As mobile search overtakes desktop, is personality becoming irrelevant for the enterprise salesperson?

iphone-377887Enterprise salespeople have talked for many years about the critical points in their customer’s buying process. For most it incorporates some combination of the following: the initial realization that a problem exists, the scoping of the challenge, the search for an internal budget champion, the visualization of a solution, the long-listing of possible solutions, the early outreach to potential suppliers, their shortlisting, the internal proof-of-concept, the cost/benefit analysis, the final bake-off, the deal negotiation, and finally the sign-off.

When large sections of this process moved online a decade or more ago, many aspects changed. The timescales, the increasing number of long-listed suppliers, the lack of face-to-face time allowed for the salespeople, the fact that sales were only aware of the prospect’s interest far later in the process, etc. For ten years the majority of salespeople have struggled to adopt to this new way of working. And now the goalposts have moved again.

As online search has increasingly moved from desktop to mobile, so the buying process too has changed. Search results appear very differently on a mobile – the attention span is shorter, the search terms briefer, the convenience and immediacy more important. Online contextual text chat more relevant. Relevance and Immediacy have become watchwords. The right content, personalized, in real-time. The skills required of a salesperson are changing again.

I have a friend who’s worked as an enterprise salesperson for many years. She’s very hard-working, diligent, very engaging personality and always willing to travel. She says her skills are less valued than they once were – what’s the point of a great personality when your opportunities to display it are so reduced? When early-stage decisions have already been made on a mobile screen, only those shortlisted suppliers are now even getting to introduce themselves to the prospect. By then, impressions have already been cast – and that’s not ideal for any salesperson.

What vendors are now looking for are banks of prospect analysts, those who can watch a series of online queries and predict, then instantly supply, the information most likely to be of direct help to that enquiry. Sometimes its a real-world conversation, sometimes a relevant case study, sometimes a competitor comparison and at other times a business RoI argument. Offering the wrong option can kill the opportunity – with little hope of getting it back because you don’t know who’s doing the asking.

Mobile is certainly changing what triggers interest (and disinterest) among would-be buyers. And I think the salesperson will increasingly struggle to find a satisfying role.

I’m far from the social marketing skeptic you might think

I was reminded in my podcast conversation with Paul Gillin the extent to which he views our company’s work as going against the perceived wisdom in our industry. Paul’s a social marketing consultant – and very good at it. He’s a strong advocate of the power of social marketing and he mentioned a couple of times that I have the opposite view. I’ve been thinking about this perception.

I’ve never actually thought I do hold the opposite view – in some situations I’m a complete convert to social marketing. I look at my own teenagers and there’s no doubt they’re constantly swayed by what they’re reading and watching on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, and more. But the media is obsessed by teenager marketing, and portrays every audience as behaving in the same way. And that’s what I disagree with.

The fact is, the B2B marketplace still works in a very different way. It will evolve, and it may evolve into something similar to today’s teenager marketing. But we’re such a way from that today – and our clients want to know how to engage with their influencers now, not five or ten years time.

The perceived wisdom in marketing circles seems to be that every stage of the buying decision process is now carried out online – problem identification, decision to act, solution scoping, etc. And that’s just not the case. The reason marketers act as if that’s the case? Because marketers have a far louder public megaphone than buyers do and they want to be at forefront of trends. Buyers might not agree with how marketers are framing their world, but buyers just get on with their buying and try not to be swayed by what marketers are telling them. And buyers see no reason to bother putting them right.

You want proof? Find a friend you know who buys products or services for their employer. It might be office furniture, software tools, real estate, human resources or whatever. Ask them who or what most influenced their eventual selection. Online search is almost always part of the process, but aside from Google, the other influencers are likely to be individuals – individuals that influenced them offline! Co-workers, bosses, previous experience, people they’ve emailed, policy-makers specific to their industry, third-party consultants. Individuals who likely don’t have a very large online presence. Try it and tell me if I’m wrong.

The majority of B2B influencers still operate very much offline. And while there certainly are some important online influencers, the overall picture, whatever your industry, remains a mix. I’m just in the minority talking about it.

What better message than ‘Make yourself memorable’?

I’ve just finished reading Seth Godin’s ‘The Icarus Deception’. I think I’ve read most of his work to date. I found this one a little disappointing because I felt it re-trod the same ground I’ve read many times before from him. To me, Seth basically has one message, which he dresses in different clothes for each new book. That message is ‘Be remarkable’. That was certainly Purple Cow, Lynchpin was ‘Have the confidence to be yourself’, Icarus was ‘You have to stand out’, Permission Marketing was ‘Be so interesting that people want to let you into their world’. The enemy of each is ‘going with the flow’.

Then I reconsidered and thought maybe having just one core message is a good thing. By now, readers know what Seth Godin stands for and they either want to hear that message or they don’t. Maybe if he was telling us different things in each book we’d be confused on where he stood. And I have to say that every time I read his work I feel re-committed to standing out.

Maybe his own Purple Cow is that in the business world he’s come to own that ‘Make yourself memorable’ message. In a few years my own children will be of career-seeking age. What a great message to give them.

Do today’s salespeople really have to go “wherever someone will listen to us”?

In talking with countless senior salespeople in many of the world’s largest and most successful organisations, it’s eye-opening how many say that their route into a prospect company is “ideally the CIO or CFO, maybe the Head of Dept., sometimes Line of Business director, otherwise the end-user.” In other words “wherever someone will listen to us!” There appears to be very little science or insight being applied.

I asked one a few weeks back for the level of account mapping they do – where they map out who makes the decision, who inputs to it, who uses it, etc. “Most of it is intuition” was the reply. “So do you ever have an idea of how a company will make its decision-making at the time of approaching them?” I asked. “No, but we get a better idea after a few meetings there.” In 2014 is this really the best we should settle for?

I’m spending much of my time researching a better way.


Are those holding down real industry jobs too busy to be tweeting?

It’s an easy conclusion to draw. We’ve just completed a study in Europe for two traditional manufacturing marketplaces. We’ve now enough experience over the years that we can make an educated guess in advance of studying a market whether it’s likely to be primarily online-, offline- or social-influenced.

Out of 100 individuals, identified by us to be the most influential, guess how many had an active Twitter account? One from which they’d tweeted in the past two or even three months. Just seven. Now even I can work that out to be just 7%. And that’s not to say they were prolific users. Or regular. Or that they’d tweeted anything meaningful in that time. But they had used it.
The correlation that was impossible to ignore was that these top 100 influencers barely featured any industry commentators – a minimal number of industry analysts, journalists or bloggers – and very few industry consultants. Now these are typically heavy Twitter users. Remove these and, in B2B terms, the use of Twitter (amongst non-marketers) falls to almost zero.
What was most interesting was the reaction of our client to this finding. It was no surprise at all. They said that the only pressure to adopt Twitter as an outreach channel came from marketing blogs, magazines, forums, etc. They’d never heard from any customer or prospect mentioning Twitter as a preferred channel.
Time and time again we see this gulf between the blind rush to use Twitter amongst marketers and the absolute apathy from would-be customers. I always feel like I’m swimming against the tide making this point. Until I talk to almost every customer.

Can 60% of B2B companies be increasing their social outreach budget solely due to blind faith?

I keep coming back in my head to this stat from the 2013 State of Digital Marketing report ‘Webmarketing123’ stating that only 54% of B2B companies believed they had generated any leads through their social outreach to date – and that ‘just 39 percent of those B2B companies were able to clearly say they have seen revenue generated from social media’. It’s a fascinating report.

Looking further at the stats, social outreach is one of the activities most likely to increase in budget next year (56%) – and by a significant amount. Almost no respondee (just 2%) said they were planning to reduce that pot. So give or take a few vagaries, doesn’t that suggest that almost 60% of companies will be increasing their social budget despite no measurable RoI through sales? Call it investment by gut feel or blind faith or intuition or whatever. But not RoI.

For the vast majority of companies 2013 wasn’t the first year of their social outreach budget – for many it will have been their fourth or fifth year. That adds up to a lot of investment without noticeable return. And we don’t know what percentage of the 39% that believed they could report sales as a result, thought it enough to cover the costs of that outreach. I think we can assume it’s tiny.

Is it that the return is there but they haven’t been able to measure it? – a common, if optimistic, view. Is it that increased sales is the wrong measurement criteria in the first place? Perhaps, but difficult for any stakeholder to continually accept. Or is it that there’s a time lag of several years between the positive effects of social outreach i.e. increasing brand awareness, and the positive glow that encourages a buyer to choose one vendor over another? Impossible to say.

Of course there’s a fourth option. That in the majority of current B2B marketplaces the kind of brand awareness that social outreach gets you has minimal effect on the eventual decisions of the end-buyer. Because those end-buyers are basing their decisions on very different criteria. One of my next posts will cover this thought in more detail.