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May 25, 2011

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The Future of B2B Sales and Marketing

Recently there has been a lot of debate regarding the impact of social and business networks on the future of b2b sales and marketing. The rapid adoption by “Buyer 2.0” of nets like LinkedIn, Quora and Focus and the real time exchanges which they spawn is driving thought leading organizations to replace legacy marketing and sales process for a more efficient and effective and frankly, hip means, to stimulate demand, engagement and conversation within this target rich environment.

These networks alone however will not propel the universal change necessary to impact next generation b2b models.   In fact, they are only one of three shifts already in play, which when fused represent the genesis of the b2b revolution – one which when complete will deliver us into “the future.” 

Shift 1: Social Nets, Pushing Sellers Out of Early Qualifying Conversations

Historically when buyers sought solutions, they were dependent on vendors to provide expert advice; ultimately leading towards courtship, evaluation, and ultimately acquisition.

Of course they could pay consultants or purchase analyst research but ultimately all roads lead back to the same or similar set of vendors. In fact even in the “Google era,” search results return content predominantly controlled by sellers.  Hence the millions of man hours and dollars spent by marketers on paid and organic search strategies.

Conversely social networks promote a free and open exchange of expert advice which has and will continue to drastically impact the traditional buyer-seller relationship and accompanying engagement models.

In other words, the rise of “social selling” (see Social Selling University)will not exclude vendors, but it will create new and significant challenges for them particularly within early qualifying stages where historically the foundation of trust, credibility and competitive separation would have previously been established by the seller.

Thus shift 1, the ability for “Buyer 2.0” to push traditional introductory and information gathering conversations beyond the finite and heavily controlled “Vendorsphere” out and into the wide open social universe; a proven forum to connect and converse in real time with hundreds of trusted peers – a world in which only afterwards, once educated and on their own schedule, do they determine which sellers to engage.

Shift 2: “Workplace as a State of Mind”

There is no doubt that the advancement of mobile devices and apps represent key technological evolution, but the point I want to make here is that as they continue to penetrate our work and home lives, the line of demarcation will no longer be one of physical presence, but instead as Rick Segal (@mrbtob), Worldwide President & Chief Practice Officer at Gyro HSR said in a recent interview with @BtoBmagazine, “a state of mind”…

“(Technology) has changed the way we talk to business decision-makers. Being at work is no longer a place; it is a state of mind, a kind of continuing oscillation that people are making between their work life and their personal life.”

Think about that for a moment. 

Hence shift 2; mobility changing home-work boundaries; no longer consciously considering a hard line between the environments – or if we do, it has become increasingly difficult to keep that line in focus – a separation that in the future will not exist; bringing about the final shift; the pinnacle event – a point in time where Gen Y and Gen Z take over influence and decision making roles within the b2b workforce.

Shift 3: The Coming of B2B-Age for Gen Y & Z’s

“Gen X” can be defined as a part of a generation born between the 1960s and the late 1970s. Unless your father worked at NASA, you probably did not have a computer in your youth. Gen X-ers’ introduction to technology may have been part of their high school “Management Information Systems” curriculum, or later in the form of a Mac128 on their college campus. However for most, regular access it didn’t exist until post-graduation.

Next up, “Gen Y.”  Although birth dates for “Gen Y’s” are a bit of a moving target most say this generation came to life in the decade spanning the early 1980s to early 1990s.  

Gen Y’s grew up watching extraordinary innovation change the world.  In fact, as part of a 2007 Strauss and Howe study of Gen Y students, it was revealed 97% owned a computer, 94% a cell phone, 56% a MP3 player. They also found that 76% used instant messaging, of which 92% reported multitasking on their computers.

And then there’s “Gen Z’s” born in the early to mid-1990s thru the early turn-of-the-millennium.

Generation Z is highly connected, with lifelong use of communications and media technologies, earning them the nickname “digital natives.”  They carry smart phones in grade school, text more than talk, and prefer technology for communications – communications that are abbreviated, highly transactional and out in the open. 

They do not think of innovation as their predecessors do, defined as a utility to make life more efficient. Instead, they see it as basic cultural need, “Maslow-like” such as food, clothing, shelter, and texting – which makes this third shift extraordinary.

Currently Gen Z’s fall in the age range of 11-21 years old , placing the first wave amongst the workforce later this year and in 5-7 years influencing conversations on either side of the table bringing with them their genetic predisposition and cultural desire to be “always on.”

Gen Z’s will not gasp at the thought of conducting critical b2b discussions in real time, nor will they wonder if work-life-balance is out of whack – instead they will be moving at the speed of “Z” as Digital Natives do ignoring those who cannot keep pace. Gen Z’s have a remarkably unique characteristic that when paired with their future Gen Y Executive Management Team will bring about dramatic change.

This completes shift 3, the empowering of “Gen Y” and “Gen Z” within the workplace as buyer and seller. Above all shifts, this one changes an element of b2b that the others do not – the belief system.

Evolution to Revolution

A few months ago I gave a talk at the AA-ISP conference in San Francisco where I presented the majority of the content within this article.  I thought it went well, however was surprised by the number of people who pulled me aside and asked:

“Do you really think that’s going to happen - really?”

I did my best to answer these and similar questions by painting scenarios of future buyer (2.0) engagement models, with organized groups gathering virtually to discuss issues and corresponding solutions ultimately resulting in action and resolution. 

Admittedly I left questioning the premise.

The next day I grabbed a flight home where I landed 7 hours later on the couch in my living room, watching along with the rest of the world as the people of Egypt reclaimed their freedom.

Of course selling b2b solutions pales in comparison to the overthrow of a dictatorship – there is no emotional or intellectual connection whatsoever. However, these incredible events made me come to realize that if generations could communicate globally via Facebook aps and iPhones to organize an uprising; we should all be pretty sure they will suffice for selling solutions. 

I thought of the b2b non-believers and wondered if they would make the same connection?

Tom Scontras is an accomplished sales and marketing leader who has guided Glance Networks, its employees and customers through the evolving Sales 2.0 movement.  American Association of Inside Sales Professionals (AA-ISP) recognized Tom Scontras as one of the Top 25 Most Influential Inside Sales Professionals for 2011. Glance provides the first on-the-fly-presentation tool that enables reps to launch impromptu sales and support sessions all with just one click. www.glance.net

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This is a VERY thought provoking blog. Thank you for sharing! I had been thinking along similar lines for some time, but was never able to articulate it, and I have never allowed myself to delve into as much detail. Thanks once again!

Hi Tom,

Great post. I love your point about work as a state of mind. It's actually a return to traditional human behavior in some way. Before the industrial revolution there was less of a distinction between being at work and not... you were always a farmer, always a blacksmith, always a doctor.

I'm wondering how your first point will affect the discovery, education and purchase of new kinds of tools. Purchasers continually search for solutions to known problems... I wonder how innovators will educate purchasers about new opportunities instead of new solutions. Or perhaps that approach will be even harder to succeed with now that time is tighter and vendors are more empowered?