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There’s no doubt the landscaping business has changed in recent years. In 1986, when U.S. Lawns was founded, the commercial market was less crowded, less competitive, and something of an untapped resource.

Today, that’s changed dramatically, due in part to the recession and the low startup cost of a one-truck, no-name operation. (Although this remains more of a factor in the residential markets, since business customers tend to hire based on reputation and referral.)

And there’s another thing: the internet has drastically altered the way we sell to prospective clients. This is true in all industries, not just ours. But the fact that we’re a B2B company makes it particularly relevant.

According to a recent study entitled “The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing,” customers had already passed through about 60 percent of the sales process before ever contacting a sales rep. According to an article about the study in Forbes, this means they are engaged in digital research to get their information, rather than talking to a live person:

“They are surfing corporate websites to identify and qualify vendors, instead of the sales force qualifying them. They are engaging peers in social media to learn more about their needs, potential solutions and providers. And they are reading, listening to and watching free digital content that is available to them at the click of a mouse.”

If businesses are now qualifying vendors, just as we are qualifying prospective clients, what does this mean for our sales process? It means we are no longer dealing with the customer of 1986 or even 2006. Today’s customer is more knowledgeable about our service, company and industry. By the time they become a prospect, they’ve already made a decision that we might also be a good fit for them.

Interacting with today’s customer means changing a few things about your sales process:

• Become an “insight provider,” not a “product pusher,” according to the Forbes article. People come to the sales process already educated, and with certain points of view. In other words, today’s B2B customers are educated. They need more knowledge, and more compelling reasons to help them make a decision.

• Remember that the customer is familiar with you, too. In this day and age, you aren’t likely to meet with a property manager who doesn’t know something about U.S. Lawns before you even walk in the door. That’s why building your brand in the community is so important. If you’re already known as someone who provides great service, has strong testimonials, and gives back to charities and organizations, that’s going to help you more than ever.

• Provide a radical level of personalization. Anyone can look competent on a website, but facts and data only tell part of the story. What has always set U.S. Lawns apart is our local, personal service—and our commitment to 100% Customer Satisfaction. Nobody can demonstrate that online. It takes an in-person meeting, and a sales person (whether a paid sales manager or the owner himself) who believes in the promise of true customer service.

People in today’s business world want real relationships, and U.S. Lawns is uniquely positioned to provide that. We at the Home Office work to put strong content out into public space, so that prospective clients will have enough accurate, authentic information to spark their interest. If we nurture our prospects and focus on building relationships, those personal connections should weigh strongest of all in helping to close a sale.

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