In complex B2B buying, I believe the old maxim, “People buy from people,” is still highly relevant. There’s probably a lot of data that supports this, but, anecdotally, let’s reflect:
Complex B2B buying decisions are most often consensus decisions. Customers are getting other people in their organizations involved in the problem solving and decision making process. They value or need the engagement of others to make the decision. They know the active buy-in and engagement of others is critical to the success in the change management efforts.
Surveys show the importance of Trust, the value of Relationships, the importance the customer places on feeling heard and understood.
We constantly get feedback from customers that they buy from people who listen and care.
We constantly read about the importance of EQ.
I could go on, but you get the point. Just think of yourself, your circle of colleagues and how you work. Very few of us want or are able to work without engaging others.
So if the people to people connection is so important, such a vital part of what our customers want, what human beings crave, why are we racing in directions to minimize people to people engagement?
For decades, we’ve faced the challenge of connecting and personalizing in our marketing outreach. Marketers would vary their advertising and messages to fit the audience for wherever those messages would appear. The message that might appear in WSJ would be different than that which appeared in TV Guide (remember those days?). Direct mailers looked for technologies to print “Dear Dave” on their mailings rather than “Dear Occupant or Current Resident.”
Fortunately, technology, analytics have moved us to capabilities of rich personalization and addressing “customer segments of 1.” Despite having these powerful, technology-enabled capabilities, we still execute the mass marketing, mass messaging techniques of decades before, inflicting millions of irrelevant, unpersonalized communications on an ever-increasing volume of people and organizations.
In spite of their outrage, their use of SPAM filters, their constant unsubscribes, the feedback that says, “I don’t want this crap,” we continue to do the same thing at ever-increasing volume and velocity.
We do the same in our “social networks.” These networks were intended to bring people together, to help grow relationships, to provide rich means of communicating whether through messaging, stories, videos, and so forth. But instead, we move the “relationship” out of it. We leverage these platforms to drive likes, visibility, popularity. We engage in soliloquies not conversations. Rather than responding to a message with another message, perhaps, “Thanks for the invitation, it’s great to meet, tell me about yourself….” we let LinkedIn choose our response—Thumbs up, Not Now, Not Interested….. We no longer have to be engaged in the relationship or create conversations, we rely on bots to do it for us.
LinkedIn goes further in helping automate our relationships and conversations. Rather than looking at individuals, finding people that may be relevant, LinkedIn does all that work for me. It chooses the people I might be interested in and is glad to send a connection request to hundreds at a time. 99% of the people asking me for a connection have never looked at my profile before making the request (I do acknowledge some have seen my articles or comments and are driven by that).
“Chatbots” are all the rage right now. We can leverage chatbots so that we don’t have to actually talk to and engage people. We can let the machine do it for us, all in the name of efficiency and volume. Yet, being on the receiving side of a chatbot, it’s always very obvious that I’m not communicating with a person, I’m communicating with a machine. I think, “Thanks for showing that you care.”
It seems much of the drive for these applications of technology that depersonalize our communications and conversations is driven by the desire for volume. We reach out to more and more, more frequently, because what we are doing now isn’t producing the results we need. Logically, if we do more, faster, we can scale the results.
Customers become depersonalized widgets on our marketing and sales production lines. They move from MQLs to SALs to SQLs handled by different specialists called SDRs, BDRs, AEs, Account Managers, Customer Success Specialists. They become a data point in our activity and tracking metrics, not people with hopes, desires, dreams, goals, or challenges.
I often ask salespeople about a recent win, asking, “What did you sell that for?” Unsurprisingly, the response comes back “$100K in ARR,” or “$1M.” It’s very seldom, “To help the customer solve this problem or address this opportunity.”
Ironically, there are some that do less, but more personally, with deeper and richer engagement. Even more ironically, they produce more results more consistently. They recognize that, ultimately, we are human beings, we crave interaction and engagement. We want to share our views, our dreams, our goals to someone that will listen. We want to learn the dreams and goals of others. We don’t want to go it alone, recognizing we need to collaborate and need help to make sense of what’s going on and to move forward.
Interestingly, these people leverage technology, as well. They leverage technology to learn more about people and organizations. They leverage technology to help them become more informed about what they are facing, what they care about, what they are trying to achieve. They leverage technology to improve the quality of their conversations and their ability to engage people in meaningful, relevant ways.
Again, ironically, these people find they accomplish more by doing less. That is they realize success in sales isn’t really about volume and velocity, but it’s about reaching the right people at the right time and engaging them in high impact conversations.
If people buy from people, if we, ourselves, crave meaningful conversations, relevance, and relationships, why are we racing in the opposite direction? Why are we displacing the personalized outreach and “connection” with surrogates?
This is not a technology discussion, tough too many will think it is.
It’s a discussion about who we are, how much we care, how we achieve, and how we help our customers achieve.