Business use to be an even playing field. With a good product or service, an owner could grow a company through networking, prospecting, advertising and marketing. Everything was tracked manually, and though it was painstakingly slow at times, this allowed for the entrepreneurs and the local mom-and-pop stores to compete with the conglomerates of the world. The distance one could effectively do business over was limited by communication and the time it took. Imagine having to deal with suppliers and clients before the advent of the internet or the telephone- distance was everything and companies had to physically be present wherever they were trying to sell.

As technology started to evolve faster, the nature of the game changed completely. Through mail-order subscriptions, telemarketing and online advertising, the ability to find new customers at a distance became easier and easier. There started to be “winning ways” for companies to get the attention of the masses and from Sears to Amazon, the companies that were best adapted to the times flourished. The companies that weren’t agile and didn’t anticipate changes folded. Though some have successfully navigated the changing tides, many were stuck in their habits and stayed with the status quo because it was working. They saw ways and means to utilize new tools, yet there was an underlying assumption that all was well and there was no need. Why is that one of the cardinal sins of business? In the words of a wise entrepreneur and businessman,

“The people who resist change will be confronted by the growing number of people who see that better ways are available; thanks to technology.” – Bill Gates (Co-Founder of Microsoft)

Today’s customers are online and they’re in control. Why are online marketing, search engine optimization (SEO), search engine result pages (SERPS), review websites, blogs and social media important? Because they will determine who the online customers see first and what they hear when they get there. The web is alive and talking about your industry, products, wants, wishes and complains. According to Forrester Research, the web in influences over 50% of retail sales, and you better believe that the growing trend applies to all industries. Take a look at the chart below and think what it means for your business.

How can you start competing in this digital landscape? You can start using the talking points in this article to get the people in charge to want the changes. Google your own company, products and services and see what your prospects see. What is being said about your competition and are you showing up in the SERPs as they are, or are you withering away? Market share in the real world is becoming directly related to positive market share in the social world. Check out what Google has had to say about it if you’re still unsure.

Now it can’t all be created or improved in one day, but in order to survive, it will have to be done. Otherwise you’ll be left behind a faster and more adept competitor in your industry. Trust that if you don’t start competing online now, you’ll wish you had by the time it’s too late. There are many great companies out there to help you with SEO, online marketing, social media, email marketing and CRM, but that can quickly become a costly, reoccurring expense. Not to mention, there will always be communication lag time between the internal and external marketing team. You’d be better off using online software and creating and tracking the results yourself. I’ve always felt that learning how to fish was better than being bought a fish, which in this case means training or hiring someone who can orchestrate the changes from within. You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of outsourcing vs. internal sourcing, so make an informed decision- network with others in your industry who have been in the same situation, speak with salespeople, and take apart everything your competitors are doing to see how you can do it better.

How is your marketing working for you right now and how can you make it more adapted to the digital environment? Communication these ideas throughout your company and determine if you’re going to thrive or be left behind.

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