By Ian Levine
There’s a cultural shift happening with the way customers make purchase decisions. More than ever before, with social media, public review sites, and the Internet giving people unprecedented access to information and opinions, buyers’ business-to-consumer purchasing habits are starting to blend into the way they make business-to-business (B2B) purchases as well.
With this much access, buyers are tuning sellers out. They no longer trust content and messages from salespeople and marketers. Instead, they trust a recommendation from their barista at Starbucks more than that latest eBook you sent. Additionally, they’re overwhelmed and frustrated by the buying process and large, indecisive purchasing committees internally at their own companies.
So what’s happening? Customers are turning to their peers for help.
So what should businesses do internally to shift with these macro changes? Embrace them. Businesses should cater to what’s naturally happening and re-align around the customer. Change is the norm in corporate America, and “transformation” is the buzz word. This year, more companies are choosing customer-centric strategies. In fact, Forrester has actually coined the term, “Age of the Customer.” Companies are adding a new senior role called chief customer officer, and studies show customers are engaging differently and buying differently.
When buyers engage you later, take longer to close, and trust you less and less, you leverage a source they do listen to, and trust to accelerate the process—their peers. Companies are incorporating peer-to-peer selling techniques and strategies that focus on advocacy, referrals, and customer references as effective tactics in their sales and marketing processes.
What are the two best practices to lead transformation and remain customer-centric, while successfully supporting these cultural shifts at your company?
Change isn’t an overnight thing and involves many people and moving parts to be successful. So communication is important in getting everyone onboard and supportive of the change. For example, imagine if management tells the organization, “a top best practice organization, employing many smart people, recommended a slew of customer-centric changes, thus we are re-organizing and implementing starting next week.” The employees will most likely feel they had no say in the change and have a cynical and negative view of it. Contrast that with a strategy where the company engages the organization on a multi-departmental, multi-level discussion around the corporate challenges. Then offers up a realignment of strategy focused on the customer. During the process, they allow for open debate about the pros and cons of organizing around the customer. As opposed to autocratically telling employees, the company created a forum for open communication. A cross section of leaders and front line workers participate in the strategic journey of why, what and how. Why do we need to change? What do we need to do? How are we going to do it?
Too often, companies skip the first two steps and simply announce the last one. By inviting a multi-departmental, multi-level team into the discussion early and debating “the why,” you will avoid cultural stress due to transformation initiatives.
Remember Who Your Customer Trusts and Why
As referenced above, communicating and fully understanding the “why” is critically important when undergoing a significant business shift. Support the change in your organization with data. It’s hard to accept, but your buyer—and sometimes existing customers—don’t trust you. Remember, they trust and rely on their peers more and more. Show your employees the numbers to back up your goal/changes you’re communicating above.
New 2016 purchasing data from Sirius decisions shows technology buyers are relying on referrals, peers, and references as the key criteria for make purchase decisions.
The 2017 annual report from Edelman Trust Index shows for the first time in history, people consider their peers just as credible as technical/academic experts.
According to Demand Base, 53 percent of buyers rely on peer recommendations before making a purchasing decision.
A recent CSO Insights study shows CXO’s make a decision 25 percent faster with a good reference.
This kind of data helps support several customer-centric sales and marketing change initiatives like commissioning net promoter scores, establishing client advisory boards, or establishing advocate-centric marketing and sales programs that are referral or reference based.
The bottom line is that you can’t control your buyer’s decision. You can’t control what your customers say about you to their peers. But you can create opportunities within your organization to ensure you’re fostering happy customers and that your happiest customers are advocating to their peers in ways that measurably make an impact in your organization. It’s the way B2B buying culture is shifting; and with the right customer-centric practices, you’ll be poised for success now and for years to come. SW
Ian Levine is chief sales officer and a board member of RO Innovation, an enterprise software solution for sales enablement that activates the voice of your customers. He is a well-known sales and marketing executive with more than 30 years of industry experience. Follow Ian on Twitter @salesbyian, or contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Download the eBook, “CMO’s Guide to Peer-to-Peer-Selling,” from www.roinnovation.com.