I recently had the privilege of speaking at the Sales 2.0 Conference in San Francisco. My session – entitled Six Factors that are Transforming B2B Sales – seemed to strike a chord. Over the next few posts I want to recount the thoughts I shared and get your views.
I started my presentation with a perspective on the current landscape and the environment in which we all seek to survive and thrive.
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Do you ever have one of those days when you get up and hope that just for one day nothing changes? Sometimes it feels as if we are barely hanging on, buffeted by a torrent of innovation and evolution. But maybe today will be the day when you won't have to adjust or adapt, reorganize or rework …
But, I don’t think so.
Things are happening more quickly than ever. In the next 30 minutes;
- 700,000 apps will be downloaded from the AppStore,
- Users will spend 146 days on Facebook – yes, in the next 30 minutes – think about that, and
- 21,000 new Twitter accounts will be created
“But wait”, I hear you say, I’m concerned about B2B sales – should I care that Lady Gaga has 20 million followers on Twitter? (That’s about one person for every 20 people in the US, or one for every 400 in the world.)
I think we can learn from this – not just from the fact that Lady Gaga has 20 million Twitter followers – but the overall metamorphosis of human interaction that we are witnessing first hand. Because, if we observe carefully, we will see that consumers are often the first to travel the journey that businesses subsequently follow.
Consumer Behavior is a Predictor of Business Behavior
Consider the changes you’ve seen in business over the past 10 years – particularly when it comes to technology – and you will notice that consumer behavior is always a good indicator of what will happen in the business world. Trends that you see in B2C interactions are usually followed by similar engagement in the B2B world.
As an example: Consumers were the first players in the App Economy, downloading applications from Apple’s AppStore, only to be followed by businesses that are now both distributing and consuming applications in this self-service model.
In the software world, online application stores from new-economy players such as the AppExchange from salesforce.com, and Google’s Marketplace, now sit alongside offerings from the traditional software companies. SAP provides the Ecohub that it describes as ‘the community-powered online solution marketplace that is your trusted source for discovering, evaluating, and buying solutions from SAP’. Microsoft – who for a long time might have been accused of fighting the subscription economy – now has it’s own Marketplace where, as of March 2012, provided 70,000 apps, and looking to one of its main business application areas, Microsoft has made considerable investments in the Microsoft Dynamics Marketplace where it serves up ERP and CRM solutions.
HP and Oracle also jumped on the appstore bandwagon, both unveiling platforms (in late 2011) designed to help others get their own app store initiatives underway. HP’s Storefront Portal offers a framework capable of enabling two-sided business models: wholesale and retail. Oracle announced its own Digital Store platform, designed to help service providers manage the complete content lifecycle, spanning content submission, test and approval and storefront management of their app stores.
In April 2012, Amazon.com’s Amazon Web Services business, facing looming competition for its business of renting online data storage and computing, announced a store where customers will be able to rent business software from a number of third-party providers, including I.B.M., Microsoft and SAP. The offering appears to be something of a blend of the software as a service, or SaaS, business of companies like Salesforce.com and NetSuite, and the mobile app stores popularized by Apple and Google. Like SaaS, customers are renting their software, and can easily discontinue use in favor of another vendor, something much more difficult using traditional packaged software. And like an app store, the AWS Marketplace has several vendors, plus a means of discovery and comparison among products.
Think about this: Not all consumers are B2B buyers, but all B2B buyers are consumers. As if by osmosis, people are conditioned to new ways of thinking by the interactions they have as consumers, and begin to expect similar capability or convenience in their business connections and interplays. And it happens without any one noticing; incremental changes in behavior and expectation, satisfaction and dissatisfaction.
The fact remains that all business people – including both sellers and buyers – are consumers, and the lessons they learn in ‘consumer-land’ shape their thinking and expectations in “business-land’.
Consumers, salespeople and B2B buyers are changing, and not just in a small way. It’s almost as if we are seeing a remodeling or metamorphosis of the rules of both intrinsic and extrinsic behaviors before our eyes. If we take the time to step back for a minute we can observe continuous evolution. It is evident in how people connect, communicate, and collaborate, their quest for visible progress and feedback, their limited attention span, changing personal motivations, unusually peripatetic career paths, a desire for increased autonomy and self-mastery, actions more redolent of entrepreneurialism than traditional workplace obedience, a preference for where and how they work, an expectation or demand for an array of tools to apply, an acceptance of disruption and interruption, and a predilection to disrupt and interrupt.
If you’re hoping that today will be the day it doesn’t change, then I expect you are out of luck, and the best you could hope for is that the rate at which change is happening will find cause for pause, and you might get a chance to catch your breath.
On the other hand, you could choose to embrace the change, and be part of it, seeking new ways to do the tasks that are perhaps mundane or not operating optimally, and then – and here is the exciting part – you might find that there are new opportunities emerging that you never thought possible.