Search engines, once the number one tool buyers used to help find service providers, have lost their appeal. Buyers have changed their behavior and now turn to friends and social network communities to help them decide who to hire, says Kristin Zhivago, author of Roadmap to Revenue: How to Sell the Way Your Customers Want to Buy.
"In the last year or so, something switched. I was interviewing customers for my clients, and instead of saying [they go to Google when starting the buying process] they started saying something else," she says. "What they said was, 'Well, first I go to friends. I go to people I know on LinkedIn.' Basically they were saying look, I found people like me in social networks."
Marketers and sales professionals might think social networks are their tools, but they're mistaken, Zhivago says. Those are buyer tools, and buyers are using them to find each other and talk to each other without involving sales or marketing at all.
"They may make their entire buying decision without ever talking to a salesperson or even going to a website. They may reject somebody because so many people have said, 'No, don't go to them because they say this, but they actually do that,'" she says.
Now buyers turn to their friends, they get a short list of providers, and then they go to the web.
"Buyers have these customer recommendation engine communities, and they use those to find out who they should be going to, who they can trust, who's got the good stuff. And then that's how they shop," Zhivago says.
Marketers and sellers need to wake up to this, she says. They can't pretend buyer behavior hasn't changed. If they ignore it, they won't be part of their conversations and won't have a clue about what buyers really want.
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