The answer depends on who you ask. If you ask marketers it begins with advertising campaigns, PR initiatives, and social media marketing. Salespeople might say prospecting, gathering referrals, and building relationships with customers to establish repeat business. Neither answer is incorrect, but they’re incomplete. If you ask customers where the sales process begins for them—it starts online. According to this The State of Demand Pardot 2013 white paper, “…71.6 of B2B customers use Google search to find businesses.” This should come as no surprise because that’s what most of us do.

Where Should Your Sales Efforts Begin?

Your sales efforts begin with your online presence. The day is long past when a sedentary website can be left alone for months or even years and be expected to effectively funnel leads. Not going to happen. Today, marketing begins with dynamic and evolving online participation on the inter-webs.

Website – Your website needs to be interactive, easy to use, and customer focused while at the same time offer concrete calls to action. Examples of your work including testimonials and portfolios should be upfront and eye-catching.

Social media – Sharing your content on social media is critical to your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) standings. Social media marketing isn’t only using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube to help prospects discover you—social media usage affects your SEO ranking. Keep in mind, the vast majority of searchers never look past the first page of a search.

Content creation – Blogs, FAQ’s, checklists, video, photos, EBooks, white papers, and case studies; content should be added weekly if not daily. Search engines look for and recognize the quality and quantity of new content and rank sites accordingly.

Online Reviews – According to this Marketing land survey, “90% Of Customers Say Buying Decisions Are Influenced By Online Reviews.” Developing advocates who will offer positive online reviews begins by offering superior product and service. If you’ve developed loyal customers due to your hard work and diligence there’s nothing wrong with asking for an online review.

As important as traditional marketing and sales strategies are, they aren’t the place where most sales begin. Today, whether B2B or B2C, sales begin on a search. The majority of your customers begin the vetting process online and if they like what they see, if the information they need is readily available, if others share a positive opinion of your work—then they’ll contact you.