Push selling is over … it’s a buyer’s game, deal with it

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This is the next contribution to this blog by Associate Andrew Penny, an Ottawa-based business development and market strategist for B2B companies, and president of Kingsford Consulting Ltd. We welcome your comments.

By Andrew Penny

Since the first acts of commerce, the seller has always had the upper hand with respect to product knowledge, performance, service, costs, and all the other factors that a buyer wants to know. Today, your buyer has access to all that information before they even meet you. In a few seconds they can find out where your president went to school, what your customers think of you, how you manufacture your product, what your approximate costs are (or should be), how the product works and if any other firms like theirs have bought it. A push (not to say pushy) salesperson doesn’t stand a chance.

This shift in power to the buyer means the game has changed. So what is the best way to help buyers buy from you now?

New business generation is not about selling – it’s about establishing trust and providing value. If you want to create revenue, increase customer satisfaction and drive brand equity. Stop selling and start adding value.

Buy versus sell is exemplified by Urban Spoon versus Yellow Pages, where the buyer controls not only the information but also your reputation (thumbs up, three stars and so forth); the same is true with Amazon or Chapters. Mobile technology puts even more control in the buyer’s hands – not just online but on the store floor as well.

When Kingsford ‘sells,’ rare is the buyer who hasn’t Googled, Linkedin, or visited our website to check our profiles, testimonials, or even what a marketing plan should contain.

Social commerce isn’t a new idea; buyers have always checked with their network or with trusted sources before making important buying decisions (think Consumer Reports). The new reality is that this process is online, instant, and happening with or without your knowledge or participation.

To be clear, social commerce is a subset of e-commerce that involves using social media to assist in the buying and selling of products and services. Examples include customer ratings and reviews, user recommendations and referrals, social shopping tools (sharing the act of shopping online), forums and communities, social media optimization, social applications and social advertising (source: Wikipedia).

If that’s what you think, you’re wrong

Maybe you’re thinking this doesn’t apply to you, or maybe that your product (or service) is too technical and too specific for anyone to know much about it, let alone discuss it in any detail. If so, you’re wrong. We recently helped a mechanical engineering company launch a new piece of mining equipment. As part of our research, we identified a passionate YouTube community of roof bolter operators who post cell phone videos of their machines in operation a mile underground. They not only provided us with valuable competitive intelligence but also gave us a wonderful channel to talk directly to these operators.

The point is, no matter how large or small your market niche, information within the community is shared, dissected, and used. Join the conversation.

Whether you sell to businesses or directly to consumers, the point is that today’s buyer is real-time connected, values peer reviews, and is well informed. So what do you do?

Know the pain point, know your competition

Make sure you know what your buyer’s pain point is before talking solution. It used to be that sales people informed and shared vital details about products or services. Today, technology allows customers to search not only your product or solution; they can open their search and learn about all the options currently available to them. They don’t need to be told about your product anymore – so your first goal should be to stop actively selling your product and begin asking questions that uncover their issues, problems, or concerns. It’s about service, not sales.

Know your competition – and what they’re doing. The buyer no longer has to meet with the sales people to handle technical and price comparisons. The Internet can provide this information quite easily – especially since most marketing departments publish product information – allowing the buyer to compare and often make a decision without any help.

Competing on price is a fool’s game

Sell value and service, not price. Since pricing information is so readily available, the first thing buyers will ask is for you to price match or go even lower. But remember that competing on price is a fool’s game. Therefore, you need to do some research of your own to learn as much as you can about your competition. You can never have enough information about your competitors – including any differences between their written claims and the actual results they deliver. This allows you to know what the competitor cannot deliver, and when to walk away based upon integrity.

Know your demographic – and how it’s changing

Organizations are starting to follow in Wal-Mart’s footsteps – rotating buyers so personal relationships cannot be developed to influence decisions. Even if your buyers aren’t doing this, when they leave (or retire from) the organization or are promoted to another position away from your normal decision process, you have a potential issue. Networking within the buyer groups as well as the people who actually control budgets can give you a competitive advantage. Take steps today to make contacts with as many people as you can within the target company (learn more about demographic shifts).

Fuel the fire

If buyers are already sourcing knowledge, make it easier. Buyers are learning about your product or service, your industry, or even you personally, sometimes even before they become your consumers. Allowing them to review, rate, recommend, refer, or discuss will help build your credibility and reputation (as long as it’s a good one!) and your business.

  • Rating and Reviews provide third-party evaluation of a product or service, with an opportunity for viewers to contribute and discuss. It includes customer ratings and reviews, expert ratings and reviews, sponsored reviews, and customer testimonials
  • Recommendations and Referrals promote personal interaction within online social circles, often rewarding referrers for their efforts. This includes “share with your network” referral programs and social recommendations
  • Forums and Communities connect people with each other and to a business in a moderated environment. This includes user forums, user galleries, idea boards, Q&A forums, and brand communities
  • Social Media Optimization increases traffic volume via inbound links from social media and through improvements to search engine rankings driven by these links

Need hard numbers to believe it? Social networks are dominated by Facebook where, it claims, more than 500 million active users spend over 700 billion minutes on the site each month and over 250 million people engage with Facebook across more than 2.5 million external websites.

Taking it ‘to go’

Where does mobile come in? Another way to make it easier for buyers, and gain a competitive advantage, is to create a smartphone-enabled website. Mobile phone networks are already available to over 90 percent of the world’s population. More and more internet traffic is mobile. By 2013, Google expects 50 percent of its traffic will be from mobile devices. Visit your own site on a smartphone. What does it look like? (Check this out if it doesn’t work –Mobilize)

Another application, the mobile payment market for goods and services, is expected to exceed $300 billion globally by 2013. Mobile payment is an alternative to cash, cheque, or credit cards, where payment is made through premium SMS-based transactional payments, direct mobile billing, mobile web payments (WAP), or contactless NFC (Near Field Communication). It can be used when purchasing a wide range of services and digital or hard goods, such as music, videos, ringtones, online game subscription or items, wallpapers and other digital goods, transportation fare (bus, subway or train), parking meters and other services, books, magazines, tickets and other hard goods.

Bottom line

  • Know your buyer and their pain points; they already know your products and services so don’t sell them on features or price, sell value and solutions.
  • Know your competition and what makes you better.
  • Vigorously manage the information buyers can discover about you and your company. Make sure they are finding the right content – accurate information, great reviews, recommendations, and testimonials.

Image: The Internet Show

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