the answer (usually several answers) appear. So my old job as a technical salesperson is largely being done away with through the very technology I used to design-in and sell to customers. Kind of like sawing of 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 the social media; so you need to be fleet of foot to follow your potential customers to their latest social media nest. Make sure you are found when customers are searching for information. Make sure you respond to comments, tweets, questions and testimonials on the various platforms. This 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.