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.

B2B Magazine UK survey on how business purchase decisions are now made

B2B Marketing mag, BaseOne, Buyersphere Report 2015,, Influencer Marketing, Influencer50, The Buyerside Journey.comAn interesting survey was published earlier this week with recent data on how business purchase decisions are being made. These were all for UK B2B purchases exceeding £20k (approx.$32k). And the standout finding for me – reaffirmation that social media is not being used by buyers to guide their purchase decisions to anywhere near the degree vendors would have you believe. 50% of all purchasing decision-makers didn’t use social media at all to shape their buying decisions.

It gets worse for Twitter. Just 5% of the >200 respondents said they referred to Twitter for help in their decision-making process. This was the second-lowest score, just edging out the 4% who used Pinterest.

Top of the social platforms was not surprisingly LinkedIn (18%) and Google+ (16%). Online community sites came in at 10%.

So why are vendors (and their agencies) continuing to invest so much in their Twitter outreach? It’s certainly not based on a knowledge of their customers.

The survey is well worth reading. Hat-tip to the UK’s B2B Marketing and BaseOne.

Is there a generational aspect happening to B2B Influence?

I’ve been increasingly noticing this throughout the past year. When George W. Bush was in the White House the average age of his policy advisors was 48. When Barack Obama came into power that average came down to just 38. Not only was that always going to have an effect on a country’s defense policy, its attitude to healthcare and more, but it’s also had a very noticeable, and possibly dramatic, effect on federal policy towards technology and B2B markets.

If you go to a Microsoft developers conference and take a visual gauge of the typical age of those attending, then do the same at a Google or Facebook event, there’s a gulf between them. Anecdotally, the Microsoft event attracts 40-55 yr. olds, the Google event 20-40 yr. olds. That’s probably not a shock to anyone. But when you’re advising on U.S. tech policy for implementation over the next ten years, and you’re currently say in your late thirties, you’re far more likely to be flavoring your initial policy documents in terms more preferable to Google’s view of the world than Microsoft’s. Or IBM’s. Or even Oracle’s. You may not be conscious of this, and no-one’s suggesting it’s deliberate, but it is significant. And the traditional vendors are certainly noticing it.

I was meeting with a large professional services firm this week and I raised the issue of a generational shift in those influencing their major client decisions. If it’s happening in their market it hadn’t yet been noticed. That’s not to say they haven’t changed their practices over recent years – they’re now well on board with their social media outreach, their content marketing, etc. They consider themselves an ‘agile’ organization in every sense. But this generational change is happening – I’ve seen it too many times in other sectors for it not to be a broader trend now. Just don’t mistake this for the bland ‘youngsters live on Twitter now’ line. It’s far deeper than that.

As a salesperson, what happens when your very understanding of what constitutes ‘a logical next step’, a ‘safe decision’ or a ‘risky purchase’ is no longer even mirrored by your prospect?