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Services marketing efforts are moving online not because a few marketing consultants and strategists say they are—but because your clients and prospects are online, and their online experiences are influencing all buying decisions.

According to the Association for Online Retailers, in 2004 approximately 40% of adults with Internet access researched a potential product purchase online. As services marketers, focusing on everything from high-ticket items to sophisticated buyers, we wondered whether this was also true for business-to-business services.

So, in 2004, the Wellesley Hills Group polled approximately 200 SMB (small-to-midsize business) decision makers to see whether they visited the Web sites of business-to-business companies before they made a purchase from them. About 98% of buyers said yes. Approximately 50% stated that their online experience did, indeed, affect their purchasing decision.

Excuses, Excuses, Excuses

Service companies—even those that are beginning to embrace marketing as a part of their strategy—seem woefully slow to embrace the march to the World Wide Web. When we have spoken to service-firm leaders, they have consistently provided semi-valid reasons for inaction:

  • Humbug: "We don't sell our services online. We aren't a soft drink company. We don't need ads. We don't need to create a 'Web site experience'."

    These people simply don't understand and don't believe... and don't want to.

  • Fix My Web Site: "Yes, we're getting serious about our marketing. Can you help us fix our site? We don't think it looks good."

    This is the equivalent of saying, "We need to get serious about our marketing. Let's redesign and rewrite our brochure." Yes, it may be necessary. But it's not sufficient.

  • Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim... Retreat: "We have talked about doing more online. And then talked some more and more...."

    The decision-making process in most 50-person service firms is slower than in a $500 million dollar company. They simply can't get out of their own way and allow themselves to implement a serious change to their marketing or business-development initiatives. And because online efforts are so new to them, they retreat to less-confusing ways: buying some ads in the local business journal, sponsoring a trade show, redesigning their brochure.

Break the Chains

To break free of old patterns of behavior and embrace new ways of acting, companies often need a significant or galvanizing event: a merger, a massive drop in sales, a major technological advance in their industry.

When it comes to marketing online, it is unlikely that there will be some major event to set your company in a new direction. But don't be fooled. A sea change has happened, and it's up to you to take advantage of it before your competitors use it to take advantage of you.

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image of Mike Schultz

Mike Schultz is president of RAIN Group, a global sales training and performance improvement company, and director of the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research. He is the bestselling author of Rainmaking Conversations and Insight Selling. He also writes for the RAIN Selling Blog.

LinkedIn: Mike Schultz

Twitter: @mike_schultz