We’ve seen a shift in customer buying behaviors over the years.
Sales used to be the primary purveyors if information about products, solutions, market changes, trends. Customers couldn’t easily get that information (perhaps trade shows/publications and conferences), so sellers provided that function for buyers.
As the web exploded, digital content, search and other digital capabilities enabled buyers to educate themselves through these channels, reducing the need for sales people performing that function.
Social platforms extended that capability where buyers could easily learn from each other, sharing information, experiences, and getting insights. Sellers participate in those platforms, using them, with varying degrees of effectiveness, to engage customers.
We now see the majority of buyers preferring rep-free buying experiences, relying primarily on digital sources for insights, information and sharing ideas. (It’s important to note that sellers have contributed massively to driving customers to these channels. Data show, that customers are channel agnostic, but seem to be driven to digital sources, because of their lack of satisfaction with seller engagement.
Over the years we’ve seen selling engagement move from sales led, digitally supported, to digitally led, sales supported.
Sellers, responding to these changes in buying, have developed digital tools that measure and track customer digital engagement–both on their own sites, and in other sites. They have deep understanding enterprises and individuals that may be engaging with them digitally. They have the capability of suggesting content or directing human interventions.
But we have a new challenge. We have the emergence of “Digital Buying Intermediaries.” ChatGPT and similar tools will, increasingly be used by customers to facilitate their learning/buying process. They can provide rich information (perhaps misinformation) about products, solutions, industry trends/issues, market drivers, and so forth. They have the capability of generating insights that many seller use as a cornerstone to their customer engagement strategies.
They take over much of the function of educating buyers–actually pretty deeply–about solutions, alternative suppliers. They provide this information, leaving no customer footprints on the websites. (I tried this recently in: ChatGPT, The New Digital Buying Journey)
This raises a number of issues/concerns for both buyers and sellers. The accuracy of the information, the currency of it, the sources of the information the tools use to generate their observations. Then there are always the fears of malicious manipulation of that information. I find it both concerning and ironic, that despite the warnings from all sorts of AI Experts, we seem too enthusiastic in rushing into leverage these tools in very naive ways.
From a seller point of view, we have a new challenge. We have a new, major influencer–perhaps the ultimate influencer–we have to educate, engage, and influence ourselves. We have to think, “How do we show up in ChatGPT and similar tools?”
For all the reasons sellers are excited about leveraging these tools to make us more efficient, productive, and extend our reach; customers will be equally excited for the same reasons and for the reason of creating some distance from sellers until they choose to, which may be at time of order.
In the endless articles on how sellers can leverage ChatGPT to inflict all sorts of things on buyers, I have seen no discussion of how profoundly this capability will change buyer behavior. But, I believe, with all the caveats mentioned above, that it will be the primary channel through which customer start to think about change, start to think about buying, and manage their buying process.
And how we seller manage this?
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