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Staying Ahead In The Knowledge Era How do you succeed when your customers, competitors and even employees know as much as you do or more?

By Ed Hatton

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"They' are customers and potential customers, but also suppliers, bankers, service providers, and business partners. The balance of power used to come from knowledge you owned and they needed. The huge amount of information now readily available has changed that balance of power.

This change has been most significant in sales, so this article will focus on sales, although the principles apply to other business relationships. In former times, the salesperson was the custodian of knowledge. Their role was to show your offering in the most favourable light and to push for a sale. Many salespeople still use this approach and can seriously irritate prospective customers.

Information is freely available

We live and work in a world where information is freely available. Prospective customers can (and do) find significant amounts of information about you and your company without making any contact.

This is especially true of B2B sales. Aquity Group found that 94% of US B2B buyers conducted research online. There is accessible information everywhere: On websites, social media, directories, credit information bureaus, review sites, market analysis, blogs and personal profiles of you, your managers and staff.

Knowledge acquired by the buyer can change the traditional buyer/ seller roles significantly. In many cases the buyer knows more than the salesperson. If your organisation ignores this change, your salespeople become simple order clerks.

If you stay in this passive role, you take the risk that competitors could produce better online information than you do, causing you to fall off your buyer's radar. Falling sales may be your first indication that this is happening, and by then you may already be in trouble.

It is relatively easy for even a small competitor to generate a strong, content-rich Internet presence and appear to be the better supplier. Do some online research, as if you were a potential customer and see how you shape up against your competitors.

It's also good to check where your company and its services are mentioned by doing keyword searches. Then take steps to improve your online presence, even if you seem to be the leader right now. Things change with frightening rapidity in the online world and you need to get and stay far ahead of, or at least abreast of competitors.

Varying knowledge levels

Buyers have varying amounts of knowledge about the type of product or service you sell. Some of that information may be wrong or distorted. This means you have an opportunity to provide information and correct misinformation.

Online content is much more than having a website that is an electronic brochure. People in search of knowledge about the type of solutions you provide will turn naturally to content that educates them. This means sharing your knowledge in the form of articles, blogging, webinars, video tutorials and similar media.

You want to take the position of subject expert in your field. Your competitors will see this information too and may benefit from your knowledge, but the advantage of your company being regarded as an expert in your field far outweighs minor disadvantages.

Upskilling salespeople

However much online information is available there is still an emotional involvement in sales — buyers want to trust their suppliers. This means that salespeople are very important in the relationship. They may need to change their behaviour to something more in tune with the knowledge era.

Their role includes being ethical, correcting misconceptions, supplementing information and making sure that customer needs are understood and satisfied. They will destroy a lot of trust if the customer believes they are pushy or more interested in commissions than solutions to the customer's problems.

It is important for the salespeople to educate themselves, to keep in touch with what is happening in the knowledge era and to continually improve their skills in this new style of selling.

Ed Hatton

Owner: The Marketing Director

Ed Hatton is the owner of The Marketing Director and has consulted to and mentored SMBs in strategy, marketing and sales for almost 20 years. He co-authored an entrepreneurship textbook and is passionate about helping entrepreneurs to succeed.
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