Is it me or does BtoB lead generation keep getting harder? Maybe I'm guilty of nostalgically thinking everything was easier in the past. As we try to answer this question we could cover enough broad subjects to fill a book. There are many contributing influences. One that gets lost among the conversations on technology, the internet, multi-tasking and people just being busier, is the erosion of trust. This loss means we have lost faith. We don't trust anything or anyone and are permanently skeptical. Trust hasn’t disappeared on its own. Trust’s retreat has been caused by the rise of deceit. The challenge for BtoB marketers is therefore NOT just how to get through to a prospect, but also to win back the trust that has been squandered in all walks of our lives.
We're all under siege these days. According to this Forbes article from August 2017, we are exposed to anything from 4,000 to 10,000 marketing messages every day. Is this why lead generation has gotten harder? Are we fighting for a shrinking amount of mindshare with a growing number of competing messages? Patrick Kilgore from Hive9 explains this phenomenon in his July 2016 blog. Leaning on the much quoted Sirius Decisions, Kilgore lists five factors:
More competition for buyers' attention while those attention spans have dropped
The number of those participating in BtoB buying decisions having grown meaning you have to win more people over
Those people are busier than they used to be as companies continuously try to do more – with less
Decision cycles have lengthened with a new competitor emerging – that of No Decision
All these factors mean that BtoB marketers must do more with less – a sobering thought that will ultimately end in tears.
There's no doubt all these factors play a role. Technologically enabled marketers can reach broader markets more frequently than ever before, contributing to the 10,000 messages a day. However, there's something still missing. Shrinking attention spans and growing volumes of incoming messages only explains part of the picture.
Trust and the Dish on Dishonesty
We're just less trusting than we used to be, and it's not surprising. We're surrounded by fake news, fake people, misleading personal brands and blatant lies. Trust has declined because dishonest people have betrayed it. It's as simple as that. In his book, Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely discusses many interesting psychological ideas, but two are worth exploring here.
First, he identifies two types of dynamics – social norms and market norms and warns of the dangers of confusing the two. Social norms are as they sound being wrapped up in our social behavior and need for community. Market norms are also what you would expect; the laws of the market dictate, and you get what you pay for. It's the difference between your neighbor asking you to help him move his couch and your neighbor paying some moving men to move it for him. An example of mixing the social and market norms would be when you agree to help the neighbor move his couch, and then he offers you $20 for helping him. You were doing the guy a favor because you're friends, and now he's treating you like the hired help. He has mixed social and market norms and insulted you. It's the same with companies that try to achieve differentiation by encouraging a social norm, for example claiming that when you do business with them "you're one of the family." The "you're one of the family" claim falls apart when customer service requests go ignored while your deafened by the extravagant claims of the sanctity of the customer. We've become so desensitized to this type of plain dishonesty that we laugh about it until it turns life-threatening, like the Financial Crisis of 2008. We trusted governments, banks, systems, accountants, lawyers, rating agencies and "independent" bodies to guard against this type of manipulation and they all demonstrated themselves to be incapable or unwilling to discharge their duties. Then they all proved to be systemically untrustworthy, as the same legal system showed that justice really was blind.
Second, Ariely maintains that there are macro consequences to be considered. He points out that people, in general, are starting to understand that the offers that companies put before us are in THEIR best interest NOT ours. As a Consequence, we've become more distrustful of everyone". So what? Buyer beware. Hasn't it always been this way? Maybe, maybe not. Trust is a public resource, and it is finite. It's the lubricant for efficient, free-flowing societies and economies. Without it, friction grows, and transactions run more slowly. Companies become more judicious, examining propositions more carefully with more people and expanding selection processes. Decision cycles slow down becoming more drawn out and there are lots of "no decisions" – Sound familiar?
The Verto Verdict
So, what's this got to do with the Verto business of providing sales and marketing consulting and advice to B2B companies? We use the analogy of organizational and behavioral gaps. It's our job to find them and close them. In this case, it's gaps between expectations and reality and of course honesty and dishonesty. However, before I answer, consider the following:
Economies that benefit from high degrees of faith, trust and honor simply run better. As we said earlier, trust is a lubricant enabling an economy and a society to run freer, with less friction. In the West, we have generally benefited from this, and in cases where trust has broken down, the rule of law and legal professionals protect us. The rule of law, the protection of property (tangible and otherwise) allows for a creative, innovative society of free-flowing ideas. Freedom in the West has never been just about superficial "social" freedom. It has always included intellectual and commercial freedoms that require legal protections afforded from the contractual, constitutional and judicial apparatus that we have built. However, our legal protections have become unreliable. Again, I'll rely on Dan Ariely; "Strict professionalism has been replaced by flexibility, individual judgment, the laws of commerce, and the urge for wealth and with it disappeared the bedrock of ethics and values on which the professions were built." The professions of law and finance were the foundation of business which guided and protected us. They were perceived as honorable, and despite a few bad apples, this was generally true. People became lawyers due to their love of the law. Now both professions have squandered their standards in search of wealth and celebrity. Enron to WorldCom and of course the greatest of all swindles – the Mortgage Meltdown could not have been perpetrated without legions of lawyers and arsenals of accountants. They sold their souls, and they knew it.
So back to what it means in the much anticipated Verto Verdict. As leaders and principles in companies, you'll find honesty is the best policy. No, I'm serious. Honesty (or the decline in the moral standard) isn’t confined to lawyers and accountants. Sales and Marketing is a profession and those professionals need to more closely consider their ethical responsibilities. The arms race to shout extravagant claims the loudest is a proposition most of you can't win. Your budgets aren't big enough. It might be time for some meaningful professional standards and oaths organizations. The local Tech Associations could craft Codes of Ethics that Sales and Marketing professionals sign up to. In the meantime, as leaders in companies, it's your job to set examples and enforce and maintain the standards of honesty, integrity, and honor. Your business will benefit in the long run – trust me.