John O' Gorman

Where Are Buyer Searching For Suppliers?

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As sellers our sales and marketing decisions are founded on assumptions regarding the process by which customers and potential customers search for suppliers and the means by which we expect them to find us in particular.  For example:

The patterns buyers use to search for solutions and suppliers is of vital concern to salespeople.  However, too many salespeople believe buyers are searching in the wrong places!

  • Decisions as to what methods are used for promotion, are based upon assumptions regarding the sources that buyers use to identify, or short-list suppliers.
  • The content of brochures, web sites and other collateral is written based on assumptions regarding the information that is of most interest to those searching for a solution.

The effectiveness of our marketing therefore depends on the accuracy, or otherwise of our assumptions regarding how potential customers search for their suppliers generally, and more specifically for suppliers of solutions such as ours.  When we get it wrong, that means our customers won’t find us, or more to the point we are communicating our message in the wrong places.

The issue of information gathering by the buyer is important, given that buyers are doing more and more homework (in the form of information gathering and analysis) before contacting vendors.  Increasingly they want to avail of other sources before meeting with the salesperson.  If the seller waits for the buyer to make contact (assuming that the buyer finds and short lists the seller) his, or her potential to influence the buying decision will be greatly diminished.

With that in mind, here are some of the key areas in which we make assumptions regarding how our customers are searching.

1. What sources of information are used?

  • How many suppliers are examined?
  • What directories, or lists are likely to be used?
  • How much time is spent searching for information?
  • When does the process begin?  How long does it last?
  • Who takes responsibility for gathering the information?  Who is involved in analysing the information?
  • How will the information gathered be used?
  • How is the information documented?  How is it shared?

2. What types of information is sought?

  • What are the key priorities that buyers are seeking to address?  What has driven them to look for a solution?
  • What information is of most interest to buyers looking for a solution?
  • What are the key questions they are likely to be asking?
  • What information is used to cross-reference / compare vendors (e.g. comparison tables, features lists, etc.)?
  • What key terms are likely to be used in searching?
  • What is the knowledge level / sophistication of the person doing the searching?

3. How much searching is done online?

  • What key words do prospects use in a search?
  • What sites most prominently appear under different keywords used?
  • How many information sites / portals are likely to be visited?
  • How many vendor web sites are visited?
  • How many minutes are likely to be spent on a site?
  • What parts/sections of the website are most popular (e.g. downloads, about us)?
  • Will people return to, bookmark, or register sites visited?
  • What social networking sources are likely to be used (e.g. Linked-In, Facebook)

4. Are intermediaries or sources of referral used?

  • Did you use a broker, or analyst (either traditional, or online)?
  • What subscriptions are buyers likely to have?
  • What experts do they follow?
  • How are these found / sourced?

5. What is the role of colleagues and friends?

  • How influential is the recommendation of colleagues, or peers?
  • Are peers and counterparts asked for advice in the shopping process?
  • Are prospects in an industry likely to know the solutions / suppliers used by their peers, or counterparts?

6. What is the role of industry or professional associations?

  • Events, including conferences and seminars
    Publications, including research reports and directories
  • Directories and membership directories
  • Vendor accreditation, endorsement, or sponsorships

7. What is the role of events?

  • What are the key events?
  • Who is likely to attend?
  • What are the topics / messages being addressed by events?

8. What is the role of advertising?

  • What publications are read?  What media is used?
  • What advertisements do buyers read, see and hear?  What impact do they have?
  • What supplier names are top of mind for potential customers?

9. The influence of corporate buying process

  • Does the parents dictate, or influence?   To what extent?
  • Are their approved vendor / suppliers lists that narrow the extent of the search?
  • Are there relevant industry standards, endorsements, or accreditations that set the parameters of the search?

Taking a reality check

It is a good idea to write down your assumptions under each heading and then to delve a little deeper to see if that is what is really happening.  To do this here are some tips to follow:

  • Ask your customers how they found you and the sources that they used to gather information on suppliers.
  • Do a Google search for your solutions relevant keywords and see where it points your prospects (i.e. what suppliers, information sources, reports, etc. are ranked most highly).
  • Use the Google keyword tool to analyse what terms are searched for and with what frequency.
  • Visit your own site and that of your competitors through the eyes of a potential customer, create a one page summary of each vendor and a table to compare vendors against key criterion.
  • Review analyst and other publications, via online as well as traditional library searches.
  • Review bookmark popularity of key competitor, or information sites (i.e. that is the number of times they have been book-marked).

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