By now, we’ve all accepted the fact that, for buyers and sellers alike, the Internet is an intrinsic part of how we do business. But have we all followed this line of logic through to how we structure our companies and how people carry out their roles? By the way some companies act, they seem to think that their organization can remain unchanged in a fast-changing world.  They still seem to be undecided on whether the web will change their organization. My response is, “How can it not!?” They will have the same trouble as the little boy who saw a leak in a dike and tried to hold back the sea by putting his finger in the hole.

We’re seeing different challenges today than we did from the first technological wave of change we experienced in the 1990s, when companies learned that customers wanted to interact via email & the web just as they did over the telephone and fax. The technology in those days gave buyers new ways to initiate contact with companies. We now have technology that goes from communicating to doing full-on transactions, no matter what device is at either end of the interaction. As an example, if it’s outside of business hours and a client has an issue with your product, instead of waiting until they are in front of a PC, they can write/tweet/show you about the problem using only their smartphone. You may be tempted to wait until the next business day to respond, but do so at your own risk; they have a publicity machine thanks to social media and they expect the issue to be resolved in near real-time. They know you’re capable of this because they know you have a smartphone too!

Here are a few key strategic areas that companies can look at as they orient themselves to the way business is done now.

Sales Channel Strategy

If you’re just beginning to see digital leads in your pipeline (and I hope you expect them), you should be tagging those as web leads and watch to see that they are treated with the same urgency as all other types. Sales not only needs clear notification of a web lead, they need to have a game plan for assigning it to someone who can react to it in a reasonable time.

If you’re ready to move to the next level, consider having sales nudge clients to using your site and electronic interaction more, compared to in-person calls and hard-copy orders. It’s much more cost-efficient and you may even link sales compensation to these initiatives. Though it isn’t the only way to bring sales on board with a shift towards the digital channel, it’s certainly an effective way.

If you have only begun using your marketing content online. Do an inventory of in-house information (sales collateral, technical documentation, etc). If certain content requires clients/prospects to give emails or ask staff for it, why not make it publicly available online. If you don’t give them what they want, they may turn to a competitor who can satisfy their need for information.

If your content is ready for the next level, map all existing content to every stage of the buyer journey. Do you have infographics and tip-sheets for the awareness stage? Product datasheets and FAQs for the evaluation stage? Case studies and live demos for those at the decision-making stage?

If you have only begun tuning your infrastructure for dealing with clients/prospects on the Internet, starting could be as simple as tying your transactional system to your CRM or marketing database. At the very least, this would prevent you from sending a buy-our-product email to someone who’s already a client.

If your infrastructure is ready for the next level, consider integrating systems so you can treat your customer who has purchased segment differently than other audiences, with messages like, ‘You bought this, perhaps you would like to buy that.’

In conclusion, the Internet is far more powerful if our organizations embrace it and we say we’re ‘open for business’ online. By going out to the market, we’re also agreeing to be more open to the market reaching inside our organizations. We shouldn’t fight this openness, after all, it’s a two-way street. As marketing agency head and commentator Terry O’Reilly sums it up, “The digital world has opened up an immediate and direct line of communication between companies and individuals that has never existed before. And any company that doesn’t embrace that connection will have a hard time surviving into the next decade.”