In 2012, the global research and advisory firm Forrester Research reported that clients are as totally in the driver’s seat as we all knew anecdotally and that product and service providers have much less influence over purchasing behaviors than we enjoyed a decade or two ago. We have left the era of the sales process and entered the realm of the buying process. It is time to readjust your approach to marketing and sales in response to the new reality, because what was will never be again. Our clients are making decisions largely without our input. Many sales professionals and consulting specialists aim to present ourselves as “trusted advisers” who guide the sales process and influence customer choices, ideally for the good. Say goodbye to all that.
According to the Forrester report, clients now discuss product and service needs and options with their own team of trusted advisers, which may include unknown third-party “experts” they find on websites like Yelp and Angie’s List. How far along in the buying process that clients proceed without us varies by industry, but the report indicates that 65% -90% of the research process is often completed without assistance from sales professionals or consulting service providers. By the time the client is ready to make a purchase, much up-front research has usually been done and only vendor price quotes are needed.
Clients like the control of being in the driver’s seat. A mistrust of sales practices perceived as unsavory, combined with access to technologies that allow clients to rather easily research product and service needs once they’ve been identified, are the driving forces behind the client independence. Many are leery of being manipulated into paying for upgrades and add-ons that do nothing for their objectives.
In the flip from sales process to buying process, your marketing strategy will become more prominent and your approach to sales will change. Your marketing must first create visibility and awareness, so that prospective clients will find your firm’s offerings and second, create and sustain demand through exquisitely targeted messages and narratives dispensed through channels that clients trust and follow. Content marketing will continue to grow in influence as it is distributed through your website and all social media outlets that clients trust.
Develop your content marketing to explore and discuss motivating factors that compel prospective clients to research your products and services, solutions that you provide and benefits that clients receive, frequently asked questions and how to buy from you. As has long been said in academic circles, publish or perish. When not generating content, do what you can to get in front of an audience and teach a workshop, moderate a panel, or give a presentation and further your brand as a source of expertise. Remember also that traditional media outlets may still be important to your clients, so the art of the press release should not be forgotten.
Whither the role of sales? Rather than being reduced to mere order takers, consulting service providers and sales professionals will apply their well-honed communications expertise to identifying networking opportunities and building relationships. Content is king and having lots of good things that demonstrate your expertise come up in a search is a wonderful thing, but in my town, no one hires anyone that they don’t know. If a prospect does not already know you, then an introduction made by someone whom the prospective client trusts is the next best thing. No amount of artfully written content will convince anyone to hire an unknown.
Networking will be the queen, as you meet potential clients and referral sources and take the time to build relationships, taking an interest in others’ concerns and offering to give before you receive. The B2B buying process is a tall order for a Freelance consultant, but we are determined to succeed and we will rise to the challenge.
Thanks for reading,