The more digital an organization becomes the more distant it becomes physically from its customers.
By 2020 there will be a million less business-to-business sales people in the US, according to Forrester. Their jobs will be replaced by web content and apps. According to a 2012 CEB Sales Leadership Council report, sales person interactions accounted for 53% of the influence factors when it came to making the purchase decision.
All around us people are being replaced by content, by software. It’s increasingly a self-service world we’re living in. However, good sales reps don’t just sell. They build relationships with customers. They understand their needs, they understand the market, keep an eye on competitors. They keep the organization grounded and in touch because they’re out there in the real world every day.
At the face-to-face interaction level, organizations have never had less contact with customers. They are increasingly locked away in a technology bubble. There is a real danger of extreme organization-centricity setting it.
At one level, technology is closing the doors through which the customer used to walk to meet the employee, through which the employee used to walk to meet the customer.
At another level, technology is opening up new windows through which and organization can view customer behaviour. Big Data is essentially an explosion of customer data. However, according to survey by Actian, yet 77% of respondents said that their big data initiatives are not living up to expectations. It’s data, data everywhere, but insight and empathy for customers is scarcer and scarcer. It’s an irony that at one level we have never had more data on our customers, while at another level we have never known less about them.
Amazon, Twitter, Google and Facebook are valued brands, but when was the last time you ever talked to—let alone met—anyone from these companies? It’s clear that an organization doesn’t need to physically meet its customers in order to understand and serve them.
While these web companies don’t meet their customer too often, they sure as hell invest huge energy in understanding their online behavior. They have customer-centric cultures that focus on making decisions based on evidence of how customers are behaving. They design in the wild of the Web, where the customer lives. They believe in the beta and continuous improvement based on constant customer feedback. They live and work in the space of their customers, on the Web, in the network.
You can’t close the doors to face-to-face interactions with your customers without opening online windows that will help you gain that customer insight and empathy so vital for survival today.
Customers expect that you know them. They don’t want to keep entering their name and telephone number when they know you already have it. They expect that you know what they bought last year. They want appropriate recommendations. They’re not necessarily looking for a relationship from you, but they do expect convenience, ease-of-use.
When you know and like Tom the sales rep, you’re willing to be a bit flexible if the delivery is a little late. But when it’s Tom the Website, you have little patience. Your impatience when it comes to self-service is much higher than in face-to-face situations.
As organizations grow more physically distant from their customers it has never been more important to get closer to them online.