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The world of business has changed.  Not just how we communicate and how we work, but how we buy.  It used to be that if someone wanted information about what you do they would have to get in touch to find out – or at least send you an email asking for more information.  This gave your sales team an opportunity to engage a potential customer early in their buying decision and create a pipeline that you could follow-up.

Then the Internet happened and how we gather information changed – but companies that still haven’t adapted to this evolution in behaviour are finding it harder to generate sales leads.

The invisible buyer

The length of time from someone deciding they have a problem to getting in touch with a company who can solve it varies depending on your industry.  The larger the purchase, the longer this time usually is, but how they are finding information is all the same.  For example, in a recent survey by Engineering.com on how industrial engineers find information (you could argue the most stuck-in-the-mud buyers!) almost 70% said that they now turn to search engines to find information.  Only 14% said that they used tradeshows.


In the same study, only 20% of buyers said they wanted to engage with suppliers in the early stages of their buying decision. 55% wouldn’t want to engage until they had already narrowed the options to a couple of suppliers, and  25% only to confirm the price and delivery options once they had already made a decision – without any prior contact.


This means that potential customers are educating themselves online, visiting potential suppliers’ websites, and making a decision on whether you are in the running without you knowing they were even there.  Buyers have become invisible.

Your website has become the first port of call for a new buyer

A buyer making a decision from what they find on your website is a double-edged sword. The positive is that you are in control of your site and what information people find there; the negative is that visitors make their mind up about a company within 3 seconds of visiting a website. You can’t prove your credibility in that time using words alone – it has to be through your brand and the immediate message it presents.

Typically, traditional websites are very heavy on content over branding and marketing messages – but if your site doesn’t give confidence in your company during those first few seconds, few visitors will make it through to read your information.  Some manufacturers respond to the invisible buyer by removing information from their website and instead ask a visitor to get in touch for more information or pricing. But remember, 80% of buyers actively do not want to engage with you until they are past the information gathering stage.  Forcing the buyer to declare themselves to get information may work in some markets – for example, if you are the only company who can make a product or you offer a very technical service.  In most, however, all this does is encourage the buyer to click the back button on their browser and download your competitor’s freely-available information instead.

How to capture the invisible buyer

So how do you get buyers to declare their interest, but also make sure that whoever wants your information has free access to it?  In the same way that computer-aided design has revolutionised many processes, computer-aided sales and marketing is doing the same for lead generation.  A buyer may not be willing to break cover and directly contact you in their research phase, but they are willing to make a small exchange for the information they need.

This is why websites ask for an email address (and just an email address) in return for being able to download information such as a brochure or a price list.  People feel safe behind their email address, even though in reality anyone using a corporate address (such as jane.smith@companyname.com) is easily identifiable.

A cold call becomes a slightly warmer one when you know they have already been to your website and downloaded information on a specific product or service.

Instead of arriving at a website that has a traditional navigation (such as ‘about us’, ‘our services’ etc) if instead you first ask the visitor to choose which industry they represent, or which of your services they are interested in, you can then make the information on the next page much more targeted to that viewer. This makes them far more likely to give up an email address in return for some information because it is specifically what they are looking for.

Capturing email addresses

Once you start collecting a pipeline of contact details you can begin to nurture them into enquiries.  For most of these contacts, it will be too early in their buying decision for them to be receptive to a sales conversation – but you can use email marketing, LinkedIn and good old-fashioned keeping-in-touch calls to start engaging with them.  A cold call becomes a slightly warmer one when you know they have already been to your website and downloaded information on a specific product or service.

The reality is that if you are not embracing modern marketing methods, you will be losing market share every quarter to your competitor who is. The world is buying in a whole new way – so make sure you are not still looking for orders like you did in the 90s.

More about
Dave Pannell

Dave Pannell is the creative force behind The Design Mechanics and the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Manufacturing Ambassador for Yorkshire.  Dave has worked with both national and international brands and is one of the few marketers to specialise in industrial B2B sectors.

Dave has helped hundreds of businesses over the past 20 years with their branding and marketing and is also a regular keynote speaker and marketing blogger.