More and more businesses are going online to make purchase decisions. This probably seems somewhat obvious to B2B business owners and probably the trend in your daily life. While this could be a bit disheartening to any B2B business, the truth is there are many thriving B2B businesses that have taken steps to compete in today’s dynamic marketplace.

Statistics Say B2B Solution Shopping Begins Online

To effectively compete, the number one factor that B2B businesses need to understand is the amount of shopping behavior that begins online. Forbes reports that a recent study found 68% of B2B buyers prefer to do independent research online before engaging with a company. Put another way, if you aren’t marketing your business online, and standing out, then you may only be reaching 30% of customers who don’t know you yet.

Furthermore, studies indicate that B2B buyers are 57% of the way through their research before they contact a sales rep for more information.* They, literally, already have half their mind made up before they call you. Being a part of the dialogue during this early period is immensely important for a company to participate with the latter stages of winning new business.

For decades, the sales agent has been at the front lines of inbound revenue and leads. The starting point for company product and service information. Over the years, sales reps have expanded their skill set, leading public speaking events and finding new ways of networking to get a company’s name out. In today’s environment though, not only is this type of selling more limiting than the audience turning to online search, it is also not the preferred contact point for buyers. As a Forrester study recently found 60% of buyers would rather not rely on a sales representative as their primary information source.

And can you blame today’s B2B buyers? Would you tell your superior I talked to a couple of great people versus stating that you’ve appropriately researched the reams of online data at your fingertips? Not likely. Even if you disagree and say you are a business relationship kind-of-person. You prefer to feel people out face-to-face. The question you need to ask yourself is whether your buying audience agrees.

Shifts in B2B Solution Selling

As of five years ago, 50% of B2B business solution research was done by millennials and that number has grown with each passing year. It doesn’t take a math wiz to understand that reaching this audience is critical for your business. They may not yet be the decision maker for a given business, but they are the people doing the initial research and offering recommendations to business owners on whom to select.

So what does their process look like? Research suggests 7 out of 10 queries for business solutions begin with a generic search.** Meaning that before someone searches a company name they’ve come across, their first instinct is to see who is talking, advertising and producing content about their given problem. Google research further indicates that B2B business solution researchers will perform roughly a dozen searches before directly searching a corporate website. All indications are that customers prefer to gather information through blogs, ebooks, videos and other independent research prior to directly evaluating solution providers. Being great in this environment has become the front lines of getting your foot in the door and is the primary avenue for reaching new customers. You see your sales reps may be authorities on the subject and offer important insights, but not if your audience isn’t seeking to talk to them in the first place.

The other shift is the growing number of influencers in any given business decision. A recent Harvard study indicates that vendor selection or B2B solution purchases has grown from 5 to 7 influencers in recent years. You may get the call through networking and land the meeting to present your case, but it is rare that all influencers are going to be at that particular meeting. This ghost audience isn’t going to hear your pitch directly from a sales rep. And so, you’re now at the mercy of your PDF brochure for this audience. Well, if you lost the sale, it’s probably because your generic PDF brochure didn’t cut it, but the other guy’s personalized video touching on specific aspects of their business vertical may have. Increasingly, high-quality, personalized content to a given audience is winning the day and closing the deal.

Steps to Consider

#1: Test changes to the top of your sales funnel: A wealth of statistics suggest that the majority of B2B solution shopping and research begins online. A wealth of statistics also suggest that B2B researchers prefer to gather their own information, in lieu of direct contact with sales reps. While your business model may be sales rep heavy, taking steps to shift this approach, even slightly, at the very top of your leads funnel isn’t guaranteed to work, but the numbers say you should. No matter the business, testing to understand the effect of online marketing is an in and out, short duration process learning process that can quickly give you a read on the situation. Typically, all you need to cover your local market is a landing page, quality offer to incite further information and a few thousand in paid spend to test search. While this may be new to you and an expenditure, I have seen such tests double sales volume in a matter of weeks.

#2: Add content to the middle of your sales funnel: According to Forresters, winning vendors typically present 5 high quality pieces throughout their sales funnel. It is likely that you may have some version of sales material already created that you use in the sales process. It is also likely, that these materials don’t have the latest information and that these materials look exactly like your competition. Brain-storm at least one high-quality content piece – video, webinar, ebook, something new – that over delivers and measure downstream changes. This, too, can take relatively little time and may unlock new potential.

#3: Close Strong with Personalized Materials: Studies have clearly indicated the value of personalized sales content. Setting about to reform your CRM processes and segmentation can be daunting for SMB organizations. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t get personal once you get to the final stage. Revamp your content, presentation and customer touch points for at least one or two clients at the end of your sales cycle. Don’t talk about you. Talk about them. Their unique needs and pain-points and intersperse this communication in your final presentation and leave behinds. You’ve gone this far, no reason to not go 100% until the end.