A while ago I posted the article titled What beats the lowest price? on our Slovene blog, which probably attracted quite an audience based on the title alone. When I started analyzing the readers, I found out they primarily consisted of people that are in some way or another involved in sales and are responsible for sales results.

This post discusses the development of a new sales channel that is undoubtedly being brought about by the Internet of Things (IoT), focusing on how a convenient buying experience influences people’s buying decisions. The fact that the title attracted readers among sales staff persuaded me to touch upon the issue of “overly high prices” once again — this time in the context of complex (B2B) sales.

The issue of “forced inquiries”

If you ask a salesperson why he couldn’t close the deal when competing for a project, they will most likely tell you they didn’t offer the right price and that they were too expensive. The price is always a welcome excuse and it always seems to be someone else’s problem, rather than the seller’s directly. But I’m not sure that’s really true. That’s certainly not always the case.

Based on my long years of experience in selling business solutions, I know that any inquiry that I failed to co-shape in some way with my opinions before I was asked to make an offer or I even forced one was most likely lost for me. My solution was often too expensive or inappropriate in some other way. I didn’t feel guilty as a seller because of that, because I wasn’t the one responsible for the pricing policy in the company.

Marketing is a process, too: connect it with sales!

I know today that “Alright then, prepare an offer for me” is a forced inquiry that doesn’t have even the slightest chance of closing the deal. All you can achieve with this is that the customer doesn’t submit an order to anyone. If you have nothing else to do, this may also be success, although not much of one.

Over the past years, we’ve managed to finally grasp that sales is a process that systematically manages sales opportunities, but now it’s time we understood that sales is also a marketing process. Only a combination of both ensures business growth to companies involved in complex B2B sales.

Customers used to be educated by salespeople, but now marketers are taking on this role

I look at the issue of overly high prices differently now. If we’re too expensive, it’s very likely that someone didn’t do their job in the process of winning a new deal. Almost always this happens when we get involved in the customer’s buying decision process too late and we have to skip a phase or two in this process, during which customers are gathering information and shaping their buying preferences.

Customers used to be educated by salespeople, but now marketers are taking on this role with useful content on the internet. Because customers can access information by simply clicking on it, they do their own research and look for information that is useful to them or their companies. That’s why salespeople get involved in their buying decision process fairly late. It is actually the usefulness of our internet content that largely co-shapes customers’ buying preferences and determines whether our salespeople will even have an opportunity to establish personal contact.

I a way, the “convenient purchase” rule also applies to selling complex B2B solutions, only that it’s reflected a bit differently: through the safety of buying decisions. Buying safety is the key value. Nothing is as expensive as choosing the wrong provider. Providers that show the best professional competence already through their marketing activities usually have such a big advantage that the competition’s sales staff can only catch up with great difficulty upon personal contact.

Let’s take action

Over the past years, we’ve managed to finally grasp that sales is a process that systematically manages sales opportunities, but now it’s time we understood that sales is also a marketing process. A process of systematically generating interest and nurturing prospects with an ongoing and proactive supply of useful content that helps them make a safer buying decision. Only a combination of both processes ensures business growth to companies involved in complex B2B sales.

For a start, I highly recommend that you read the free manual, which we prepared as an aid in learning how to approach your customers the right way, how to track them, and how to recognize their needs.

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Learn how to approach your customers the right way

I say “children” only because we—their parents and grandparents—are more reserved, afraid, or cautious than our children. Even though we may not admit it, the fact is that we’re already sharing information on our environment and ourselves with many others who use it to their advantage. The fact is also that in the future there’ll be significantly more of this sort of information collection and more opportunities to use it.

Let’s take a look at smart homes. Information on each heater, the position of blinds, lighting in all rooms, the audio and video devices, and ultimately, windows, doors, and locks is collected in one place (i.e., the cloud). Combined with the weather and calendar information, these collected data provide enough information for the smart system to operate the house by itself. It heats or cools individual rooms, sets the blinds, and turns on the lights when we’re not home. If it’s also connected to the car, tracking the driver’s location, it opens the courtyard gates at the right moment, unlocks the main door, and starts playing our favorite music.

When devices take care of themselves

The moment is not far off when your car will order its own service at the most convenient time—that is when the service is necessary and you need the car the least. Considering that the first self-driving vehicles are already yesterday’s news and that even race cars no longer need racing stars to drive them, the moment when the car drives itself to the service center on its own is probably not far away either.

But alongside the information from our environment, we’re also going to send increasingly more personal data into the cloud. We’re disclosing a great deal of such information through our smartphones, watches, and similar “wearables” as it is. A good example of this is Google Traffic, where throughout their trips drivers send data on their drives to Google, which in turn provides very accurate and real-time information on traffic conditions, congestion, and nearly stopped and stop-and-go traffic to all Google Maps users (by the way, Google has been collecting data and providing this service since 2007).

Alongside data from our environment, we’re also going to send increasingly more personal data into the cloud. Click To Tweet

Just like smartphones, data on our behavior will soon also be communicated by other equipment: anything from shoes to various sports equipment, such as tennis rackets, jump ropes, balls, bikes, skis, and so on. Even our suitcases, toothbrushes, the glasses or bottles we pour our drinks out of, or any other item we use on a daily basis will be no less discrete.

Life as a gamer

In order to make our lives part of one big online game, we’ll have to change our user experience and accept a different one, in addition to collecting data and being willing to share this data with others (if Google Traffic hasn’t convinced you that we’re doing that already, at least those of you that often run or bike know the Strava app, in which you can compare and share your results with other users).

We aren’t technologically far away from this point, either. First we’ll start communicating more naturally, which will be made possible by one of the big guys (Apple/Siri, Google/Home, Microsoft/Cortana or Amazon/Alexa). Projections (at least the most realistic and interesting ones) will no longer be provided on flat screens, but through virtual-reality projection systems, for which the current best solutions are offered by the providers mentioned above (Google/VR and Microsoft/HoloLens).

“It’ll still take a while.” Will it?

You can say “yes, but it’ll still take a while before we really start using that” or “my children may do all that, but not me.” Five years ago, even I wouldn’t have thought that today some lady over seventy would tell me: “Google Traffic rocks!” But she has.

This shows that we’re all ready to give up many things (including our privacy) if we find something interesting and useful. We tend to very quickly accept and get used to things that are useful, fun, and also meet our basic needs according to Maslow’s hierarchy (in the case of our virtual lives as gamers, probably even all four top needs).

We’re all ready to give up many things (including our privacy) if we find something interesting and useful. Click To Tweet

So, if the main question is no longer “Are we really heading in this direction?” but instead “When will we get there and what will it look like?” the time has come for everyone involved in marketing and sales to prepare for the changes.

These are the steps we should already start taking today:

  • Changing our product and marketing strategy, but not only one time and during a watershed moment. Keeping abreast of trends and gradual changes demands ongoing adaptation and renewal of the strategy and approaches used by both marketing and sales.
  • Keeping abreast of and having a good knowledge of what is known today as the IoT. A lot of information on individuals, their behavior, needs, interests, desires, and the exact times and sizes of their desires and needs are already available today, but there will be much more available by the day.
  • All this new, additional, and significantly more up-to-date information will make it possible for marketing and sales to provide an even better personalized user experience, where everything will be completely adapted to every user at the most appropriate moment.
  • The socialization motive and information gathered in one place will make it possible to take a better advantage of connections between people and hence of the individuals’ positive personal experiences, their satisfaction with providers, and their possible suggestions and recommendations of these experiences to others. In other words, it’ll be possible to take advantage of the much stronger mutual influence on purchase decisions among all that are in some kind of a mutual relationship.

From where I stand, the fact that, my real-life actions can affect the real-life actions of others via the virtual world reminds me strongly of gaming. What about you?

If you’d like to know more about what marketing and sales will be doing in a few years and how they will be doing it, if you’d like to add something or don’t agree that our real lives are starting to be entangled with the virtual world, let me know. Any feedback will be most welcome.

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Let’s start today’s post with a mini experiment. Look around for a moment and list all the devices with an ON/OFF switch that you can see. I’m sitting at my desk at the moment and so my list of these devices is pretty ordinary: a laptop, a phone, a tablet, air conditioning, and the light switches on the wall.

It doesn’t matter where you are, but you’ve probably listed at least five different devices that according to Jacob Morgan fall within the Internet of Things (IoT): coffee machines, central heating, fridges, cars, lamps, video projectors, and so on. If a device has an on/off switch, we will most likely be able to (or we already can) connect it to the World Wide Web. If that’s possible, then it’s an IoT device. As simple as that.

Marketing the Internet of Things or marketing with the help of the Internet of Things?

According to Mediapost reports, last summer as many as 51% marketers already agreed that the IoT was going to make the most revolutionary changes to their area of operation by 2020. 2020 is pretty close and so we can rightfully ask ourselves what stage marketing related to the IoT is currently in.

In the first stage, marketers will first have to convince their potential customers that it’s actually worth replacing older devices, which may still be doing their job just fine, with new-generation devices, such as smart meters, smart suitcases, smart cars or smart dishwashers. The moment the customer decides to make a purchase, data on how the device is used starts being collected, and thinking about services that could resolve the yet unresolved problems and previously unperceived needs also begins. By connecting devices and services, comprehensive packages can be designed that will be more useful and hence easier to market.

The second stage of marketing development during the IoT period will be characterized by opening up and connecting with advertisers and providers of complementary services and products. Let’s take smart washing machines as an example. In the first stage, developers of household appliances will furnish the machine with additional sensors to collect data on your laundry-making habits and at the same time give you the option to use remote control with your washing machine.

How often do you do laundry? Do you use only one specific wash cycle? What time do you usually turn on your washing machine? Is the water in your bathroom excessively hard?

After even a short period of use, a series of user data will be available and by comparing various demographic criteria marketing can come up with extremely valuable findings, which even a decade ago we could only dream of. Truly revolutionary changes will thus only happen in the second stage of development, when, as Clinton Bonner picturesquely explained, “the connectivity of digital devices will provide infinite opportunities for advertisers to listen and respond to their clients’ needs —with the right message at the right time, using the right device.”

Respond to your clients’ needs with the right message at the right time, using the right device. Click To Tweet

What next?

Through the development of connectivity, physical things transform into social things and when communication starts between them, this creates exceptional opportunities for a better and friendlier user experience. All too often the IoT is still perceived merely as a set of fun and handy devices, such as smart coffee machines, but beyond the fun a new IT infrastructure is being formed with apps and open API-interfaces that focus on designing new solutions known under the common term of social access management.

Creating smooth and uninterrupted physical experiences by connecting people, various devices, entire buildings, and smart places into a single whole is what lies at the heart of these solutions. A whole in which everything is adapted to the individual.

The IoT can be of great help in getting to know your customers, but are your employees ready for it? Click To Tweet

Marketing had better get ready because serious work is about to start!

In the next two decades, the Internet of Things is expected to contribute around €15 trillion to the global GDP. Based on the European Commission’s estimates, in the EU alone its contribution to the GDP will have reached €1 trillion by 2020. The first stage of the Internet of Things is already in full swing. The second stage is only a couple of years away. We have to begin preparing for how to make use of the masses of data that will suddenly become available. So what lies ahead?

  • A detailed analysis of buying habits at all platforms where users hang out and shop.
  • Insight into the new ways in which users communicate with the devices around them.
  • Detailed insight into the buying decision process and accurate location of customers within this process.
  • Identifying how individual users use specific devices and how they work.
  • Real-time interaction with the user and targeted advertising.
  • Informing the producer of any errors and problems with the devices’ operation before the user even perceives them.
  • Faster, more efficient, and friendlier resolution of user support issues.

Let me go back to the beginning. I’m convinced that all the devices you listed when you started reading this blog post will become increasingly smarter. The prices of adding connectivity functions and intelligent solutions are falling and users are becoming increasingly susceptible to simple, comfortable, and personalized communication with these devices. In this, many of us are a little worried or even scared about our safety and privacy. Providers will therefore most likely be obligated to give users the option of choice and obtain permission from them to collect data through these devices.

If you’re still a little suspicious about the IoT or if the possibility of someone keeping track of everything you do and tailoring your experience with the surrounding environment to you specifically still seems far away and futuristic, it’s time you woke up. In reality all of this is already happening. Keeping track of customers’ every step and personalizing their experience online has become a reality.

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Digitalization or digital transformation (if you prefer) is one of the key generators of current economic progress (as well as social development). When I try to explain it to our customers, I try to narrow it down to concrete examples. This is the only simple and understandable way to explain it that will fascinate them and lead them to taking steps in their development which could potentially include some of our services.

There is no survival without development

I often hear, especially among domestic companies, that they are a part of a mature industry and there are almost no chances for any significant new developments in their business. When I hear something like that, I first think about the owners of the company. I would not feel comfortable being the owner of a company that no longer believes in their survival – because there is no survival without development. It is only a matter of time.

There is no survival without development. Click To Tweet

The digitalization trend that we are witnessing this moment is a good development step in my opinion. Development trends have never been as clear as they are now. Digitalization opens new development opportunities to companies in 3 areas – they can improve the customer experience (CX), optimize their own processes or try to create new business models.

Hello digitalization, hello Barbie

I don’t want all of this to sound purely hypothetical, so I will illustrate it with a real world example. The last one that got me thinking was Matell. Not many people know the company, but they certainly know their main product – Barbie. It is probably the most recognizable girl’s toy that has been on the market ever since 1959. Yet they are still thinking about development. Even though most people would think there is no room for further developing of dolls, I discovered that Matell really embraced digitalization. Last year they launched their new product »Hello Barbie«.

»Hello Barbie« is a Wifi enabled doll that connects to the Barbie cloud. It recognizes the speech of English speaking children and meaningfully talks back to them. Let’s just say they integrated Cortana or Siri in their classic Barbie doll and it can adapt to the age and developmental stage of the child. Parents gain an opportunity to follow their child’s development, and it helps children develop their imagination. This has been one of the most important aspects of Barbie dolls since their beginnings in 1959.

Digitalization opens the way to new products that will probably bring more money. Click To Tweet

If I ignore the fact that this Barbie doll model costs $75 at Mattel’s e-shop, while the classic Barbie model costs a couple of cents under $10, I find the digitalization of the doll fascinating because they opened the way to new products which will probably bring much more money in the future than Barbie’s fashion accessories were bringing until now. Imagine »Hello Barbie« as the first step in your child’s journey of learning a foreign language. It could be used by speech therapists for example. Or it could simply be used as a toy that helps children learn new words. I can also imagine parents using it as a baby phone that monitors their child’s sleep. Maybe even as an archive that stores your child’s best memories. There is a bunch of reasons to call »Hello Barbie« a »smart toy« and parents will always find »rational« arguments to buy it. The manufacturer will try to find arguments for educators who will recommend their product as an accessory that will help in the development of your child. What parent wouldn’t want that.

Are you still certain that there are no development opportunities in your business?

Mattel has certainly drawn the attention of tech-geek fathers. At least in the short term. If I was buying a doll for my daughter today, I would definitely buy »Hello Barbie«. Even if it doesn’t yet work outside USA and Canada, and there are lots of negative reviews on Amazon that focus on dodgy connectivity and the complex setup of the service.

Are you still sure that there are no development opportunities in your business? What can we do to help you?

 

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Right now Volkswagen must deal with the consequences of the recently discovered scandal while the automotive world keeps moving on. The future of mobility is most definitely electric. I am sure most new cars will be electric sooner than in 10 years. I also believe that we’ll have driverless cars sooner than in 10 years – in Europe as well. But I do have doubts about whether we will continue to buy new cars. Everything seems to be leading towards buying transportation services. Maybe even ordering a certain brand and model if we feel attached to it. This particular car could also drive someone else when I don’t need it. Uber drivers may be replaced by self-driving electric cars owned by the manufacturers (or financial firms that are connected to manufacturers). This is a different way of solving the problem that cars have been solving for so many years.

Frictionless Future

The success of this new economy of sharing is not based solely on its business model that simplifies the business presentation for IT literate individuals and on the “amateurization” of the service industry. The fact that the services of this new economy remove obstacles users (consumers or a business customers) were facing before they appeared is even more significant. Services such as Uber, AirBnB, Booking.com or Opentable do not solve problems that were unsolvable before, but they do solve them in a way that is (much) more user-friendly.

Success comes from solving a well-known problem in a (much) more user friendly way. Click To Tweet

I cannot imagine having to find a hotel in the yellow pages when I recently visited Boston and New York. Booking.com made it quite a lot easier. It is the fastest and most simple way to find, book and pay for a suitable room. Even easier than making arrangements through a travel agency.

Uber is also nothing more than a standard taxi service. It just removes a lot of obstacles for the user. Do you have the phone number of the taxi service in Vienna? Do you know the current location and arrival time of the taxi your ordered? Do you know who will drive you and the satisfaction rate of their passengers? Do you know how much (approximately) you will need to pay for the fare before you order it? Do you have any idea how much time it takes to get you there? How would you know that the taxi driver is taking the optimal route and not the scenic route only to charge you extra? Do you know how you will pay for the services rendered? …

Thinking about all these reasons led me to the conclusion that Uber does not even need to be cheaper than taxis. The service is more user-friendly, just because a simple phone application removes all the problems of the classical approach to the service. All the new economy services that we discussed above have the same advantage. They remove obstacles for using traditional services. This is their key innovative component and it wouldn’t be possible without connected customers.

Who owns the customer?

The digitalization of society (internet connection of users and mobile devices) enabled important advances in connecting providers to their customers. Recently some providers didn’t have any contact with the users, yet their devices or services can now easily establish direct communication with end users. What’s more, the providers can establish a direct technical connection using devices that their customers use.

Internet of Things (IoT) improves aftersales support for customers, and enables providers to acquire additional information about them. But the simple fact is that the IoT takes control over the customer, not the device itself. I cannot imagine my next car without thinking that it will be able to establish an online connection with its manufacturer (like my mobile phone today) and encourage me to service it on time, change the tires, buy a new car,… The simple fact is that communication with customers is currently left to salespeople, yet the manufacturer most probably won’t even need them in the future. Tesla had this in mind from the very beginning.

It's high time for direct customer communication. There'll soon be no more need for intermediates. Click To Tweet

Direct communication will first come from all the electronic device manufacturers while service providers without their own devices will focus on mobile devices and wearables to monitor our buying habits (do not forget about geolocation – it can be an important context for communication). These devices will become a crucial channel for communicating with consumers.

Soon, there will be no more place for intermediates. If your business is based solely on being an intermediate between manufacturers (providers) and customers and it does not bring any added value, start thinking about a new business model sooner rather than later.

Can your company die as well?

Without a doubt. Company mortality has risen significantly. Research shows that 50 years ago the lifespan of Fortune 500 companies was 75 years, yet it was 15 years at the turn of the century, and only 7 today. It may seem unbelievable, but even such giants as Google are at risk in today’s markets. Even Uber, which we used as a reference example of the new economy, has competitors who try to take over their business. They might be able to offer more benefits to customers in an even more user-friendly manner.

You need to offer more in a different, customer-friendly manner. Click To Tweet

Such a radical reduction in company lifespans can only mean one thing – the fight for customers and market survival requires greater intensity of development and innovation. If we take into consideration that our competitors are a threat, because they came up with a better way to solve customers’ problems and archived better communication, the answer to our company’s focus seams quite clear. Start with the little things. There must be an easier way to set up a doctor’s appointment than calling them on the phone. You can order a hamburger from your car while driving to pick it up. Maybe you could even reserve a free parking space in the town center using your phone, which can in turn save you time and money. Any such user experience improvement can provide a competitive advantage and an opportunity to connect with the customer. Only one-on-one communication with connected customers increases the chances for the survival of your business.

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Ps. If you already thought about removing obstacles for your services and you already focus on your customers, but you cannot transfer this idea to practice, or you are just figuring out that you need to transform your business, but you don’t know where to start, I would like to invite you for a chat. We can help you in both cases.