The sell-side (those doing the selling) used to have all the advantages. What do I mean by this? The sales person came into an interaction with an unfair advantage in the form of expertise on their product and their market. The buyer had to rely on the sell-side to educate them.

The internet has moved the advantage to the buy-side. Your customers can and do research about you (personally), your company, your products and services, and the market/industry you operate in. The buyer often comes into sales situations more informed than the average sales representative; hence we now see sales teams that include technical and marketing resources. I know the last time I bought a car, I checked with my good friend Heath Cajandig before doing anything, hence I walked into the transaction knowing more about the car than the dealer.

What does this expertise shift from the sell-side to the buy-side mean to you as a printer or as a vendor?

Customers will research you, your business, and your products and services before they take a meeting with your sales representative. The first impression of your company may not be your sales representative – it might be your website, your sales representative’s LinkedIn profile, or one of your social media channels. How does your online presence compare to your offline presence (your facility, your people, and your participation in the community)?

Here is a great visual to illustrate my point, Dr. Joe Webb introduced me to this classic business-to-business marketing ad from the 1950’s, no Joe I don’t remember it because my parents hadn’t even started having kids and I’m their 13th child.

Of course McGraw-Hill’s purpose for this ad was to encourage businesses in the 1950’s to place advertisements in their publications so they could “get known” before their sales people knocked on prospects doors.

I created the 2015 version of this ad. The purpose of my visual is to help printers understand the importance of your online presence even if you’re going business-to-business. The businesses your sales representatives are chasing will research you online, is your online presence setting your sales team up for success or making it very hard on them?

The challenge is that prospects won’t tell you they did their research, but imagine if your sales representative talks about helping customers with their marketing projects and the prospect was less than impressed by your company’s marketing efforts online? My constant frustration is when printers say to me, “my customers aren’t asking to do business with me online, I don’t get any customers from my website – why should I invest in it?” The reality is that most printers don’t know how many customers they are getting or losing from their web presence because they don’t track it. In fact, the alarming trend I see is that printers believe they have to pay for online traffic so they spend money on Google AdWords and then they have proof they are getting leads from the web. You know why you know you’re getting leads from the web? because you’re finally tracking it. The best thing about Google AdWords is that it forces you to track the return on investment.

I don’t like paying for web traffic. I prefer building out your online presence to optimize “earned traffic” – the traffic that comes from appearing on page one of Google’s organic search results. The number is always debated but it’s safe to say, users click on organic search results WAY MORE than paid ads. I don’t want you to build out your online presence just for search results, but it does have to be the foundation of everything you do online. No word, video, or graphic should go into your online presence without thinking through the impacts of search engine optimization. This is a new mindset and skill that is required to thrive in our online reality.

Google has a clear monopoly on directing traffic on the web; full understanding of how organic search works would be bad for Google’s business. If everyone understood how to show up on search then nobody would buy ads. Hence, businesses are confused about organic search and default to paid search because Google has made that easy to understand. There are also a lot of SEO advisors out there that over promise and under deliver (a nice way of saying they rip businesses off with bad advice and few positive results.

The foundation of your online presence is about letting people get to know you online by sharing stories about your customer’s successes. The basic rules are to understand the language of your target audience (the people who will be searching for your products and services online), e.g. “poster printing Portland”. Notice that this term has a local indicator which will mean you are NOT competing with the pure national or global online providers on this term; you’re competing with local providers who have optimized for this term and have registered their company with Google. Once you understand the language of your customer and you have developed a keyword strategy (this is really important, consider getting some help), you consistently create compelling content using your keywords and then publish it first and foremost on your domain (your online real estate), and then share it across multiple channels (e.g. YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.). The cheapest investment you can make to improve your search results is a blog on your primary domain that you publish at least weekly. Google rewards fresh content, a blog gives you the ability to add a page a week to your online real estate.

Your online presence is becoming more and more important. I said this to a room full of printers the other day, “it’s time to staff your online presence like you staff your facility.” I’m used to getting looked at like I’m crazy. I stand by that recommendation. You have people manically watching e-mail inboxes for orders today, it’s time to move that staff into real-time interactions with your customers online. Your online staff would be writing content, engaging with customers via social media, even collaborating on orders via a “collaborative commerce” interaction.

Your online presence is your new front door to your business, treat it with the care you would a prime retail location. Your focus on search engine optimization determines if your location is on a high traffic street or a dead end in a bad neighborhood.

Join Valerie DiCarlo and Jennifer Matt at DscoopX present Lead Generation Drives Growth, Sales People Fulfill It – Saturday, March 7, 9am – 10am.