5 Strategies for Keeping Pace with Changing Customer Buying Behaviors
Customer buying behaviors are changing. As a result, you must assess the ability of your sales team to adapt, serve, and exceed these evolving expectations.
Informed Consumers Are Empowered Buyers
Technology and consumers’ willingness to share information and opinions has dramatically influenced buyer behavior in recent years. However, the nature and pace continues to evolve. Consider the following examples:
- Anything can be researched. Consider how car buying has evolved in recent years. Years ago, customers in the market for a new car would conduct their research by perusing Consumer Reports and auto trade magazines (in print, not online), getting the opinions of their close friends and colleagues (likely less than ten people and in person), and relying on their past experience (“My father and grandfather always bought Fords, so I do, too.”). But today’s technology and the prevalence of available information empowers consumers by arming them with car ratings, maintenance schedules, recalls, customer satisfaction scores, and resale values before they step foot onto the dealer’s lot. In fact, they can also see their local dealer’s inventory from the comfort of their home so they know where to go to test drive the car of their choice.
- Showrooming. A related phenomenon is “showrooming.” You may not know the term, but you’ve likely done it — that is, visited a local brick-and-mortar store, such as Best Buy or Wal-Mart, to inspect and compare items in person but then made your purchase from an online vendor, such as Amazon.com. To effectively combat showrooming, retailers need to be creative and innovative to go beyond educating and displaying goods for customers to make the sale.
- Social media. One might credit Craigslist with starting this tide of empowering consumers. Begun as an e-mail distribution list among friends back in 1995, the concept of rating and sharing consumer experiences, reviews, and recommendations got the ball rolling. Fast forward to today and how social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest enable consumers to share and research product info on their smartphones and other devices.
- Competition. One more factor that tips the scales in favor of the consumer is competition. Yes, some customers are brand loyal, as in the Ford example above, but for the right price or experience, loyalties can be broken. Very few businesses enjoy a monopoly and should therefore not rest on their laurels. The “What have you done for me lately?” mentality sounds harsh, but it is prudent, especially in business. You’d be wrong as a buyer of business services not to evaluate other options — this keeps your vendors honest and on their toes to provide the best product at competitive prices and with the right level of service.
Although the changing buyer behavior has been fueled by the B2C market, don’t be fooled into thinking that it has not permeated B2B and service providers. Consider the following questions and areas to explore with regard to changing buyer behavior:
- How has buyer behavior changed in your business?
- Are your current sales processes aligned with the changing behavior? Are your processes adequate?
- How are your people responding to the changes? Are they changing their behavior to align with the changing processes? Is their behavior proactive or reactive?
- What are your plans to effectively address these changes in the future?
When your customers’ and prospects’ behaviors change, it is important to understand what has changed and how. Your ability to assess the change, plan to respond, and help your people adapt will be the most effective way to keep your business relevant and competitive.
What can you do? Here are five strategies to keep pace with changing buyer behaviors:
- Identify Customer Expectations. Interview customers and understand, from their perspective, what they are expecting and what’s driving it. This will help you to educate and prepare your sales reps to adapt to and address the changing behaviors among their clients. But don’t just do this once — rather, create an ongoing dialogue to keep your finger on the pulse of your customers and their demands
- Engage Prospects. Create conversations with aspirational customers, and explore what they value about the relationships they have with your competitors. With the potential for just a little business, it will benefit you to try to understand their ideal customer-vendor relationship and how you can best present your value proposition to meet their needs.
- Evaluate Processes and Metrics. Identify which process and metric changes are necessary for you to effectively monitor and respond to changes in buyer behavior. A recent statistic indicates that the amount of face time sales reps spend in front of customers today versus three years ago is approximately 40% less. If your company is using the same processes as three years ago, you might question whether what you are doing is adequate or if you are engaging your customers properly.
- Mobilize Your Leaders. Work with line leadership in a planning session to help them understand and address the changing business environment. Lay out a timeline for behavior in the past, how you are addressing the behavior now, and what you will be expected to change in the future.
- Look to the Future Now. Identify goals for the future and talent skills necessary to successfully achieve those goals. Be willing to test trends, and be on the forefront rather than constantly playing catch up and watching from behind. Take a proactive posture that promotes interacting with clients and prospects to not only stay in touch but also anticipate future changes.
Some behaviors are short-lived or cyclical, and you don’t want to chase every gimmick and fad. However, it is unlikely that the influence of social media and the opportunities to converse with customers will diminish anytime soon. And why should they?
Don’t ignore or dismiss what potential buyers find online about your product or business. Acknowledge customers’ research and build on it, tailoring your market proposition and pitch to build on their online intelligence gathering and show them clearly and confidently how buying from your company will be the best choice for them.
Complimentary research paper. Richardson surveyed over 300 business-to-business sales reps to learn more about their top challenges and improvement opportunities to help them hit their number in 2013. Click here or on the image below to download the report.