The internet has catalyzed a major change in the sales process. Underlying this change is the buyer's access to unlimited information sources before engaging with a salesperson. This is a fundamental change from the days when buyers had to call suppliers for an explanation of products and services. Furthermore, absent the internet going away, this change to the process is now irreversible.
Despite the numerous headwinds, we believe independent resellers in the office products and business equipment verticals still have the potential to prosper. Still, we also believe they have gaps in their "know-how" that need to be closed before they can successfully adapt to the change in the sales process that's occurred.
So, what are the requirements to get started down the path for successfully adapting to the change and, in the process, executing a digital transformation?
1. Understanding the Ideal Customer. It's necessary to understand the ideal customer's makeup and develop a "Buyer Persona." As we'll see, a significant component of the transformation strategy hinges on content, and there's no point in creating content if it's not helpful to what the typical buyer (ideal customer) is looking for.
2. The Website. A high quality, responsive (mobile friendly) website, rich in search engine optimized content describing the business, its value proposition, and demonstrating its position as an authority in its field.
3. Blog. To build trust, develop its status as a thought leader, and establish authority in its field, publishing a blog and building an audience is important.
4. Landing Pages. Searches lead to landing pages containing the information researchers are looking for. If a site has no landing pages with relevant, high-quality content, then traffic (that could subsequently be converted to a lead) will not come to the site.
5. Content. Depending on the stage in their "buying journey," researchers are most likely not searching for a specific company. Instead, they search for information about a product or service they're interested in. So, if there's no content responsive to those searches, there's no web traffic.
6. Technology. Technology must be deployed for improved efficiency. Most businesses have a website and want traffic to come to their site. However, little value can be extracted from a visit without a strategy, content, and information technology platforms to track what a visitor is interested in. Deploying an integrated information technology platform that captures a record of site visits and facilitates the owner to view and interpret the visit data is imperative.
7. Email marketing. The ROI on email marketing is estimated at nearly $40 for every $1 spent. However, the strategy behind successful email marketing needs to be carefully developed and executed.
8. Social Media. Having a single corporate website is no longer sufficient. A series of "micro-sites" on social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+, is imperative.
9. Audience building and engagement. There's little point in launching a consistently branded, multi-platform social media presence unless there's a strategy to develop and engage with a relevant audience. If the audience is irrelevant, it won't engage; if it doesn't, it has no value.
10. The Offer. Businesses must overcome the obstacles associated with the open display of prices. Just take a look at Office Depot and Staples. Their pricing is on display, and visitors have no doubt, [24/7], what can be purchased and how much it will cost. For a small business, displaying prices doesn't eliminate the possibilities for future negotiations on larger B2B deals. Just remember, if a good job is done building trust and establishing authority, then there's likely to be an opportunity to discuss price. Why not let visitors browse options instead of losing their interest to another site that does?
11. Why? Providing compelling reasons for visitors to engage and help them understand why the reseller's value proposition may reduce their overall cost and/or improve their transactional efficiency.
This is a lengthy list of requirements necessary to accomplish a business transformation and to deal with the fundamental change that's taken place in the sales process. It's a daunting list for independent resellers to get their heads around. Furthermore, if and when they do, successfully deploying a platform with the required attributes and operating it effectively will likely present a steep learning curve.
The stakes are high! If the business transformation goal can be achieved, we believe small businesses may be able to compete on a level playing field with much larger organizations. However, if this cannot be achieved, it's only a matter of time before customer churn and low customer acquisition rates threaten to take smaller businesses down forever.