• It’s a new era for business buyers and sellers, and access (or lack thereof) to technology and the right information can create a widening digital divide
• As potential buyers travel through the stages of the customer decision journey, they require an assortment of touch points, many of which are evolving into a digital-only preference
If your independent business relies on goods and services from other businesses, having access to the right information at the right time is key. Many of the same principles can be applied in selling directly to consumers. As they opt for a more personalized shopping experience, consumers are on a search of their own—digging to discover which products and services stand out above the rest. Here, you’ll find information that applies to both sides.
A Shift to Online Info Consumption
According to Mary Shea, a Principal Analyst serving Forrester’s B2B marketing and sales professionals, 61% of business buyers prefer to do their product research online, up from 53% five years ago. On top of that, 67% of buyers prefer not to interact with a sales representative as their primary source of information. And 70% think buying online is the most convenient way to purchase business products and services.
So how are sellers keeping it convenient for customers with a chasm of space between these digital interactions? That’s where the bridge comes in. Growing merchants are recognizing the need to evolve in-step, so they can stay at the forefront of their industries and buyers’ minds.
Let’s break down what the digital divide is, how it impacts independent businesses and consumers, and the tools being used to bridge it for a better bottom line.
What Is the “Digital Divide?”
In its simplest terms, the digital divide is the gap between those who have ready access to computers, devices and the Internet, (and the deeper information those tools can provide), and those who do not.
In the B2B world, the digital divide can occur in the space where purchasing decision-makers explore the array of brands, price points, products, specifications and competing sales channels available to them—both offline and online (sometimes called the “active evaluation phase”).
According to McKinsey, two-thirds of the touch points that occur during this phase involve consumer-driven activities like researching reviews online and soliciting recommendations from peers.
As these potential buyers travel through the stages of the customer decision journey, they require an assortment of touch points, many of which are evolving into a digital-only preference.
Examples of Digital Divide
There are several different examples of digital divide. Here are a few:
While, in its simplest terms, the digital divide is all about access to information and the internet, lower performing technology creates a crack of its own. Even in populations who have technology at their fingertips—lower-speed wifi, outdated computers, shaky connectivity and being boxed out of subscription-based content (you can read more if you pay more) can create a barrier between consumers and the information they seek.
Similar to lower-performance technology, separate-access marketplaces create a digital divide for people who can’t tap into the same services that streamline entry for current users. For example: on-demand video, virtual classrooms and videoconferencing all require high-speed internet and solid connectivity. But for some, lack of access to compatible devices and unlimited data prevents them from participating in marketplaces that use this technology to make things “easier” for the consumer. And so, the gap stays open.
Security Breach Susceptibility
Security risk poses another challenge that can widen the digital divide. According to the Internet Society Global Internet Report, cyber threats are creating a gap between users who are tech-competent enough to cover their digital footprint and protect their online lives. Those who aren’t adept are vulnerable to identity theft, fraud and a host of other cyber crimes. Sometimes, it’s the simple matter of whether they can access software and other online security measures (i.e. a VPN) to help keep them safe.
Deficient Digital IQs
According to the PEW Research Center, Americans’ understanding of technology-related issues varies vastly depending on the topic.
- Only 28% of adults fully understand two-factor authentication—one of the most important ways to protect personal information on sensitive accounts online
- Only 24% realize “private browsing” is only private on the computer they’re using
- And 49% don’t even know what private browsing is.
From phishing to cookies to privacy policies and encrypted websites, many of today’s digital consumers are still shaky on crucial technological information that helps protect their identity and enhance their online experience.
How Some Sellers Are Bridging the Digital Divide
It will take far more than a few slats to bridge the digital divide. And while there are no quick, sweeping fixes for issues like internet connectivity security snafus, device upgrades or digital IQs, offering a customer experience that helps make decision-making a “no brainer” is a strategy savvy sellers can use—for both B2B and B2C.
To access buyers throughout the purchasing experience and connect with key decision makers, many growing merchants are taking a few measured steps:
For B2C & B2B: Limiting the “Discovery” Phase
Getting key information in front of prospects is pivotal, but pumping out or requiring too much information too soon can scare them away. If would-be buyers need to fill out a massive lead form, offer up personal information, set up a subscription, or offer up their first-born before they’ve even had a glance at what a product can really do, they might click out of the purchasing experience and onto something less complex.
Since 67% percent of B2B consumers prefer not to interact with a salesperson, filling out a form that leaves them thinking someone’s about to contact them is a seller strategy that might stand in the way of a final sale. .
For B2C & B2B: Guiding Buyers With the Right Resources
In an era where content is king, it can be tempting to throw everything but the kitchen sink at today’s customers. But, according to research from Forrester, 66% of today’s content is more focused on style than substance, and 54% of the material marketers are developing is perceived as “useless” by the reader. That’s not to say certain content isn’t crucial in helping consumers make smart decisions. Many online retailers are creating resources that help mentor the buyer through the journey, like dedicated product guides which focus on the buyer’s desired outcomes and speak directly to the personas at play.
For B2C: Helping Customers Learn Something New
Today’s consumers are hungry for data and knowledge. According to Forrester, 77% want integrated, customized data or insights from sellers, and for sellers to help them learn something new.
This further underscores the importance of using content to your advantage. Thought-leading resources that keep you top of mind can also keep traffic flowing back to your website. Delivering content that addresses prospect pain points while illuminating a solution is a key part of this, as well as offering consistent opportunities for learning along the customer journey.
For B2B: Evaluating the Entire Buying Team
These days, complete teams can be involved in the purchasing decision-making process. They’re often referred to as the Decision-Making Unit (DMU). Within those teams, according to Lumen, there are different personas:
- The economic buyer who’s hoping to achieve a bottom line advantage with the purchase
- The infrastructure buyer is usually the one who is going to make the buy happen
- The user buyer who is the actual user of the product
Within most organizations, purchases—particularly major ones—require input from finance, ops, accounting, IT and even senior management. This vast variety of buyers and their unique personas, pain points and preferences are being evaluated before the first purchasing touchpoint. Finding out what makes them tick and which problems they need to solve helps frame and optimize their unique customer experience.
For B2C & B2B: Empowered Buyers Make Solid Choices
On today’s typical purchasing journey, consumers and businesses alike are searching for control in every part of the process. As we actively seek persona and product knowledge, the ability to both access and provide easy, effective and important information is what will ultimately forge an empowered customer experience.
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