Over the years one of the most common questions I get from copier dealer principals and sales reps is, "When do you think people will start buying copiers online?"
My answer: "They already are and have been buying copiers online for years now."
Really. Yes, but not necessarily in the way you think. Because of the complex nature of the configuration, pricing, and lease options, they still need sales reps to bring the sale across the finish line. So, I think it will be a while before people put a copier in an online shopping cart and check out online.
However, when I say that copiers are being purchased online what I mean is that much of the buyer's decision making process is influenced by online search.
Consider the following data:
- According to a 2014 Acquity Group survey of B2B purchasing decisions begin with only search.
- The CEB's 2012 survey of 1,400 mid sized business decision makers revealed that buyers are 57% of the way through their decision making process before contacting a rep. That number increased to nearly 70% when they refreshed the research in 2014!
- IDC research showed that 84% of c-level and- and VP decision makers use social media in the buying process
Even though buyers aren't putting a copier in an online shopping cart and checking out, the reality is that much of a buyer's decision making process happens online. By the time a rep gets involved, much has happened in the prospect's mind.
Earlier this week in a conversation with a VP of Sales of a large copier dealer, I asked how buying habits are changing. His comment was that the buyers know so much more about what they want because of the amount of online research they are doing. Essentially, the sales team has to try to rewind the process, but most of the time the buyer has a solid opinion formed. Wouldn't it be much better if the dealership could influence the buyer's opinion early in the buying process?
A few months back I talked to a sales rep in a large southern market. He had worked for years to get an appointment with a decision maker at a large target company. The morning of his big appointment he opened his email to find this message: "I looked at your LinkedIn profile and it doesn't really seem you have much to offer our company. So, I'm cancelling our appointment. Best wishes." Ouch! Wouldn't it be much better if that sales rep had a LinkedIn profile that positioned them as an expert and made the decision maker look forward to the appointment.
What Does This Mean For You?
In 1993 I went to fast start sales training the week of my sales career with Lanier. For five days they drilled in fantastic Tom Hopkins-esque sale training. One thing stuck with me: "First in wins!"
If you can get in a deal first, you can influence the decision making criteria while building a relationship of trust. Other people may get involved later in the buying process, but the first-in advantage is real.
Getting in first is great. But with today's buyer, getting in first often means that you are the company or sales rep they find online.
How Do you Get In First?
Getting in first requires a smart digital marketing and digital prospecting strategy. You need to get smart about your company's web presence and your sales team's LinkedIn presence. Doing this puts you in a position to get in first.
Following is the model that we discuss with our clients.
To get in first you need a great web presence, continually updated with helpful content, amplified across social media, and optimized the be found in search engines. Today's buyer goes online to look for answers. While your web presence needs to give a good first impression with a professional graphic design, the most important thing is to make sure your web presence has substance. Here are three critical items to consider:
- Competence: Do you provide answers to the questions your prospects are asking Google?
- Credibility: Do you feel like a credible provider?
- Commonality: Do you provide real world examples, case studies, and/or testimonials from other clients you serve?
Put yourself in the position of a buyer looking for information online and ask yourself if your website and social media properties meet the criteria outlined above. Building out a great web presence happens over time. But the end goal is that your website helps you get into deals earlier as buyers find you online, consume your content, and begin to trust you.
To get in first, you also need to leverage social networks. The most common one that sales reps think of is LinkedIn. Used correctly, LinkedIn is hands down the most powerful relationship developing tool that sales reps have ever had. However, much like digital marketing, sales reps need to be smart when it comes to digital prospecting.
Buyers that look for information online also look for people that can be helpful to them. Just as a company needs to build a web presence that positions them as helpful experts, sales reps need to do the same with their LinkedIn profiles:
- Competence: Does your LinkedIn profile make it look like you know what you're talking about? Do you have something to say that adds value to my business?
- Credibility: Does it seem like you are an expert that could help my business?
- Commonality: Who else have you worked with and what are they saying about you?
Once again, put yourself in the position of a buyer looking for someone to talk to. Would you want to meet with yourself based on what you present on your LinkedIn profile?
Are people buying copiers online? Absolutely. The way they are doing it is by going to Google to look for answers to their questions. They are noticing sales people in LinkedIn. All of this forms the buyer's opinions and shapes their decision.