The way people research B2B purchases has changed, and as a result, the way companies sell to them also needs to undergo a transformation.

A whopping 83 percent of Americans head to the web to learn about their options before buying, according to data from PricewaterhouseCoopers. Given how accessible the internet is since the advent of smartphones, it’s become easier than ever to independently research potential purchases before businesses even think about engaging the vendor or supplier.

Because of the sheer number of people using online platforms to research products and services, the sales cycle has changed. Now, potential buyers can look up detailed information about a vendor’s offerings to influence their decision before even reaching out to a business. Additionally, companies can use social networks and review sites to gain even more input on companies and their solutions.

Shortening the Sales Cycle
Because many businesses are using the internet and other resources to research products and services, the sales cycle is much shorter than it has been in years past. When prospects contact your company, they already have an idea of what your products and services do and how they can be integrated into operations.

The growing knowledge base of potential buyers was highlighted in a recent study conducted by Forum. Whereas nearly two-thirds of salespeople thought customers valued the insight and information they could provide, only 30 percent of prospects said the same. The takeaway is that many customers feel they can educate themselves on products and services just as well as a sales representative could. “Customers overall gave surprisingly low ratings to the category of Advice and Information,” the report added.

This means that customers are also engaging your salespeople much later in the sales cycle. Rather than being the first step in the process, prospects are now coming to you towards the end. They understand the problems their companies face, they believe they know how to fix it and they are confident they know which products and services will solve that issue. Salespeople are still a pivotal part of the process, but they play a greater role in discussing the implementation process, rather than selling individual features and functions of products and services.

Another thing you need to look out for is competitors. After doing such extensive research, businesses also tend to have a short list of potential competitors that they will engage if your products and services don’t measure up to customers’ expectations. This puts the pressure on your salespeople once again – they need to be able to present your products and services in a relevant fashion to maintain the interest of leads, or else you may lose the sale.

The Changing Role of the Sales Rep

In this shorter sales cycle, the role of the representative has changed dramatically. Agents don’t exist to sell products and services to customers anymore – buyers can look up all that information themselves. Salespeople need to focus less on selling products and more on addressing the needs of buyers, as they don’t want to be just another number that representatives are trying to convert.

So what role do your salespeople play in this new business environment? According to the Forum report, businesses want salespeople to be more customer-focused and listen to their needs, rather than pushing specific products and services.  Relevance and responsiveness were also highly desired values of modern salespeople.

For salespeople, this change is a good thing – it means they will be dealing with more warm leads that are already interested in products. You can capitalize on this by engaging them quickly and providing them with meaningful context for your company’s products and services.

Improving Reaction Times
Time is also critical in a shorter sales cycle. Because businesses already have shortlists of three to five potential vendors in mind, they aren’t going to wait around for you to respond. Reaction speed is pivotal to success with shorter sales cycles, and if you don’t want to lose possible sales, you need to respond to inquiries and engage prospects promptly.

However, creating relevant sales content can be a time-consuming process, involving a lot back and forth between agents and marketing. In this time frame, a prospect may lose interest in the products and services your company offers and opt for a competitor instead.

Distributed marketing and sales enablement can help you improve your sales team’s responsiveness. With a digital asset management (DAM) solution that provides complete control over how a company’s digital assets are stored, retrieved and used, any sales representative could access brand-compliant marketing collateral that could be used to quickly customize material specifically for potential clients.

By utilizing asset management, salespeople will be in a better position to create relevant content and deliver it through the right channel at the appropriate time, maximizing their chances of converting that lead. At the same time, marketing stays in complete control of the message by providing sales with only brand-compliant and pre-approved assets. It’s a win-win situation for both parties and the company as a whole.

At a time when speed is at a premium, efficiency is paramount to success. DAM libraries can help you streamline your organization’s sales process and better respond to interested customers.