The Disruptive Buyer: A Cautionary Tale of Change.

1960businessowner

 

The business owner sat behind his desk staring out the window.  He started his business 7 years ago and for the most part things were okay.  He made it past the infamous first year when most start-ups go under, but it wasn’t easy. His sales were consistent, but flat over the past 3 years. Running a business was one thing, growing it was quite another.

The owner knew he needed to purchase a few super widgets to achieve his growth goals.  He had heard through the grapevine that other businesses using these super widgets were making lots of money. He had to get them if he too wanted to make more money. He needed them now. He wasn’t sure where he’d find them, or who sold them.  So he started his shopping the same way every other business did…

Like every business owner shopping for new products, he reached for the yellow pages and flipped to “W” for widgets but found nothing.  How could that be?  He thought some more and flipped to section “G” for growth. After all, the purpose of super widgets were to make businesses grow faster. Although his guess was correct, he wondered how long he would have looked if it hadn’t been. He would have kept looking if he hadn’t found them in this section, after all, the yellow pages is only so big. He found 2 pages of companies selling widgets. He wrote down the names, and phone numbers, of 5 businesses that sold these widgets and began dialing his phone. With each click of the rotary dial he was introduced to a sales person who offered to send him a packet of information which he’d receive in the mail in less than 10 days. This excited the business owner. In no time I’ll be making more money because of these widgets.

Two weeks past and the business owner sat in his office looking through 5 different packets of information from each of the companies he had called.  From there he narrowed his search down to the 3 companies whose brochures most appealed to him. He decided to begin making phone calls to these 3 companies immediately.

As he made his calls, each sales person sounded identical to the other telling him how long they’d been in business, why they different, and how happy they had made all their customers.  One specific sales person asked about his kids and right then and there the business owner was hooked.  He had made his decision on who he would buy from. It was this sales person who asked about his kids that he liked best. “She shares the same values as I do,” he thought.  She cares about my kids and my family. And with that he gave the order over the phone to purchase 5 super widgets.  He hung up the call excited to receive the purchase order in the mail the following week. In no time he’d be up and running with his super widgets.  In fact, it only took 3 – 4 weeks to receive them once his sales person received his signature on the purchase order and his payment in full. He sat back in his chair and thought about how easy buying these widgets was.  It only took a matter of weeks to educate himself and less than a month later to select a provider and have his super widgets in hand.  This was great…so he thought.

STOP THE PRESS!

Remember when? It wasn’t really all that long ago that this is how buyers made their purchasing decisions.  It’s how you and I both bought products and services.  It’s how we all shopped, considered, and purchased. We relied on the information we were “allowed” to have by the seller along with the claims and promises made by the seller relative to the value delivered by their products and services. We knew just what the seller was willing to release and not much more. You could say we were a lot like mushrooms just a short time ago.  Kept in the dark and fed a lot of….

But that’s all changed.  The age of the customer is upon us. She’s educated, connected, and socially engaged.  She wants information.  She wants a trusted advisor. She doesn’t want to be sold.  She doesn’t need to be sold.  She simply wants someone to help her along her journey, not the sellers journey, but her own personal journey.

If how you’re going to market still approaches the buyer like it’s 1999 I would ask two questions.  First, why? And second, how’s it working for you?

At the recent Digital Growth Conference in San Francisco, Jill Rowley, Social Selling Evangelist, talked about the disruptive buyer. A sales persons job today is to “facilitate the buyer on their journey, getting them ready to buy.” Quite a different and refreshing approach to selling.  A salesperson can no longer survive by having the brightest, shiniest widgets on the market.  They must have strong business acumen.  They must know how to use the tools at their disposal. Jill’s point of “a fool with a tool is still a fool” is quite thought-provoking.  It’s also still how many companies operate.  Produce the cool tool and let Sales run with it.  Bad idea.  Your buyers are way too sophisticated to simply follow the shiny bouncing ball. And not only will they not follow the bouncing ball, but they’ll kick it…hard…in the other direction making you have to chase after it to try to catch it.

Your job now is to be where the buyers are, and answer their questions where they raise them, when they raise them, and how they raise them.  Build it and they will come no longer works. Leading with the sale equals failure, while leading the buyer to the sale equals success.

Why as consumers don’t we want to be pushed, prodded or strong-armed into a sale?  We don’t like pushy sales people in our personal lives yet in business we direct our sales people to be exactly that. A robot can twist an arm, mail a piece of content, and do an online demonstration.  That’s not what the buyer is looking for when she finally engages with a sales person.  And forget value. All this talk about presenting value is overrated.  What is value?  In a recent study conducted by Sirius Decisions, the number one reason sales people lose a sale is because of the sales persons inability to effectively communicate the value proposition.

Your buyer is now the disruptor, more so than technology. She now drives the sales process, you don’t.  She has all the control because she determines what information she wants, from who she wants it, when she wants it and how she gets it. She has access to social platforms that provide feedback about you, your product, your company, your brand, your reputation.  She knows what you sell and how closely it delivers against your brand promise. The slightest disconnect between your brand promise and the experience delivered and you’re out of the game, kicked to the curb.

It’s your job to be engaged socially where she is shopping and learning.  You need to be there at the right time with the right content to help her through her journey.  She doesn’t want to be sold.  She won’t be sold.  She wants to be advised.  She wants information.  She wants hero stories…how others like her have benefited from following your recommendations.  She wants to feel connected to you and your company.  She wants to understand your brand…both brands…that of your company’s and you personally.  She won’t settle for anything less.

The age of the buyer has arrived.  Each buyer is unique.  Each is on his or her own personal journey. Each favoring different points along that journey where they need or want help. So are you still leading with a sale, or leading your buyers through their individual journey to a sale? It’s time to answer that question.

Reasons To Believe: A Key Part of Your Brand Promise

RTB

Buyers make purchasing decisions based on a number of factors.  Sellers must understand these factors in order to create reasons-to-believe (RTB) in their brand.  RTB statements are short, concise, to-the-point statements that serve as a sound bite to the buyer.  Trident gum’s “4 out of 5 dentists” is a simple example of an effective RTB. The use of reasons-to-believe can apply to any person, product, service, or business.  Whether your are building your personal brand or your company’s, it’s your job to develop an RTB that resonates with your buyer.

How do you know what’s important to your buyer?  Do you understand the process your buyer goes through on their journey to the cash register? By mapping your buyer’s journey, you will uncover these critical insights, that are necessary in creating your brand messaging which should include some RTBs. Current pain level, budget, ability to solve the problem,  reputation of the seller, and the buyers emotional state are all key inputs into the buying decision.

The most effective RTBs are those created to align with a specific point on the buyers journey.  As the buyer travels thought the 4 emotional phases of buying including, awareness, familiarity, confidence, and conviction, she will require different messaging to continue her buying journey.  RTBs are most impactful when used in the confidence phase of buying.  During the first two emotional phases, Marketing is working to establish conscious and subconscious brand recognition.  Once awareness and familiarity are developed, a strategically positioned RTB can help establish confidence.  Some examples of RTBs include:

  1. Ford F 150 – highest EPA-estimated fuel economy ratings of any full-size gasoline powered pick-up on the market
  2. Chevy Colorado – MotorTrend’s 2016 Truck of the Year
  3. QuickBooks – 4 million business run on QuickBooks
  4. Perdue – No-Antibiotics-Ever, and an all-vegetarian diet
  5. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital– families never receive a bill for treatment, travel, housing or food

While some of these RTBs sound like nothing more than a simple statement, they in fact have been strategically developed to connect to a buying emotion.  All were created to instill confidence and provide an emotional satisfier…a feel-good reaction.  These companies are just a handful that have taken the time to study and understand what’s important to their buyer’s.  They understand that we live in an information society where cutting through the noise is paramount to capturing the buyers attention.  These direct, relevant soundbites provide buyers with an added reason-to-believe in a brand.  Do you know what your brand’s RTBs are?

 

Customer Journey Mapping:  If you ask, be ready to listen and act

I’m attending a Marketing conference this week in Chicago.  Much has been said about the importance of undertanding the customer buying journey.  CMOs, SVPs of Marketing, and in some cases CEOs are talking about how much time and money they are spending to better understand their customers.  Yet nothing is happening.  Why?

Most companies fall into two categories:  those willing to change how they go to market, and those that “say” they’re willing to change buy are simply not capable.  The latter is not because of a lack of intellect or knowledge.  Instead, companies not “capable” of change are typically those that are emboldened to the way they currently do things.  It’s easier.  It’s more comfortable.  It’s familiar.  Changing how you do business, and the interaction you have with your customer is scary.  It’s unknown.  As such only the most brave and courageous make the jump.

For those proposing or leading customer journey work consider the following:

  1. How involved has the current management/executive team been with customers?  Are they speaking directly to customers?  Are they in the field meeting with customers?  Do they attend industry events and speak directly to customers and prospects?  If the answer to any of these questions is “no” it’s likely you’ll struggle implementing the changes required to address your findings.
  2. What major changes have taken place over the past 12 months that affect the customer directly?  Did you launch a net promoter measure?  Is there a customer service center, and if so how is their success measured?  What communication has been sent to your customers over the past year?  Is it all sales related, or educational in nature?  Have you been surveying for customer satisfaction?  What have you learned?
  3. What’s the background of the CEO, COO, and President?  If you work in a small organization those roles may all belong to the same person.  That’s okay but the question still pertains.  Does he or she have any customer experience?
  4. Your sample pool should be diverse yet random.  Meaning, if you sell multiple products through the same sales and service channels you should look for customers with varying tenure with your firm, as well as different volumes of business.
  5. Have a project manager.  You may not have that luxury…it may be you.  How are your excel skills?  How do you manage projects, timelines, deliverables?  What’s your releationship with senior management to whom you’ll have to present your findings and recommendations?

I’ve conducted numerous customer journey mapping over the past decade.  The customer is always changing…evolving.   

 The impact of social media has become a catalyst for this change and will likely expedite it in the future.  If you’re interested in learning more about conducting customer journey mapping send me a reply/comment and I will be happy to provide additional insight and guidance.