As sellers, the pandemic has forced us to rethink our work and how we engage our customers. We’ve seen customers cancel “high priority/committed projects,” and shift funding to “ad hoc” projects that were more important. This creates both opportunity and threats. BTW, this isn’t really a new insight, Hank Barnes has been doing very thoughtful research for years. Perhaps, the pandemic has accelerated this or created heightened visibility.
One of the biggest adjustments we’ve made is to “virtual selling.” With the inability to travel or actually meet F2F, 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 up to spend much more time actually “meeting” with customers. We can be more efficient, if not more productive.
As leaders, we’ve seen challenges our people face in feeling connected and engaged. Since they aren’t coming into the office, much of the informal communication that is fundamental to how organizations work wasn’t happening. So we had to invent new ways to keep our people connected and engaged, whether more frequent check-ins/one-on-one’s, virtual cocktail parties, or other things.
A lot of these adjustments were probably inevitable, but accelerated because of the pandemic. Some have been created just to survive.
As we move forward, we will revert to some of the things we did BP (before pandemic), abandoning some of things circumstances forced us to do. We will continue some of the new things–there’s a lot of talk around the power combo of F2F and virtual. And some organizations have discovered profound things that re-shape how they sell.
The pandemic and the slow emergence from it’s restrictions have, perhaps, created a sharper set of discussions around the future of selling. There is heightened attention to what we might do differently, how we sell differently, perhaps even more effectively.
But I’ve had a hugely uncomfortable feeling in all these discussions.
Where’s the customer (other than being the recipient of these new things we are inflicting on them)? What has the customer learned and changed about how they buy, how did the pandemic force them to change?
What we forget is the customer was forced to change during the pandemic, as well. They had to change how they got work done, just as sales did. They were forced to change priorities, work methods as many of their markets changed, as they face severe shifts in demand, supply chain problems, and challenges to their own ability to work effectively and efficiently. New problems arose–some unique to the pandemic, some that always existed but had heightened importance.
Just as sellers had to figure out new ways of selling and engaging customers, customer had to figure new ways of buying.
Many sellers might respond, “Isn’t that just the mirror image of what we are doing?” 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 of things in terms of a seller interaction directly with a buyer. Whether it’s F2F, phone, social platforms, or virtual, our paradigm has always been around the “meeting.”
But buyers are solving their buying problem differently from how sellers want to solve that problem. The “meeting” is not the cornerstone to how they solve their buying problem. They learn through other sources–online and offline, through colleagues and others. The “meeting” may no longer be core to their learning/buying process.
Sellers/marketers have been fascinated with the application and misapplication of technology to engage prospects and customers. But 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.
But what’s interesting is that buying hasn’t become easier, in fact there is a lot of data that indicates buying has become more difficult. It’s never been easy to navigate a complex buying journey. Buyers don’t know how to buy, they struggle with aligning the ever growing buying team. They struggle with changing priorities, shifts in direction. They struggle with the skyrocketing complexity and continuous disruption in their markets.
But it’s getting even more difficult, their tools, the new digital buying journey adds greater complexity. Where in the past they may have struggled with getting the information they need, now they struggle with the abundance of high quality information. They struggle with determining what’s most relevant to their situation. They struggle with the uncertainty of whether they are doing the right thing.
Too often, after they have made a decision, they suffer remorse, less around whether they made the right vendor selection, more around broader issues of whether they have done the right thing—for themselves and the organization.
So buying has changed profoundly through the pandemic.
The strange disconnect, we don’t hear buyers talking about virtual meetings as the 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.