In the shadow of COVID - 19, we will see a serious change in the make-up of our buyer markets in B2B. Furloughs will become permanent layoffs; companies will re-organize, and technology adoption will move into high gear resulting in more workforce upheaval. It's out with the old and in with the new.
As Peggy Noonan pointed out in the WSJ article dated June 12, 2020: “Thirty million have filed for unemployment. Here is a fear-based on the vibrations coming from CEOs and other captains of great entities: They'll use the 2020 crash as cover to do things they've long wanted to do, which is get rid of costly people in their corporations, especially in the middle levels. Some will speed up artificial intelligence and robotics. They'll announce they're ‘redefining their mission.’ They'll be shaking off people they've wanted to shake off.”
In a similar vein, James Allen of Bain & Company writes of the same outcome in “The Coronavirus May Inspire a Great Retooling - What the CEOs of the 2020s can learn from the business leaders of the 1940s as they confront Covid-19.” Allen says that “A ﬁrm’s purpose has always been to manage three great conﬂicts and make the right trade-offs for customers: scale vs. customer intimacy, routines vs. disruption and short-term planning vs. long-term planning. CEOs are retooling their ﬁrms to manage these conﬂicts digitally. Leaders recognize that their companies will live or die based on the speed at which they adopt new technologies and new mindsets.”
The extent and specifics of these possibilities remain uncertain. What is certain is that these changes will cause a reorganization of your buying audience.
What Does This Mean for the B2B Leader
All the work you have undertaken to painstakingly identify, gather, enhance, manage, and communicate with that target audience will need to be re-worked as the target audience gets rebuilt. Estimates vary as to the scale of changes in the workforce, but some economists predict that 42% of workers furloughed will never return. To make the situation more challenging, those that do get replaced by other humans will be replaced by members of a younger demographic group. According to Merit, – "73% of millennial workers are involved in decisions to purchase products or services for their companies”. And according to Trust Radius, “over 45% of B2B technology buyers are 25 to 34 year old's making them the single largest demographic followed by 30% in the 35 to 44-year-old age group.” Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse on this one, Gartner reminds us that “In a typical firm with 100 to 500 employees an average of seven people are involved in most buying decisions.”
Here’s the problem then:
The composition of your target market is changing. You have to rebuild this data. In other words, a large percentage of those pesky contact records in your CRM is "yesterday's news." You'll need the new names, email addresses, phone numbers, LinkedIn profiles, etc.
You don’t just need the new names and contact information; you need to realize that the buyer’s habits and preferences are changing. New buyer - new demographic – new habits – new preferences, which means you’ll probably need to re-think your approach.
You need to do this quickly. Remember what James Allen said above, "…companies will live or die based on the speed at which they adopt new technologies and new mindsets.”
The Beat goes On - Well Known Stats on the “Buyer Journey."
We already know the stats on the buyer's journey, so popularized over the last ten years.
67% of the buyer's journey is now done digitally (Sirius)
63% of consumers need to hear company claims three to five times before they actually believe it (Edelman Trust Barometer)
B2B buyers are typically 57% of the way to a buying decision before actively engaging with sales (CEB)
Some of these statistics seem unclear and contradictory. What is clear is that buying behavior has and continues to move online, and the new group of buyers you're going to be dealing expect to communicate within that digital domain.
The New Demographic
This new group of buyers doesn't have the same hang-ups as their predecessors did. Their habits are different, as are their tolerances. They know that in the words of Rockwell (with backing vocals by Michael Jackson), "Somebody's Watching Me." And they don't care. Millennial and Gen Z buyers have proven time and time again that they are prepared to trade privacy for convenience. According to Waqas Baig in Security Today, May 20, 2020, "approximately 6% of online users have damaged their reputation, and 1% of them have to resign from their jobs and leave their careers just because of the online world.” Members of the Millennial and Gen Z groups clearly see the risk of being compromised as pretty low.
So, it doesn't matter to them that their browsing habits are available to be seen; they are cookied to death with AI algorithms gathering information and learning patterns about their behavior. These new buyers will expect you to "keep up." So, you might want to shelve all those broadcast fax marketing programs.
Is the Relationship Train running out of Steam?
If the composition of my target market is changing, and the habits and preferences within it are also shifting, how significant is this for how we sell to them? The answer is in the question. It represents a significant departure to how you currently sell and market. Add to this, the dynamic of less physical contact (not because of CV-19, but because it's cheaper to do everything on video calls), and the implications for those all-important business relationships are compelling.
On the one hand, some people argue that the business relationship of yesteryear has been under siege for some years as buyers try to ensure more dispassionate, objective decision making through rigorous and formalized buying processes. Others argue that people are people and that for social, even neurological reasons, relationships, and the ability to build and manage them will remain important in business. Technological and generational evolution might change how we build and manage relationships forever, or they might just be blips in the regular cycles of human behavior.
The advent of the web, mobile, and social media younger digital natives grow up with an entirely different view of relationships. It should not be surprising that as they become the dominant generation in the workforce that the relationship dynamics might change. According to the CMO Council, “already 84% of CEOs and Vice Presidents use social media to help make purchasing decisions.”
The modern business relationship has fascinating contradictions. Younger professionals take the basic lessons of relationship building (like the idea of establishing rapport) but then implement them clumsily. They don't understand that translating this into a dispersed, digital model requires mastery of the nuances so often trivialized by “non” salespeople. In contrast to self-guided buying journeys and buyers who claim to increasingly buy based on "feature superiority, Once more CSO Insights reminds us that “45% of B2B buyers want to hear new ideas at the beginning of the sales conversation.”
Trying to conduct any relationship of varying statuses (suspect, prospect, lead, customer) in a remote model is accompanied by its own set of challenges. The move to “inside” sales roles will accelerate. Firms will benefit from short-term financial savings as inside teams are cheaper but can sacrifice longer-term gains found in the high-touch approach of the field sales model which establishing the trust required for enduring relationships. Pre pandemic statistics from CSO Insights revealed that; “65% of B2B buyers said that they found value in discussing their situations with salespeople." It remains to be seen if the post-Covid, video-enabled inside teams can maintain this.
Digital natives are more technologically savvy than their predecessors. They don't need the "hand-holding" part of B2B relationships, relying less on the vendor for support and guidance. Modern companies’ approach to this was to create the “Customer Success” role. But most then overload these reps, causing them to show up late to calls, jumping off calls prematurely and always reminding you how busy they are with other customers. That's just what customers DON’T want to hear.
These are uncertain, confusing times, and fortune will favor the brave. Here are some suggestions to enable you to at least preserve, if not grow, and help you and your team resist giving back what you’ve built over the last few years.
Rebuild your target market now, don't delay. This is basic stuff, so don't let missing the basics let you down. If you use some of the emerging buyer intent and social listening technology, you'll find it's not as painful as it used to be.
Line up with the habits and preferences of those new buyers. They care less about the "niceties" of previous sales thinking. They know they're "being watched." They know that you know where they've been, and engaging with them, as a result, won't offend anyone. This is not an excuse to rush into clumsy sales pursuits, but you can't stay on the sidelines either.
Spend time evaluating the demand type you are dealing with, as defined by Sirius. You have to be ruthless here. Most companies suffer from two problems.
First - They are reluctant to confine themselves to one category as they think this will reduce their market opportunity. Forget that – you have to have a maniacal focus in times like these.
Second - They are the victims of vanity and aspiration. They want to be more sophisticated than they are. Forget that as well. You should have plans and a business development road map for the future, but you also must "know yourself." This can be a life's journey for most of us, but you just don't have that much time.
Concede which type of demand your sales teams and marketing teams can handle. Can they "create" demand, or can they just handle "existing or active" demand. Most salespeople will claim to be the former when, in fact, most are not. Most salespeople are either unwilling or unable to "create" demand. If there’s nothing going on in an account, they prefer to move on down the street in search of "active demand."