Google and LinkedIn have forever altered the traditional sales process. In one sense, the buyer gets more control than ever before over where they get information. However, in the middle of wringing our hands about the buyer being more informed than ever before, I think we’ve missed the real point: Buyers haven’t changed. What’s changed is how they gather information to make a buying decision.
You see, buyers have always been informed. Prospects have always needed information to make good business decisions. The only thing that’s changed is where they are going to get the information.
Pre 1999: Sales Reps Provide Information
In the “good old days” prospects had to go to salespeople for ideas, advice, and recommendations. In essence, sales reps were the brain trust in the old buying process.
From the buyer’s perspective, using sales reps as the information source had three challenges:
- It was slow. You had to schedule a meeting or a phone call.
- It was biased. Nobody trusts salespeople and everyone knows the rep comes to the table with an agenda: to sell you something out of their bag of tricks.
- It was personal. When you engage with a sales rep you also face the unpleasantry of having to tell them “no” when you select someone else. (And then deal with the string of objection handling.) Believe it or not, most buyers hate this part.
Post-2000: Internet Provides Information
As the body of available information has grown on the internet, buyers have shifted to getting more (most) of their information online. (Corporate Executive Board research shows that buyers are, on average, 57% of the way through the buying process before contacting a sales rep.)
Getting information online solves three problems for the buyer:
- It’s fast. I can find answers in seconds without having to pick up the phone or schedule an appointment.
- It’s not biased. Well, not exactly. But information online has the appearance of not being biased, especially if it is well-written, helpful, and not “sales”.
- It’s not personal. There is no need to say “no” to anyone. I don’t need to build a relationship with a rep and then break up with them if I decide to buy from someone else.
Why This is
Good GREAT for Companies
While this seems like a huge challenge for organizations that rely on field salespeople to share information with buyers, this is actually great news for companies. See, the challenge with the old model is that it put the sales rep in control. Salespeople were the “brain trust” of the organization.
When the sales rep is the brain trust, three things happen:
- The sales rep becomes known as the thought leader, not the dealership
- The sales rep builds the relationship
- The dealership becomes secondary
As a result, when the sales rep moved on, they often brought the clients with them.
In the new model, buyers go online to find information. A smart dealership will have a “digital brain trust” that helps buyers navigate the decision-making process. This information needs to be easily found in the places buyers look: Google and LinkedIn.
Essentially, the brain trust needs to shift from the sales rep to the company’s online presence.
When prospects encounter the company’s “digital brain trust” they begin to develop a positive brand affinity with the company. They start to see the company as a source of ideas, education, and insight that can help them.
Does This Minimize the Role of the Sales Rep?
First, we have to be honest: the buyer has already done this by choosing to engage with a rep later and later in the buying process.
A company that builds a “digital brain trust” helps position its sales team as helpful experts. So, when the buyer does want to engage, they can feel confident they are talking to a rep that can add value. When the rep does get involved, they are seen as a thought leader that can bring value to the situation.
In the sales reps prospecting efforts, the “digital brain trust” of the company provides a body of helpful information for the sales rep to share. Smart sales reps will take the “brain trust” content of the company and amplify it across their social networking and email threads.
What Should Companies Do?
In 2016 a top initiative of sales organizations should be to create a “digital brain trust.” In broad terms, here’s what this means:
- Share helpful information online. Write lots of blog posts. Make sure your website is not just a slick online brochure but an actual helpful resource to buyers.
- Amplify this information across your company’s social media. Then, get your sales team engaged in LinkedIn.
- Optimize your website for search engines to maximize your chances of getting found online.
- Create a path for buyers to take once they arrive on your website so they don’t just read a page and move on.
Building your “digital brain trust” will take a long time. It’s a never-ending project. No worries. Google has an insatiable hunger for new information and so do your prospects.
Is it worth it? If you don’t do it, your competitors will. And they will be the ones that will win in the future. Chances are, most of your competitors won’t do this. So, will you be the one to take advantage of the opportunity to build a “digital brain trust” for your clients?
Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.