The Business Buyer Manifesto

As our own business grows, I find myself more frequently in the role of a business buyer. It is a stark reminder of why we do what we do at Artesian.

CC Bloom Syndrome

A meeting with a potential supplier, only a few days ago, was a classic example of what will now be forever known to me as  CC Bloom Syndrome, a behavioural trait described by Forrester’s Scott Santucci in his blog post Closing the Divide Between Sellers and Executive Level Buyers: A Plea ! Three colleagues and I sat through a forty five minute demonstration peppered with questions and answers. Our time had been well spent and having done a great job, the pre-sales consultant handed back to the seller. At this point we were asked how we would now rank their product against others we had seen.

The preceding highly interactive session had revealed much about our specific needs. We’re an interesting company, in a growth space, tackling a new market, well funded and introducing new systems and processes around old ones that we are outgrowing.  I didn’t understand why he didn’t have more questions about, errr, us. Instead, like the character CC Bloom in the film Beaches, we were asked Anyway, that’s enough about us, over to you, what do you think about us?

The first five thesis of the Business Buyer Manifesto

Our seller hadn’t appreciated that the world has changed. He hadn’t figured out what our business, a business that has social selling at its core, would want from a seller. Irony upon irony.

In a world where the dynamic between buyers and sellers has changed dramatically there are at least five new imperatives to observe, to underpin each and every customer interaction. I make no apology that the tone is inspired by the Cluetrain Manifesto one of the most prescient pieces ever published on the future of business.

  1. It’s the Buyers Process. I am not part of your sales process, you are part of my buying decision. Like many B2B buyers according to research from the Corporate Executive Board, by the time I contact you I am 57pc of the way through my decision. That’s right, if it was  a sales process, then how did I get more than half way through it without you?
  2. Buyers Needs are increasingly Transparent. We are all busy but I will have done some research on you, your products and your competitors. Many of my needs as a business buyer are identifiable from news about my company, from my LinkedIN updates, my tweets and blogging. It is all out there so return the favour.
  3. Do the Right Thing. I don’t need an introduction to your existing customers, I can  find them, their views and what it is to work with you today because all of these things are on-line. I will not  take any single view, rating, recommendation at face value. Connected buyers are more sophisticated in their use of social media than that. We are looking for patterns. Ask yourself, have you been doing the right thing for your customers? I will be.
  4. Be Authentic. Like most B2B buyers, according to a Forrester survey, I  have read three pieces of content for each carefully created corporate marketing piece you offer me. And, as a connected buyer I place more trust on the views of my extended network anyway. Don’t position, posture or handle my objections with pat techniques or scripts. Instead, be open and honest. I am not looking for perfect, few of us are. But I demand authentic.
  5. Exercise Leadership. Much is said about power shifting from seller to buyer but the new reality is parity, not control. I understand that wherever there is change there is sales. Sellers that exercise leadership help us challenge the status quo, provide answers and offer direction. You should be good at this stuff, you have been on this journey before.

Social Sellers

The social seller then is not waiting for a key word in the conversation so that she can launch into a sales pitch. Instead she is looking to understand, to learn, to help and to lead. The social in social selling is less about the media, the tools and the platforms and more about recognising the 5 imperatives. To serve the buyer and proactively interpret their need as a result of being immersed in their customers world.  Understanding, openness and authenticity earns trust and builds reputation that gives social sellers the right to take a leadership role taking them and their customers to a place of mutual success.

For those that continue to ignore the changing dynamic between buyer and seller, the Cluetrain will keep stopping … perhaps they should take a delivery.

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The future of CRM is here. What it is might surprise you.

surprise-01The future of selling

I often post on the impetus for social selling; why sellers need to adapt to the changing world of the social buyer. I am not alone of course. It is the subject of any number of books including the New Handshake (Joan C Curtis, Barbara Giamanco) , eSelling (Sean Mcpheat) and is at at the heart of Dan Pink’s latest To Sell is Human where Pink articulates the changing dynamic between buyer and seller as a change from Caveat Emptor to Caveat Venditor. The inevitable question is where all of this taking us?

The future of CRM …

To me the answer is not emerging in the world of CRM but in the thinking around Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) Doc Searls, one of the Cluetrain authors, in his book The Intention Economy, vividly describes a world where the systems that manage the relationship between buyer and seller are owned and operated by the buyer. Communication between the two is not controlled by monolithic supplier side systems and processes  but by a multitude of buyer side applications. The first clue to the future of CRM is that it is not the Customer being managed. It’s the vendor.

… is Apps

I was thrilled then to read a post from Anshu Sharma, in enterpriseirregulars.com which makes exactly the same point. Sharma suggests that the new breed of CRM is here, it is inherently vertical and it manages the relationship from every perspective. It is apps. He points at Airbnb, Uber and OpenTable amongst others  where the customer is driving the relationship not the vendor. Applications like Tripadvisor allow customers to book hotels, flights, restaurant tables but supported with the social validation of others. We are becoming sophisticated social buyers, looking for patterns in ratings from others rather than being swayed by a single positive or negative review. We can all spot the overly enthusiastic and the terminally underwhelmed. Sellers are, quite rightly, getting a voice too. Sellers get a right to reply and they get to describe their own property, menu or venue. They have to keep it honest though. Social is not like traditional marketing platforms and those that misguidedly think it is are taken to task. JP Morgan executives started to think that their tweetup was a bad idea when their #askjpm attracted questions like ‘Is it easier to purchase a congressional representative or a senator?’ When the number of abusive posts reached two out of three they called it off.

The future is here
Sharma uses one of my favourite quotes; William Gibson ‘The Future is already here – its just unevenly distributed’. If we are looking to the future of CRM I would suggest that it still has a long time to play out. Like Sharma, I can see Salesforce becoming a $10 billion dollar baby and adapting to the increasingly social buyer. Beyond this though, you can see the future in fragments of apps and social platforms and sellers are going to have to deal with massively increasing complexity. The future of CRM is a misnomer. It is not one where sellers manage customer relationships at all but one where they are being managed on the customers terms. It can’t come too soon.

Social Selling: Why 2014 is the Right Time

Social Success

According to a 2012 study from the Aberdeen Group, those that have adopted a social approach to selling are achieving far betters results than those that have not. Look at quota attainment, customer rentention even forecast accuracy and social sellers come out on top.

As we enter another New Year, social sellers are proving to be more successful.

What is Social Selling

Outwardly, Social Selling is about making use of social platforms to communicate with their prospects, customers, channel and colleagues. However it is not tools that define a social seller, instead it is how (and why) they use the tools that sets them apart.

Social Sellers have a Presence

According to the 2013 B2B Lead Generation Report by Holger Schulze, over 90% of B2B buyers begin their buying process online. Those sellers that have a presence and are contributing will be engaging with their customers far earlier than those that are not.  Those sellers that do not have a profile on the major social platforms  will not be noticeable by their absence. They will just be absent.

Social sellers maintain a professional on-line presence so that they, not just their companies, can be found when their prospects begin their buying process.

Social Sellers Make a Contribution

Maintaining a presence is just the start for a social seller. They want to be active in the communities they serve, educating, sharing, moving the conversation forward. Those that sell payment services spell out what new regulation might mean; those that sell unified communications explore how telepresence impacts an increasingly mobile workforce.

There is more to a Social Seller than their products and services. They are  focused on the challenges and opportunities that their customers care about.

Social Sellers Listen

Listening is the subject of countless books, is one of Dale Carnegies ways of influencing people and one of Stephen Covey’s habits of highly effective people. All social interactions begin with listening and the new world of social platforms is no different. By listening Social Sellers gain insights into their customer and understand their priorities. They listen carefully so that when their customers are ready to buy – they are ready to help.

Social Sellers Lead

Selling, in my view, has much in common with leadership. As sellers, we need to engage our buyers by knowing what their opportunities and challenges are. We can then offer a fresh and external perspective on how to meet them.  Sellers are  catalysts for change but buyers naturally have their own ideas of what works well, and it’s not easy to challenge the status quo.

Change comes from being a leader, from offering your customers new ways of thinking about their business. I have some issues with the  The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, not least of which is that I don’t believe sellers have a right to take control of the customer conversation. However, the key to Matthew Dixons and Brent Adamsons text is that sellers have a responsibility to challenge the established position.

Social sellers have lifted their game beyond understanding their own products and services. Instead, they understand their customers markets, invest in the issues their customers face and demonstrate thought leadership.

The Bottom Line:

Social Sellers are seeing early success. They are retaining their customers and making their numbers. They are not achieving this by simply being on LinkedIn, following Stephen Fry or Tweeting about their flight delays. They are  adapting to a new environment. They are adding value, building trust and creating meaningful relationships. What’s more they are unconstrained by limitations of time and distance because they are using online social platforms to extend their reach into new communities previously unaccessible to them. Most importantly though, they are establishing themselves in a new environment, an environment where their customers are already comfortable. Social sellers are getting ahead whilst those that refuse to see that their customers live in a new world are falling behind.

By the end of 2013, the voice of the social buyer grew stronger and louder. Were you around to hear them so that you can change in 2014?

Death of a (Maverick) Salesman

‘The only thing you got in this world is what you can sell and the funny thing is you are a salesman and you don’t know that’, Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman, 1949

Sellers Beware

In Daniel Pink’s To Sell is Human, Pink suggests that buyers and sellers have moved from caveat emptor to  caveat venditor.  Sellers are no longer the first point of contact when buyers want to know about our products and services. Google is. Sellers are not even going to our web pages. They are going to their networks.

According to a study from the Corporate Executive Board, buyers are almost 60% of the way through their decision before they even speak to a seller. They don’t need sellers until much later in their purchase cycle. They are better connected through social platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter than they have ever been before and they trust each other before they trust sellers.

Today, buyers have reviews, ratings, and comparison shopping at their fingertips, sellers have more incentives to be fair and honest. Seller behaviour must be about doing the right thing or “seller beware.”

Behaviour versus Performance

Think about what this means in terms of measuring not only the performance of a sales team but their behaviours.

Artesian Maverick Quadrant

In the diagram above is a set of quadrants that demonstrates how sales managers have historically managed their team. On the y axis is performance, on the x axis behaviour.

In the good performance/good behaviour quadrant are performers. If we do anything with performers it is about them helping and coaching others to their level. They set the benchmark for the rest of the team.

In the poor behaviour/poor performance are non-performers. These are likely to be going through some performance improvement plan.

An enlightened sales manager will work with TryersTryers are doing all the right thing but not getting the right results. With expert coaching, time and attention their performance usually follows.

The Maverick has left the building

Finally, there is the Maverick quadrant. These sellers exhibit good performance but poor behaviours. Let’s face it, Mavericks, have historically been tolerated. Their contribution to the quarterly numbers is tough to resist. In any case, their performance will eventually drop at some point so sales managers  play a waiting game.  When it plummets, and given that the Maverick’s underlying behaviour – it will, they are unceremoniously exited.

However, the damage has already been done.

If we are lucky, their short-termism was only making them unpopular with their co-workers. The Maverick will often be heard hurumphing around the office complaining about the ‘sales prevention department’ which was variously finance, services, sales support or whoever it is that has identified a flaw in their latest ‘deal’.

Equally as likely though, they are mis-selling or overselling and creating a legacy of customer problems and problem customers.

Few customers keep these problems secret. With complete control of a sales cycle though, sellers could steer around the debris. In a socially enabled world, not so much. And empowered customers are sharing it with their network. Their always-on, global network. A tweet or a LI status update can reach tens of thousands of prospective customers. Competitors too. It is also a permanent record. Some of that buying cycle (the 57% invisible to the seller) can be used to find out what existing customers think. Good selling behaviour leaves behind a trail of satisfied customers and positive comments. Poor behaviour also leaves a trail. The maverick can no longer be tolerated. Caveat Venditor.

Better Selling Is …

In To Sell is Human, Pink also demonstrates that the networked age requires more not less sellers. More of us sell than ever before and those that don’t have to persuade, convince and compel as part of an increasingly creative and collaborative workplace. Pink calls it non-sales selling. We all need to be better sellers. However better can no longer be defined by the numbers. It can not be determined by performance alone. Instead, it must be measured by how we conduct ourselves, by our behaviours.

In short, to be better sellers we must be better humans.

Essential Tools for the Social Leader

This continues to crop up in conversation with my colleagues and customers. What are the essential tools for leading in a networked and social era. Here are my top 5.

  1. Evernote. Strictly speaking, not really a social tool. However, those that are living in the cloud (living the vida nuba) need a note taker that is versatile and available on any device that they have to hand. Evernote does this and much more. If you are not using it you are missing out. Check out Evernote Hello too.
  2. Buffer. If you have something you want to say to a community that spans the globe and that have busy twitter streams themselves then you might need to say it late at night or early in the morning. You might even need to say it twice. This needs a tool that manages your posting to a timetable so that your sharing can be sometimes scheduled and sometimes impromptu.
  3. Klout. Err, I’m sorry. I care about my social influence. Not obsessively you understand. I just want to understand if what I am sharing is working. One way of knowing if you are contributing something positive to the global conversation is to check what others are doing with your Tweets, Updates and Posts. That’s what Klout does … and there are Klout Perks too.
  4. Unfollow. If you follow me and we share interests, I follow you back. Unless you spam me, we will spend a long time sharing. I expect the same in return. Nothing anyone has to say is that important that they can’t listen from time to time. Unfollow will highlight all those one way conversationalists so that I can unfollow them. You are not Brian Solis, after all. Unless you are.
  5. Linked In and Twitter Apps. Yes, I know that this is two really but what I mean is native apps. Whilst I use aggregators  the native apps keep getting better so I use them frequently for new insights into how they can be used to  nourish my network.

That’s my list. My essentials. There are more of course including pocket (you really need this!), bitly, feedly and flipboard but I really could not function without these any more. If you are part of the connected generation you will have a similar list too and no doubt we some in common.

Facebook Graph Search: The Power of the Nodes and Edges

According to Mashable, Facebook Graph Search could be it’s greatest innovation. I tend to agree. FB have eight years of Big Data (including almost over two billion new Likes each day) to help us identify products, services and brands that we might need through the experiences of those in our social network.

Actually, a graph consists of only two things; Nodes (people) and edges (their relationships) Analysis of these though can reveal much. The simplest is a measurement of neighbours, the number of edges and their direction. A node with a large number of inward edges (or indegree) can be thought of as popular. One with a large number of outward edges gregarious. If it were possible, Lady Gaga could make a whole boutique full of dresses out of her indegree. Simple analysis of these elements are behind ‘People You May Know’ features in LinkedIn, Chatter, Connections, Jive and Facebook to mention just a few.

New Nodes

Of course, the FB Graph includes other types of nodes (businesses, brands, products) and many other types of edge including the ubiquitous Like. FB also have demographics and psychographics because we surrender more information about ourselves to FB than we would feel comfortable doing in any other survey online or offline. We’re all concerned about privacy but generally end up somewhere around ‘what are you gonna do?’.

These simple elements add up to something very powerful. It’s possible not just to find French restaurants in Frimley but those that are preferred by frequent travellers to the Côte. Not just DIY stores nearby but those popular with power tool enthusiasts. Robert Putnam could have found countless examples for his book on the decline of social capital Bowling Alone. And it is just the beginning. Let’s not forget that those edges include ‘listened’, ‘read’, ‘watched’,’hiked’ and ‘cooked’ to name but a few of the verbs now residing in your facebook apps list and your personal social graph.

Big Data Breakthrough

This is a Big Data breakthrough for Facebook and puts some distance between them and their competitor, Google.  I am not sure that plus’ing is enough of an ‘edge’ at this stage. And for those that can’t see that FB and Google are competitors then remember that there is no revenue in Search. No one actually pays Google to organise the worlds information. Nor do we part with our cash for maintaing personal networks on Facebook. There is, however, a group of people willing to pay for connecting people to products they might enjoy. Advertisers. In other words there is revenue in creating new edges between nodes.  That’s the power of the graph.

Information Curation: 1 dot 1

Connecting the Dots

kusama3_bodyOn an uncharacteristically warm Summer evening in 2012 I made my way into the Tate Modern as everyone else was making their way out. It was part of my work to understand the curatorial process and its relevance to information management through one of the Tate’s infrequent but excellent curator talks. This one, from Frances Morris, concerned the recent and enormously popular Kusama exhibition.

 

The notion that curation is an emerging skill in dealing with information is not a new one. It is covered by Jeff Jarvis in his blog post ‘Death of the Curator. Long Live the Curator’ where Jarvis applies them to the field of journalism. It is also the subject of Steven Rosenbaum’s excellent book ‘Curation Nation’ which examines the meme more broadly.

 

Abundance

Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is prolific. Her work span the many decades of her life, first in rural Japan then New York in the 60’s and in contemporary Tokyo today. It is enormously varied. Her signature style of repeating dot patterns, whilst the most famous, represents only a small part of a vast and sprawling body of work. It is the perfect artistic allegory for information overload. Kusama has too much art for any one exhibition in the same way that information professionals in the age of Big Data have too much information for any one decision.

 

Morris, I figured, must have wrestled with Kusama’s prodigious nature. The problem is not one of assembling a coherent and factual account. Instead, it is one of separating out that which is relevant and that which is extraneous. It is a process of  building a series of working hypotheses and building a story that is a reality, that is a ‘truth’.

 

Analysis and Curation

Like many managers, Morris had a vague sense of the story she wanted to tell but the final story could only be told through material facts, works or ‘data’.  At first, she considered, selected, dissected and parsed as much as possible. Over time Morris selected works through more detailed  research. She travelled extensively spending time with Kusama herself in a psychiatric institution which has (voluntarily) been Kusama’s home since 1977. She also visited locations important to Kusama including her family home and museums in Matsumoto, Chiba and Wellington, New Zealand where others had curated and exhibited her work. This parallels the analytical process. One of  starting with very few, if any assumptions, and embarking a journey of discovery. Over time, through an examination of historical and contemporary data points, the story begins to unfold.

 

In the Next Post (1 dot 2)

Already we can see that curating is a process of research and selection. It has strong parallel’s with early stages of information analysis. In the next post we will look at filtering, relevance and how the curatorial process helps us understand which comes first … data or information.