Do you remember buying a car in the pre-digital age? The customer was at the complete mercy of the seller, who controlled the flow of data, and therefore, held all the cards in the interaction. My, how times have changed. Today’s buyers are so much more empowered with knowledge that enterprises need to double-down on maximizing the customer experience. This begins with the “hidden sales cycle” and carrying through the intertwined marketing, sales, and service stages of the relationship lifecycle.
Changing of the Guard: Who’s the New Boss?
More than ever before, both consumer-level and business-oriented customers are empowered with the ability to make themselves heard. The journey from marketing prospect, to sales lead, to happy client is less often dictated by the selling organization, thanks to the ubiquitous availability of user-generated and online content that is not controlled by providers of goods and services. With insight from third-party prognosticators, thumbs-up-or-down recommendations from peers, and — thanks for nothing, Twitter — billions of potential uneditable authors all adding to the potential digital impression of our products, the “voice of the customer” is more powerful than ever before. This is especially true in leveling our competitive business playing fields, if not also in undermining our best marketing and message control efforts.
As a result, the classic view of B2B customer acquisition, typically thought of as a funnel-shaped sales cycle, has, in fact, become more of a “buying cycle,” wherein the cadence and pace of an eventual purchase is dictated by the new holder of all the cards: the buyer. Aberdeen research published in Social Powers Activate: Engineering Social Engagement to Win the Hidden Sales Cycle, identifies how the strongest-performing companies are, however, able to effectively restore equilibrium to this pendulum power swing within the customer’s journey. They do so primarily through the use of proactive, social media-centric best practices that maximize the likelihood of a positive image, and reduce the chance of appearing undesirable, during the “hidden” portion of a sales prospect’s early-stage, due-diligence investigation of potential business partners. When we isolate these core competencies in terms of their frequency of adoption by Leaders, versus Followers, we see in Figure 1 a direct correlation between stronger corporate performance, and the deployment of these capabilities.
Figure I: Leaders Anticipate and Influence the Hidden Sales Cycle
The common thread among the three best practices showcased in Figure 1 is the term “engagement.” Leaders have come to understand — sometimes through painful and public dramatics — that there will probably be a public, online conversation about their companies and products, whether they like it or not. Rather than simply waiting to respond to negative situations, such as a customer service fiasco or product recall, these top performers stay ahead of the curve with an aggressive social media strategy that populates the trending conversations before troubles occur.
With customers, prospects and influencers hopefully pre-positioned with a positive brand association, the unexpected barriers thrown up by negative scenarios are more smoothly navigated. This is because the company has developed a reputation as a trusted partner. Think about how famously customer-friendly and socially-savvy consumer businesses such as Amazon.com or Southwest Airlines sail through mini-crises more unscathed, compared with oil companies or the federal government. A more positive pre-event brand has become table stakes for companies seeking to weather such storms; the B2B space can learn from these examples, as well. It should also be noted that the hidden-cycle concept is a repeatable one: long-term customers have plenty of opportunity to view competitive offerings; it’s crucial to make sure they are constantly and positively aware of the benefits we offer them.
Supporting the Independent Spirit
When was the last time you willingly elected to dial into a sales or service rep, if you had the option of exploring, buying, or adjusting your purchase or service online? As personal and business consumers, have we been conditioned by the explosion of fantastic applications and user-friendly interfaces to actually prefer digital interactions to human contact? If the proliferation of self-service technologies — at least for relatively straightforward needs or trouble-shooting — is any indication, the (potentially depressing) answer is yes. Philosophical implications aside, from a practical standpoint companies can simultaneously improve the customer experience and control customer management cost, by effectively deploying self-service (sidebar) sales and customer care environments.
This article was syndicated from Business 2 Community: The 21st Century Buying Experience: Say Farewell to the Sales Cycle
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