This is artwork from The Dallas Entrepreneur Center, on the second floor in one of the conference rooms. It's one of my favorite pieces that they have from this artist.
Businesses are based on conversations between people. And we all know that conversations build relationships. The rise of companies like AirBnB, Lyft, Uber, eBay and other P2P companies have demonstrated that people prefer to connect with each other rather than a company. They choose the "sharing economy" or the "respect economy" over the traditional buy-from-a-corporation economy. We also notice this with Small Business Saturdays. Many would prefer to help keep a store open that is owned by someone they know, or someone they can meet, rather than a store owned by a corporation. Sure, people connect with AirBnB and other P2P marketplaces because they are the middle men that connect the two together. Same with Amazon, eBay, and other marketplaces. But don’t forget - the end connection is the individual. That is what people are truly looking to find.
We know the fate of middlemen over the long term. History has demonstrated that middle men usually fade away or adopt a new role. What's most curious about the peer-to-peer is that pre-Internet, pre-malls and pre-mega-stores, we did business with smaller companies and individuals. Business was between people, just locally. It's almost like Small Business Saturdays take us back in time to an era where we knew the store owner's name.
When it comes to business, it’s the relationships between the two people who are completing a deal that matters most. Sure, the companies matter and the paperwork is between the companies, but it is people completing the deal. And it’s the interactions around the deal between the two people - from meeting to forming a relationship to sealing the deal - that’s the key to a great experience.
Sadly, we focus too much on constructing the perfect process to get a lead or that reflects how most users decide to buy. We'll spend hours considering all of the thoughts and actions involved in making a purchase decision that we forget that the relationship itself is the most important aspect to any business transaction. A great CTA button doesn’t make someone buy anything. A great white paper could influence a sales decision, but it alone won’t drive a sales signature. Neither does the perfect graphic on a page or the perfect message. The forms, the emails, the social media posts. In the big picture, it’s important, but it’s not going to make or break a deal.
A sales/buying decision happens if the person prioritizes that decision to buy high on his list (because it impacts something else in his or her life) and if the person has a good relationship with your company (or the sales person). Materials like white papers and blog posts contribute to a great relationship, but they are a small part of it. If anything, they spark a connection around shared knowledge, rather than solving a problem.
Did content marketing solve the wrong problem regarding people contacting sales less and searching on the Web more?
I think so. We made searching on the Internet to solve your problem easier than having a pleasant experiencing talking to a sales person, which was the TRUE problem. People were doing ok researching on the Internet. A new problem was created with the rise of content marketing - people were solving for potentially the wrong problems and self-diagnosing the wrong solutions. It became similar to people self-diagnosing medical issues, legal issues, and other problems that require a professional to resolve. And identify the correct problem (90% of getting to the right solution is identifying the right problem.) The problem was never people researching on the Internet. The problem was sales people being under too much pressure to sell and make revenue rather than build a relationship.
Even if you read those 11 content pieces that research tells us are how many content pieces someone reads before contacting sales, at some point if you wanted to buy, you need to talk to sales, visit a site to purchase or contact the company to buy. Sales builds relationships between customers and companies to become a commitment. Again, content marketing builds a different type of relationship. It’s a knowledge relationship. It's a great "dating" relationship. But it’s not a personal relationship that leads to commitment and a sale. (And to follow this analogy, yes, customer support and service is like the marriage counselor.)
Sure, we may buy from Amazon that doesn't require personal interactions. But a small secret to these B2C sales sites - they often don't consider the first purchase a true conversion. To them, that's like a date. Someone has to purchase from them 2-3 times in a certain timeframe to consider that person a true customer. It's in those 2-3 sales that someone builds a type of bond with that company in lieu of a real live conversation. The company proves that they are helping that customer and is necessary in their life. They build a type of attachment.
It’s that personal relationship that is key to future business. In the future, it is the personal relationship that will connect us all globally.
Thomas Friedman, Globalization 3.0, and the relationship between individuals
As Thomas Friedman says, we are in Globalization 3.0. I would debate the version number of globalization with him. I think we’ve been global far longer than he claims (there was trade early on in civilizations to the Romans and Greeks and possibly Egyptians, but that’s beside the point). But I agree with the point he makes that with the rise of the Internet, we are all going to be in a common marketplace competing with each other for work. Fiverr, 99Designs, AirBnB (competing against Hyatt and Hilton, believe it or not), Upwork - these are all sites where companies and people can access talent through a click. More of these types of sites will rise, along with individual sites, allowing individuals to build direct relationships with contacts in other countries.
Skype, WhatsApp, and social media has allowed us to connect with people around the world. With a tap we can be on a phone call with someone across the globe as if they are in our living room. And we even have the technology to see them as if they were sitting across from us, having a coffee.
Virtual teams are more common because of this phenomenon. The new way of doing virtual work today is to acknowledge that yes, we are working from home. Yes, packages do come to the door. Yes, our family is at home. And yes, it can be like our family coming to our office - we don't hide these people. We are now transparent about having a life outside of work. It's no longer a secret.
All of these situations are providing us with the training and skills we will need to understand that relationships are the key to business. Sales happens through relationships. And relationships happen through conversations with people - conversations over the phone, through Web cam, connecting over 140 characters, 100 words, short posts and videos. As he states in the video below, people will connect to find someone to create objects with a cheaper price or better quality. We’ll be building brands and a business to help us connect to others.
The days of thinking that we don’t need to have relationships with others to be successful has ended. Social media has killed that. We are all a personal brand, especially for work and on personal social media. We build relationships with others. We do business for our companies, not thru our companies, but through our personal connections. We connect with others and include them to collaborate, to create, to make something bigger and better. We're like the pottery guy in Peru. Sure, we can make pottery ourselves, but if someone in China can partner and do it faster, cheaper, better - that's the future. Soon, we will all be working with people who complement our own skillsets to achieve a goal. And we need to build relationships to do that. That's why they are more important now than ever.