Today we can think differently about how we position our business. We can connect with anyone, anywhere, on an individual level. We have gone full circle to a place where direct human relationships replace mass marketing.
The ancient dynamics of individual trust and reputation are again in full play, only now there are no borders.
Today's technology disrupts established hierarchies and traditional value chains.For example, I wanted to publish this book for everyone to see, so I just did so by all by myself. I didn’t need anyone’s permission because there are a set of simple tools that allow me to put it out into the world all by myself.
The same is true if I want to gain visibility with my business. I no longer have to play by the rules of traditional advertising model because if I choose to put enough effort behind it, I can seek out my ideal audience and directly connect with them. This is now possible because there are more than 3 billion people with online profiles out there. It's a matter of getting smart and creative about finding them.
Someone in South Africa stumbled upon an article I wrote about innovation. It resonated with him because he was struggling with some of the personnel-related issues that I wrote about in the article. He was compelled to get in touch.
A day later we got did a video call to spend an hour working on a strategy for his next hires. Neither of us ever left our desks, yet we made a real personal connection with a complex problem and figured out a way to deal with it. This is how
A total stranger became an advisory customer in less than 24 hours! This ‘modus operandi’ is now becoming the new normal.
Today's relationships transcend geography and hierarchy. CEOs can now hear what their customers have to say, directly, without any filters or intermediaries. Politicians, if they care to listen, can hear what any citizen has to say, no matter where they stand in the crowd.
Not that long ago, there was no direct, global, real-time, ongoing global dialogue between business and their individual customers. The only way to reach an audience was to beam out our commercial messages across 2 main channels:
B2C (Business to Consumer) or B2B (Business to Business)
Let's briefly revisit each framework...
Business to Consumer - There's no need to shout!
B2C is a legacy framework that dates back to a time before we had today’s hyper-connectivity. Back then businesses had little choice but to mass-communicate with their customers.
Although many businesses are starting to understand how to apply technology to build individual relationships with their customers, the vast majority are still stuck in an era of one-way advertising.
And although some of us have seen the light when it comes to applying technology to leverage the human connection, the vast majority of businesses have adopted technology only to create an even bigger distance between themselves and their clients. They see technology as a great excuse to avoid having to talk with their customers. Think about all those annoying automated touch tone menus to interact with inbound customer calls. And what about all those cold-calling robots pretending to be real humans.
I can’t help but wonder whatever goes on in the minds of the people in those marketing departments. Do they not understand how these 'robots' work against building meaningful relationships with their clients? What part of human psychology did they misunderstand to believe that humans might enjoy interacting with machines?
What about all the businesses that hide their telephone numbers? They do everything they can to direct their online visitors to FAQ sections to their websites. Can they not see that speaking to customers is a privilege? It could be the opportunity to make a sale or get feedback about their products or services.
It very simple really, a relationship starts with a 2-way conversation.
Then there is the old adage of 'people do business with people they like and trust’. So why are so many, supposedly ‘intelligent’ people, they spending so much money to build systems to stifle those precious personal interactions?
What’s even worse are those who actually do care to have a conversation with their clients often outsource this delicate task. They hand their clients over to people with
limited skills, who often work in noisy call centres with poor telephone connections. They delegate their brand reputation to random operators who don’t care about the business they represent.
In the asset management industry - my native industry - there is now a new drive to encourage customers to interact with robotic advisors. My understanding is that they believe that this would make their services more appealing to today’s young adults. It makes me wonder if they have actually spoken to a real sample of this target audience? They should because, just like anybody else, Millennials love human connections!
Thankfully, there is now a reality check in play that comes as a result of a ‘yuck factor’ as these strategies are achieving the opposite as what they were initially built for. It turns out that those ‘millennials’ love personal connections and they love to use technology to do more of it!
I strongly believe that the vast majority of businesses are missing out on the opportunity to use today’s connectivity and technology to build the personalised relationships they couldn’t have built before. We all obsess about customer loyalty. And the thing is that we now finally have the technology that, if used correctly, will help us build a lasting allegiance with our best customers.
So, in many instances, the legacy B2C thinking is causing companies to miss out on leveraging the capabilities of today’s technology to create meaningful, scalable human experiences with their customers…
Business to Business - There are real humans in those suits!
In contrast, B2B has always been more focused on individual relationships. And while interactions are more bespoke and personalised, they also typically have a more formal, or even an impersonal institutional feeling about them.
Usually, B2B business development is an insider’s game where professionalism is often confused with complexity. This is an environment where jargon often clouds clarity.
In my work, I am always amazed to see that messages that can be easily explained, wind up getting lost in over-engineered messages.
I believe that in a competitive B2B industry, many companies have confused looking and sounding more sophisticated than their competitors with resonating with their customers.
Of course, it would be wrong to generalise, but although much emphasis is placed upon reputation and trust, little effort is done to create the kind of emotional connections that can fast-track the creation of trust.
B2B buyers are humans. They buy from people they like and trust. I know this to be true from my first-hand experience in the investments industry because no matter how formal a procurement process was made to look, it never went anywhere when that special positive personal chemistry between people was missing.
B2B transactions tend to have long and exhausting high-touch sales cycles. What this means is that there is a clear opportunity to apply simple technology to supply a consistent stream of guidance and education to the business development process.
Today, it is fashionable to speak about content. But it is pointless to produce content unless it serves a clear purpose. The big opportunity here is to transform your business development effort into a targeted, educational stream that helps your prospect become better at what they do. More specifically, it is about helping your prospects solve the problems to which you have the right solution.
Another way to put it is that today's technology allows us to deliver value more easily that we have ever been able to do before. By becoming a regular supplier of relevant knowledge we can earn the status of a mentor in someone's mind. This is a privilege because people have a special kind of respect and affection for those who they regard as their mentors!
Finally, the B2B process is usually about convincing stakeholders to support a buying decision. This means that your success usually depends on your ability to make others listen and pay attention to your proposition.
The best way to achieve this is by establishing real human relationships with the entire decision-making chain. This wasn’t always possible to do in person, but once you understand how to use technology to facilitate special and safe environments to have ongoing conversations with members of specific groups, you will see how it becomes possible to earn the trust along the entire hierarchy of decision making.
In other words, adopting technology in the right way in the B2B process allows you to re-assemble all the moving pieces into a single mechanism that help you earn more business in an honest and genuine way with only a fraction of the effort it used to take not that long ago...
B2C and B2B need to be upgraded. Business is more personal than ever before.
It’s time to embrace B2H - Business to Human!