Let’s face it, today’s consumer (read: buyer) has changed a lot.

Customers seem to know more than ever before about your products and services. In this reversal of traditional customer engagement, the paradigm of teaching your customers about what you do has flipped and now customers walk through the door knowing exactly what they want and what they should pay for it.

Begging the question, what is driving this change? Are people getting smarter or are there other forces at play?

Enter the digital economy and the informed consumer
In the digital economy we have entered a world where people want to do their own exploration for the products and services they buy.

Related: Good Content Marketing Starts With Knowing Your Customers

While some may suggest that this is a hunch, it is not.  This trend is entrenched in hard data that says buyers are often between 70 and 90 percent of the way through the sales process before they ever engage a vendor, according to research firm Forrester.

In many cases the buyer attempts to avoid engaging the vendor all together, and if the vendors would cooperate by allowing an entire transaction to happen online then they would.  And often this online, sophisticated marketplace is already in motion.

Today we buy houses, cars, technology and other luxury items with a few mouse clicks. These items are quickly processed and delivered by a person but who knows, some day soon they may be packaged by a robot and delivered by a drone. (This is already being developed.)

This buying behavior isn’t limited to just high-end items, people are turning to technology to purchase everyday products like groceries, household goods and entertainment and have them delivered to their door or their device without so much as a pause.

Indeed, this past year one in five consumers never left the couch to complete their holiday shopping. I speculate this number will rise in the coming year.

With the digital world continuing to evolve and consumers depending more on it for purchases, small businesses will have to embrace these changes and make some of their own. That said, there is good news

The digital economy puts small business on more level of a playing field with their big-corporation counterparts. It allows for the rapid evolution of meeting customer needs through digital, social and commerce platforms. 

Think what EBay did for small e-tailers a decade ago and how Amazon rose from anonymity to become the largest retailer in the world. While these stories may be the few, they are possible for all because what these companies did was take advantage of what is possible.

Related: How This Startup's Focus on Personal Touch Helped it Thrive

What small businesses need to do  

Know your customer. For most businesses it comes down to understanding your ideal customer.  If you sell products that people like to buy online, then it is important to be where they are. Whether this is having direct e-commerce on your site or selling through a marketplace like Amazon, CNET or eBay, then be sure to be there.

Get discovered. At this point it comes down to how is your company found? As mentioned before people are doing their research. This is a trend that is being propelled by content marketing, which is often found in the form of blogs, videos and infographics.

Ask yourself this question, is your company generating information that helps buyers through the journey? If so, how are you working to get your content found, seen and heard? Businesses seeking to get in front of their customers need to utilize the content they create and spread the word through inbound, outbound and social-marketing campaigns.

Utilize grassroots tactics. Lastly, don’t forget the power of word of mouth for small business. If you have happy customers, get them to help by spreading the good word. According to Nielsen more than 84 percent of people will trust and act on a positive customer referral. The more you can get your customers to tell your story for you the easier your next sale will be.

Shift happens: Are you ready?
We have entered the age where the buyers’ journey must be as automatic and autonomous as possible.  Consumers are telling us this not by their words but by their actions. The more you require human interaction, the more boundaries you are creating to close the sale. 

This doesn’t mean that your sales channel or retail presence will perish, but it does mean that you have to change to accommodate a new type of buyer. Those that recognize and respond to the change will be in the driver's seat when it comes to leading their businesses into the future.

Related: How to Deal With the Customer Who Isn't Right