There’s the famous Wayne Gretzky quote, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
If you read the current literature and blog posts on the future of selling, everything is about it being virtual, or in the least, hybrid.
Guru’s and sales execs alike are talking and investing in tools that allow sales people to engage over virtual platforms like Teams, Zoom, and others. Sales execs talk about how they are reducing travel budgets, because sales people can engage customers virtually, reducing or even eliminating the need for F2F. They love the productivity gains, because we can sit hour after hour doing Teams/Zoom calls, we don’t have the annoyance and down time of travel.
While these platforms have been around for some time, the adaptation of them was forced by travel/meeting restrictions of the Pandemic. We have trained people, developing new skills for engaging virtually and at a distance. “Thoughtful” posts on how to maximize your impact, like “Look at the camera, not the other person’s image.” There are debates about backgrounds, do you use a real background, a blurred background, or whatever scenery you want? Guru’s give advice about lighting, cameras, and microphones. We groom ourselves to be business-like from the waist up.
These are the secrets to virtual/hybrid selling.
We were forced to learn new ways of engaging the customer when we couldn’t see them F2F, we are mastering it, and, to many, this is the future of selling.
At the same time, our customers were facing the same thing. They have been thinking, “How do we buy, how do we learn about products and solutions, how do we engage, when we can’t meet F2F., what are the best channels to learn and understand,…..”
Like us, the virtual platforms were useful, for a while. But for them, virtual/hybrid selling is last year’s news. Our buyers have moved forward in how they learn, engage and buy.
Buyers are discovering other ways to learn about products and solutions. They, increasingly, invested time in learning more through digital engagement, and other alternatives. Search has become their primary learning mechanism. We have seen data showing how they spend their time, less than 17% is with sales people. The majority is learning through digital and other sources.
But they’ve gone even further. Over 60% say they prefer a rep-free buying process (With an even higher percentage of Gen Z buyers sharing that view.) And, all indications show that number will increase.
One imagines masses of sales people sitting on one end of a Teams/Zoom call, with no one on the other side.
This doesn’t mean everything about this new buying process is wonderful. Buyers still struggle, they express high buying regret. But they are learning and adapting, they aren’t going backwards.
Their buying challenge isn’t about whether we engage them F2F, virtually, through email, snail mail, on social channels, or text. To Zoom or not is not a key issue in their buying journey. At the risk of repeating myself, they have moved past that.
And still, we keep skating at full speed to where the puck was, virtual and hybrid selling,—and the customers are moving way past this.
Focusing on virtual and hybrid selling will never get us caught up to where the customer is and where they are going. We need to completely rethink the types of interventions our customers need–digital, human, and other. We need to rethink how we engage them, creating meaning, value, and helping them succeed in their buying journeys, making sense of what they face, and helping them gain confidence in the decisions they make.
Sure, virtual engagement will be part of the human based interventions, as will phone, asynchronous tools like email, text, and of course F2F. But it is not “THE Strategy,” but part of the new interventions we have to design to help customers.
What’s happening with how our customers buy? How do they want to be engaged through their buying journey? The research tells us it’s omnichannel–yet we focus in Zoom/Teams. How do we help design the buying journey, understand it is a coherent mix of digital, human, and other interventions? What creates value for the customer as they consider changing? What creates value as they look at goals, dream, problems?
How do we meet customers with where they are and what helps them move forward to achieve their goals? It’s not a Teams/Zoom meeting, understanding how they buy and the interventions, digital, human, or otherwise that create the most value with them.
Wayne Gretzky was right, but it seems we keep ignoring it and skating to where the puck was.