Michael Amiriby Michael Amiri

Over the last few decades, the selling process for services has changed dramatically. No longer are services the add-on to a hardware sale, and no longer are they the break-fix style warranty plans either. The world has moved on from those paradigms — including the office equipment (OE) space.

Today, every facet of the buying process has shifted. Fewer and fewer opportunities exist for a sales professional to sit down for an hour with an uninformed prospect to discuss the range of hardware and service options available, and even smaller are the odds of walking out with a freshly inked contract. The digital behemoths that are Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft have transformed commerce into a lengthier, more informative and highly competitive process, and by doing so, the culture norms that surrounds purchasing have transformed as well.

For OE dealers, it’s important to recognize that this shift has already occurred, and adaptation will be essential to sustain new and existing business into the coming fiscal years. To augment your sales efforts, it’s important to understand what has come to be known as the “New Buyer Journey.”

The New Buyer Journey

Phase 1: Awareness

While this is step one, it may even be considered step 0.5, because your prospective client may not even realize they have a need for your services (or that your business exists). However, you can still influence your prospect at this stage with effective marketing tactics that focus on good search engine optimization (SEO) and efficient inbound marketing tactics.

The goal here is to help your prospects understand they have a clear need for services, and you can fulfill that requirement. Your clients, before searching for a solutions provider, will turn to Google for further research into their problem or business need. Blog posts, e-books, and landing pages should be focused on the pain points and questions that your prospect would research on their way to finding an answer to their imaging/office equipment questions. With attention set on your potential customers’ needs, and not leading with your brand or product features, you’ll establish yourself as an approachable, helpful thought leader, and worthy of consideration for a potential sale.

Phase 2: Evaluation

Competition has never been tougher in today’s market, and as the OE space undergoes increased mergers and acquisitions, larger entities can drown out the smaller voices they compete with through sheer advertising volume. As such, it can be harder to distinguish and differentiate yourself from the other OE dealers in your region.

Customers will be looking for the best solution to fit their needs, so it’s important to stand out with key differentiators in terms of service and personalized attention. Buyers will be comparing and communicating with multiple vendors at this time, as well as reaching out for product demonstrations, and it’s here that the services and solutions that you offer should fit your prospect’s needs and can be flexible enough to fit a range of businesses. The person you will communicate with directly during the sales process will not always be the key decision maker at their organization, so be sure to prime them with information they can relay to senior management, such as overwhelming value over time, specific ROI considerations and other talking points where your solution can stand out.

For dealers who also offer managed IT services, this can be a deciding factor for many prospects, as the cost effectiveness and ease of a single point of contact for OE and IT solutions are highly attractive factors that will help justify the decision to choose your business.

Similarly, it is equally as important for the OE dealer to evaluate the prospect at this stage. Proper vetting is an important part of the sales process because it helps the OE dealer ensure that this opportunity could lead to quality revenue down the line. In order to determine this, however, it’s the paramount responsibility of the OE sales rep to do three things. First, figure out what the prospect’s pain points are when it comes to office technology or IT support. Second, establish how important these factors are to their business. Third, determine if the prospect financially values their office technology or IT infrastructure enough to make the investment to partner with you. Going through these steps will help ensure that you can better address their needs in the next phase, and that you’re not wasting time and resources on a dead end.

Phase 3: Decision

The final phase may seem cut and dry, but it has perhaps differed the most from an older buyer’s journey. At the decision phase, prospects have narrowed down their choices, and can benefit from previous user testimonials to bolster the positive impact of your offering. The decision phase may come weeks or even months after the first communication, which can be challenging for sales organizations that have not adapted to this new buyer journey. Plan for a lengthier sale cycle to adequately forecast your new prospects, and follow through with a buttoned-up onboarding process to ensure minimal churn in your new customer acquisitions.

In 2017, OE dealers are perfectly suited to adapt to the new buyer’s journey and win greater business through a combination of product and service offerings that include a range of hardware, software, managed print and managed IT services. Dealers can be a single point of contact for a vast suite of professional solutions, and should start offering managed IT services at once in order to capitalize on the current market environment.

A sea change has begun, and as more and more OE dealers begin to offer managed IT services, those who do not will fall to the periphery and will become marginalized in the sales space by those dealers who can be the single point of contact for their clients. Given the proven sales record and the deep sales pipeline that already exists within an OE sales organization, it’s a matter of adapting to a new buyer’s journey that is more catered to a service model in the years to come that will ensure success. The OE space will continue to change, and those businesses willing to adapt will rise to the top.

Michael Amiri A 20-year veteran of the IT industry, Michael Amiri is the Senior Director of Dealer Services at Continuum Managed Services. He has built a team of resources at Continuum that is dedicated to supporting the office equipment channel and its efforts to maximize both efficiencies and profitability with competitive managed IT service offerings. Prior to Continuum, he was a co-founder of an IT holding company specializing in software security services. Michael has also been a featured speaker and editorial contributor to dozens of industry-related events and publications.