A while ago I was named by OpenView Labs as one of the Top 25 Sales Influencers for 2012 – their list of “25 of the most powerful thought leaders in the world of sales management, lead generation, and more”.
Quite flattering. And it got me thinking that I ought to be doing a bit of influencing…
I’m not going to make outlandish predictions, or tell you that everything’s going to change overnight – because it isn’t.
But what i think we will see is the continuation – perhaps the acceleration – of some powerful trends that are changing the way we need to market and sell our services.
The first big trend is that our clients just have so much less time available than ever before.
Now I’m sure you’ve noted this for yourself before. We’re all busier and busier these days.
But it’s a vital issue for marketing because what’s happening is that our clients are reducing or withdrawing from a lot of activities that used to bring them into early contact with professionals.
The days of clients holding speculative meetings with potential suppliers “just in case” something useful might come out of it, or to “discuss their needs” are long gone.
And I don’t know about you, but whereas even a few years ago when I went to networking events and met interesting people who I didn’t see an immediate opportunity to work with – I’d arrange a “follow up coffee” and we’d explore each other’s businesses and maybe something would roll out of it downstream.
I just don’t do those sort of meetings any more. And neither do clients. No time.
And that means that networking and trying to get those early discussion meetings with clients is becoming increasingly less effective as a marketing approach.
The second big trend is that we’re all becoming much more resistant to – even resentful of – being “sold to”.
We want to be in control of how we buy and decide. We hate being pushed or manipulated. The old advice to salespeople that they must “control the process” is a surefire route to losing the sale these days.
A few months ago, for example, I wanted to change my business bank account and was about to start looking around when I got a phone call from a nice lady from Barclays Bank offering to tell me about their business account and the benefits it would bring me.
Great timing seemingly. Just what I wanted.
Except I said “no thanks, if I want to find out about your account I’ll look it up online”.
It was a knee-jerk reaction to avoid being sold to. But it made sense too. We’ve all experienced that when we actively search for things we want rather than passively reacting to salespeople, we get a much better deal.
The impact: marketing methods like cold calling or advertising that interrupt our clients and where we try to “push” our stuff on them just don’t work any more.
Well, they still work a bit. But they’re a lot, lot harder work.
And the final trend? We all have so much more choice available to us.
Or more accurately, we now have much more visibility of our choices – we can see what’s out there.
In the “old days” – perhaps only a few years ago – when a client hired a new professional to work with them it was a huge leap of faith.
Usually the client wasn’t an expert in the area, and they had very little to go on: a CV, some references (but everyone has great references don’t they? Even the duffers). And their experience of the person when they met them.
So very often once a client found someone who did a good job for them they’d keep using them. Often in areas where they weren’t a real expert.
The fact that they could trust them, that they worked hard and hit their deadlines made them a “safe pair of hands”. They were a much less risky option than the potential expert who the client just didn’t know.
But nowadays when you’re looking for a professional, for very many (myself included) you can watch video of them on the web. You can read a bunch of their articles and get a sense of whether they really know their stuff. You can get a feeling for whether you’d be able to work with them.
It’s not the same as having worked with them before. But it’s very often enough to tip the balance in their favour vs the safe pair of hands.
As a result, “client loyalty” is declining.
I say “client loyalty” in quotes as in many cases it wasn’t that the client was loyal – it was just that the other options seemed too risky. Now they don’t.
So now the easy option for professionals of just doing project after project for a client that sees them as a safe option is declining too.
Now these forces all look on the face of it like big risks. Decreasing loyalty, resistance to “selling”, no time to meet us.
But they’re also a huge opportunity too. A growing cadre of potential clients being marketed to in ineffective ways by your competitors means a big opening for you.
More on that soon…