Selling and buying are easy, right? It’s gone on for millennia, but have we just witnessed the greatest change ever? DAVID BROCK thinks so!
The global COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesspeople to rethink our work and how we interact with our customers.
We’ve seen customers reduce spending. One of the largest adjustments we have had to make is so-called, ’virtual selling’. With the inability to travel or actually meet face-to-face, we had to find a new method for engaging our customers.
There have been some interesting results from this. We’ve learned that reducing travel frees us to spend more time actually ‘meeting’ with customers. We can be more efficient, if not more productive. This creates both opportunities and threats.
As leaders, we’ve seen challenges our staff face in feeling connected and engaged. Since they aren’t coming into the office, much of the informal communication that is fundamental to how organisations work wasn’t happening. Therefore, we had to invent new ways to keep staff connected and engaged, whether more frequent check-ins or one-on-ones, virtual cocktail parties, or other things.
Many of these adjustments to the workplace were probably inevitable but accelerated because of the pandemic. Some have been created just to survive.
We will eventually revert to some of the things we did before COVID, abandoning some of things that we were ‘forced’ upon us. We will most likely continue some of the new practices and behaviours – there’s a lot of talk about the power combo of face-to-face and virtual because some organisations have discovered profound things that re-shaped how they sell.
The pandemic and the slow emergence from its restrictions have, perhaps, created discussions around the future of selling. There is increased attention to what we might do differently, how we sell differently, perhaps even more effectively.
But I’ve had a very uncomfortable feeling in all these discussions.
For example, where’s the customer, other than being the recipient of these new practices we are inflicting on them? What has the customer learned and how did the pandemic force them to change?
You see, what is often forgotten is that customers were also forced to make changes to their lives during, no different to how many of their markets changed, which in turn faced severe shifts in demand, supply chain problems, and challenges to their own ability to work effectively.
New problems arose – some unique to the pandemic and some that had always existed but became more prominent and observable.
Just as businesses had to create new ways of selling and interacting with customers, the customer had to figure out new ways of buying. Many sellers might respond, “Isn’t that just the mirror image of what we are doing?” and that might lead one to conclude, “The future of buying is virtual!”
I suspect that’s because much of the selling paradigm is built around the ‘meeting’. We have always thought in terms of a seller interaction directly with a buyer. Whether it’s face-to-face, phone, social platforms, or virtual; our paradigm has always been around in-person meetings.
However, buyers are solving their challenges differently from how sellers want to solve the same issue. The ‘meeting’ is not the cornerstone to how they solve their buying problem, instead; they learn through other sources – online and offline, through colleagues and others.
In other words, the ‘meeting’ may no longer be core to their learning/buying process.
Sellers and marketers have been fascinated with the application and misapplication of technology to engage prospects and customers, however; the application of technology isn’t the exclusive discovery of sellers and marketers. Buyers are learning how to apply technology, AI/ ML to help them search, filter, and more effectively learn.
The interesting thing is that buying hasn’t become easier; in fact, there is a lot of research that indicates buying has become more difficult.
It’s never been easy to navigate a complex buying journey. Customers often don’t know how to buy; they struggle with aligning the ever-increasing ‘buying team’ among many things.
And it’s getting even more difficult for consumers! Their tools and the new digital buying journey add greater complexity. Whereas in the past, they may have struggled with getting the information they needed, now they struggle with the abundance of high-quality information.
Consumers struggle with determining what’s most relevant to their situation. So while buying has changed profoundly through the pandemic, the strange disconnect is that we don’t hear buyers talking about virtual meetings as their big change, while that’s been the big change in selling.
Somehow it seems the gap between how buyers buy and how we sell is increasing, not decreasing.