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Buyers Are Self Educating, So Should Sellers!

by David Brock on May 8th, 2013

Buying has changed.  The traditional role of the sales person in “teaching” the customer about solutions and products is much less important.  Buyers are self educating on the web.  Depending on which research you read, as much as 70% of the buying process is completed before sales people are even engaged.

The web provides a vast array of sources of information to prospective customers about solutions.  Companies are responding, providing rich content, helping prospects better understand solutions.  Discussion groups, user groups, LinkedIn, Facebook, all provide more information than a prospect could possibly consume.  Simple Google queries can provide endless sources of information to customers who let their fingers do the walking on a keyboard.  When sales people first encounter the customer, the customer is already informed and educated.

We know all this, hundreds of articles are written about this phenomenon and how the Web has changed buying forever.

But what about sellers?  Just as buyers are self educating, sellers have the same resources available to them.  Sellers can (and should) be leveraging the Web the same way buyers are.

Just as Buyers are educating themselves about our solutions and alternatives, Sellers leverage the Web to learn about their customers.  What problems or opportunities do your customers face?  How are they positioned and perceived by their customers?  How are they positioned and perceived within the industry?  What are people saying about them?  How are they performing?  Where are they under performing?  What opportunities are they missing?  What are their strategies?  What are their priorities?  What risks do they face?  What changes are they going through?  For most companies, we can understand financial and market performance before the first contact–it’s easily available for all  public companies and “findable” for many private companies.   We can learn a huge amount about each enterprise before we first contact them.

Likewise, we can learn a huge amount about each individual before the first call.   LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook all give us great insight.  Simply Googling a person’s name can give us richer insight.

I could go on and on.  Our customers are well informed about our solutions and the alternatives before our first visit.  There is no excuse that we aren’t equally well informed before we first contact the customer!

Self educating ourselves before the first contact with customers changes our discovery process and first call.  We can now offer insights about them and their business–specific insights, “It appears you are losing share in key markets–we think you have an opportunity to reverse this, growing share by X%…..”  “We think you can improve inventory turns……”  “We see these changes in the market, what are your strategies to capitalize on the opportunities they present?”

In our early discovery, rather asking about their needs, pain, and problems; we demonstrate our understanding of their needs and issues based on doing our homework up front.

The conversations we have change:  we educate them on new ideas and opportunities, we collaborate in assessing solutions, we discuss risks and alternatives to mitigate the risk, we create compelling solutions. establish clear value.

Just as the customer is educated and informed in their first meeting with us, we need to be as well educated and informed in that first meeting.

Are you staying current with your customers?

Are you as informed about the customer in the first meeting as they are about you?

Are you leveraging resources on the web to self-educate?

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.


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  1. David: I will show your piece to my fellow members of supply chain forum in Gothenburg, Sweden. They will enjoy it as professional buyers! 🙂

    • Martin, thanks, I would love their comments/feedback here, or even to engage them in a webinar discussion. The sales readers would learn so much this year. (Maybe, I should come to Gothenberg to meet 😉 This time of year is spectacular there!)

  2. Homework up front is critical. The difference between even 5 minutes of homework versus none, is huge. And it shows up the revenue numbers.

  3. Steve Kaye permalink

    Nice article Ian but I think a professional salesperson should go even further in their research. The Internet per se is extremely helpful to find ‘public’ information about a company and its individuals but it can’t tell you the essentials of the company i.e.the internal ‘systems’ that we all have to navigate unless we become one of the myriad waiting for an RFP to drop in the mailbox.
    The internal political and policy landscape. Well before the advent of the internet, there was a shining beacon of a company whose account managers were business people and who understood the hidden and unspoken systems of their clients. The end result is that this company became strategic at the highest level, not because of its technologies but because the account manager had the experience, vision, authority and responsibility to make a difference. 50 years on and we are still seeing the positive outcomes of this approach now with that company able to continue its strong influence in the top 500 companies. That company was and is IBM 🙂

    • Thanks for the great comment Steve. I remember my training/experience at IBM well. We knew that we had to research and understand our customers. We understood everything we could—through external research, but also wandering around our accounts, talking to people, learning what’s going on. So much of that seems to be missing these days.

      • Steve Kaye permalink

        Profuse apologies David. I must have picked the previous commentators first name instead of the original author!
        I have never worked for IBM. I was a partner for 10 years. I witnessed the best and the worst about Big Blue. Never boring though! we should swap stories!
        Loving the blogs.
        Steve Kaye CDir

        • No apology needed Steve! Plenty of good, some needs improvement, but it was really great at IBM

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