We all know the world shifted a bit thanks to the recent pandemic, but one change doesn’t seem to be on the radar of most technology resellers. And it is a change that is likely to endure. Unless you adapt, you’ll discover revenue is harder to acquire. What’s the change?
According to a report titled “Marketing Matters: Responding to Changes in Buyer Behavior” from leadership group Vistage, “COVID-19 hasn’t just changed the way employees work. It has changed the way customers buy. Buyers have become more autonomous, independent, and digitally driven. They have become increasingly unable or unwilling to meet face-to-face with sellers. And they have developed higher expectations and greater requirements for digital buying experiences.”
If your business is still marketing and selling technology the same way it has historically, you’re missing a critical opportunity! A clear majority (78%) of CEOs agree that buyer behavior changed because of the pandemic, and so should you.
How do companies buy technology today?
Per IDC, by 2027, the average enterprise will derive 41% of their revenue through digital. As I discuss this change with the office technology sellers I know, I’m surprised by how often I hear them say that this is only for B2C and won’t affect B2B sales. I think they’re not only underestimating the impact of COVID but also the fact that more and more tech-dependent Gen Y and Gen Z employees now participate in buying decisions.
Realistically, how are technology buying decisions made? At most organizations, technology buying decisions are made by a committee of people. At a minimum, the individuals involved must have the ability to buy, fund, and implement the purchase. For technology products, this usually means that in addition to the department head who intends to use the product, a CFO and IT department are involved. When a department head recognizes the need for technology, or it is brought to their attention by their team, they usually will assign a front-line employee to start the initial investigation into potential options online.
So far, this may not sound all that different than the buying cycle you’re used to, so this startling statistic from Vistage may surprise you: Today’s independent consumer now makes 70% of a purchasing decision before they ever talk to a human being! Before, initial online research was used to compile a list of requirements and narrow down a short list of possible solutions, but all other steps of the buying process happened face to face. Now, technology buyers expect to be able to complete the majority of their buying process without talking to a salesperson.
What has changed in consumer behavior?
The pandemic caused a psychological shift toward a preference to shop and purchase online. Though most of us had been buying consumer goods this way, more complex purchases that used to be exclusively in-person are now shifting toward digital as well. In our industry, this independent buyer will expect to be able to learn most of what they need to know about you and your products without you. In fact, research shows they only want a technology salesperson to get involved when they need to better understand how to customize your product to suit their specific needs and environment.
What’s the new role for salespeople? Changing buyer behavior has shifted the point in the sales cycle at which customers engage the help of salespeople. In a traditional technology buying cycle, online research was used only to source potential suppliers and to obtain a high-level understanding of suitability. Now, the majority of knowledge-seeking happens online, and sales enters the process much later. Vistage explains that “buyers will only reach out to sellers when they need help with personalization, customization, or integration.” Today’s buyer needs today’s seller to be a product expert—especially in modifying technology to suit unique environments.
You can expect this buyer to be more demanding and less willing to take risks. Since, according to Forrester, 80% of consumers now see the world as all digital, you’ll find they’re less patient with insufficient websites, a failure to provide independent online demos, and salespeople who try to get involved too soon or who are insufficiently trained to be able to clearly explain how products can be customized.
How will this impact you?
Regardless of your personal purchasing (or selling) preferences, you need to make a few adjustments to make sure your business is effectively represented to online customers. It doesn’t have to be hard! My top three suggestions follow, and they don’t have to take a huge amount of time or effort. A hint: a whopping 92% of companies expect to increase or maintain their marketing budgets in the coming year, with more than 80% of that money targeted to digital!
Get in the e-commerce space
I know this sounds like a huge amount of work, and many technology resellers have hesitated to enable online purchasing processes. You can’t afford to continue to put this off! Given the number of jobs that will be remote or hybrid, it gets harder every day to facilitate in-person sales appointments and contract completions. Customers need to be able to complete purchases and execute contracts digitally for your business to thrive.
Did you know you don’t have to rewrite your website to enable e-commerce for your business? Shopify, Wix, and Squarespace are just a few of the e-commerce platforms readily available. Simply edit the provided template to suit your business, upload your catalog of products and services, and launch digital purchasing! If you’re still unsure about putting your entire catalog online, consider which products or services are most easily “packaged” for online sales. Perhaps you sell hardware, cloud services, or software that is straightforward and easy for customers to implement on their own. These options offer a good place for you to get started.
Optimize your website
In this mostly digital sales cycle, your website needs to shine. Just how important is your online presence? In the Vistage report, marketing expert Karen Hayward notes, “If you’re a B2B business, your website functions as the first sales call. If you’re a B2C business, your website is the business.”
If you’re a do-it-yourself marketer (and there are a lot of you out there), it’s time to bring in a digital marketing consultant to evaluate your current online presence. They can help you improve not only your website but also guide you in developing digital advertising initiatives and enabling e-commerce. Give special consideration to the journey visitors to your website take to learn about products and services. Introductory information should be easy to find and then flow naturally into deeper educational materials and even pre-recorded product demonstrations customized to represent specific industries and information management challenges. Remember, your customer doesn’t want to talk to you until they’ve picked you as the most likely solution to their problem, and they just need confirmation that your product can be customized to suit their unique needs.
New materials you should develop
Today’s marketplace is flooded with content in a huge variety of formats. In our rush to constantly provide something fresh, I think we’ve lost sight of the primary purpose of online content, which is to educate buyers and build credibility. Conduct an audit of all of your company’s content. If you’re like most, you’ll be startled by the sheer number of items you’ve produced! My recommendation: get rid of every piece of collateral that doesn’t have a clear connection to one of these two purposes. You may be surprised by how much you can simplify your messages and, by doing so, offer online customers a clear path to purchase that doesn’t require a salesperson until the later stages. Clarity and consistency matter now more than ever before, so make sure every piece follows your brand and messaging guidelines.
To help convince buyers to move forward in the sales cycle, be sure you’re telling stories that help buyers visualize using your products and use benefit-centered, outcome-oriented language. Put real effort into making online demos and interactive website content that show off your uniqueness and convince buyers to work with you.
Whatever your personal preference or style, the time has come for your business to adapt to the mostly digital world. Customers will increasingly choose to work with businesses that enable them to learn about products and services on their own and whose salespeople know how and when to get involved. Make sure your online presence invites buyers into your content to learn more about their own needs while also visualizing how your products can solve their problems. As you adapt to the independent, digital-first buyer of tomorrow, your business will thrive.
Christina Robbins is Vice President of Communication Strategy and Marketing at Digitech Systems LLC, one of the most trusted choices for intelligent information management and business process automation worldwide. Celebrated by industry analysts and insiders as the best enterprise content management and workflow solutions on the market, Digitech Systems has an unsurpassed legacy of accelerating business performance by streamlining digital processes for organizations of any size. For more information visit www.digitechsystems.com.