Access to information has completely changed the way people make buying decisions today, and it’s influencing your agency whether you realize it or not. Web influence has been incredibly successful for altering buying patterns in many industries like cars, real estate and electronics. Having access to extensive resources for pre-sale research like we see in those industries has become a convenient and desired way to buy. So much so, that people have begun to expect they can do this same type of pre-sale research for any buying decision. Which is what we’re seeing in business-to-business sales.

Independent agencies have traditionally relied on sales people to deliver information to prospective clients and have really not embraced the Web as a critical part of the sales process. However, buyers are telling us loud and clear that their buying decisions are based largely on the pre-sale research they’re doing.

According to a study by DemandGen Report, buyers are hungry for information: 78% of B2B buyers are turning to search engines and visiting company websites, 55% are downloading content when they find it, and 50% are influenced by what they find in social media channels.

That’s a lot of people doing a lot of looking! And what do they find when researching employee benefits and the agencies that offer them? A lot of the same things from everyone: how long the agency has been in business, who their carrier partners are, and how visitors can get a free quote. But really, none of that is compelling information, so why would a prospective buyer put those agencies on the must-call list?

With all the basic insurance information readily available for buyers to find on their own, it means that agencies need to provide a different type of information now. Buyers are looking for education; they want to learn things they don’t know about benefits and managing employees; they want to find ideas that might create change in their business. Ultimately, they want to find a partner who can help make those changes happen.

This is pretty significant research and decision-making taking place without you. In a B2B study, CEB shows that buyers are not contacting suppliers until they are 57% of the way through the buying process. They’re pretty settled into their decision-making criteria at this point, and they’ve got a short list of potential suppliers (agencies) they want to talk to.

Unfortunately, this leaves only the final 43% of the cycle for the sales person to have any interaction with the buyer. At this late point, you have no real influence; you can only react to their requests.

Bottom line is this: your time to influence buyer thinking must now be done with your marketing activities for the buyers to find when they are conducting their research. If you want to influence buyer thinking, your agency needs a strong presence on the Web.

My challenge to you and your team is to review your entire Web presence and really look at it from an outside perspective. Then, honestly discuss what you see. Are you providing persuasive information that would grab the attention of a researching buyer? Are you providing compelling educational content for them to download? Are you present in social channels sharing new and educational ideas? If you don’t have an overwhelming “Yes!” for every question, then it’s time to create a new plan for developing the effective Web presence that your buyers are looking for.

Keneipp is a partner and coach at Q4intelligence in the Seattle area. Reach her at wendy@q4intel.com.

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