The jury is in. Evolution hasn’t really caught up with humanity’s highfalutin attitudes about our species’ uniqueness. Less than 100 years ago, human existence was purely about survival in most cultures. Our survival depended on our ability to work as a group. Like it or not, we are still essentially animals grouped in packs. We hunt in packs; we farm in packs; and, indeed, we buy in packs. It turns out that even our longevity is affected by the extent to which we engage with other groups of people.
So why should you spend another 10 minutes reading this article? Like most business writing, this paper starts with a bit of “uncommon common sense” (see above) and proceeds to link it to a reason you should care. In this case, the reason you should keep reading is your sales and marketing processes will be completely uncompetitive within five years unless you embrace Web 2.0 now. Web 2.0 is electronically leveraging our natural animal behavior to dramatically increase the speed and productivity of business. Enjoy first-mover advantage: Get ahead of your competition, or sit back and watch your lead slip away.
Some years ago, in the dark days of Web 1.0, a few of us were at lunch when one of the guys proudly showed us his Palm Pilot, chock full of contacts. He said if someone offered the right price, he’d sell his contacts so others could sell their stock offerings, mortgages and cars to his tightly collated list of largely well-paid MBAs. Most of us were shocked and never quite looked at the guy the same way again.
FAST-FORWARD TO 2007
Web 2.0 has not only made the exchange of contacts possible, it has made it profitable and even socially acceptable. Take Jigsaw.com, for example. For every contact you upload, you get a contact – one tribe helping another tribe electronically. A simple and effective tool for the hunt.
Now, with your target’s phone number loaded into your smartphone, do you just lob a cold call from your car during the commute? Absolutely not. You find out who knows him or her and see who can help establish your credibility. Business and social networking tools that started out as seemingly intrusive requests for personal details in 2001 have become de rigueur. There are almost too many to name – LinkedIn, Xing, Spoke, Visible Path, ZoomInfo, Leverage Software and so on. These sites have become successful not because they require new behaviors but because they power very old ones “wired” into our DNA.
The actual process of preparing for a sale is social too. It always has been. How do you land another million-dollar deal in the pharmaceuticals industry? You find the guy who closed that huge deal last year, and you pick his brain. You get the regional manager to approve flying her sales engineer out so you can leverage the same value-based demo. Now you can harness the power of the pack … electronically.
Well, at least that’s how it used to work, until the powers that be realized that it wasn’t particularly scalable. Companies like OutStart are creating ways for sales professionals to share knowledge efficiently and with low overhead. Post a question, and it is routed to people whose knowledge profile matches what you are trying to achieve. See who is currently online in your area of interest and chat live. Build a reputation for your own expertise. Share winning tools and techniques. The wisest members of your pack can now be available 24/7, and, best of all, pack behavior is enhanced by a response rating system that encourages participation.
VIRTUAL PACK POWER
Web 2.0 also has the power to leverage the real-time assistance of the pack virtually in customer situations. Instead of paying for that in-demand, highly paid sales engineer to fly to your office, why not connect online to a pool of highly skilled professionals who can help you make the value of your complex solution simple? WebEx and others now offer tools to do just that from your laptop in the customer’s office.
But before you sell to a customer, you have to market. Web 2.0 is helping marketers and buyers alike. According to Marketing-Sherpa’s Business Technology Marketing Benchmark Guide 2007-08, the coalition of people required to buy enterprise software, for example, has risen to 21 people for a technology purchase of $25,000 or more in a company of more than 1,000 employees. As one of my former bosses put it, in the post-no one-ever-got-fired-for-buying-IBM era, “everyone is looking for more fingerprints on the gun so it is harder to determine who goes down for the crime.”
In addition, products and services of all kinds, but especially technology products, aren’t used in only one department any more, especially when people figure out how useful they are. CRM software, for example, stores your customer, order, sales, marketing and service information. And, as it turns out, it is highly useful data for many other departments too. You can easily make a case for why the CFO needs to see marketing spend or why the warehouse needs to see the overall value of a given customer. Therefore, companies clearly need tools to help them efficiently engage with the “entire buying pack” at the prospect and customer companies with which they work.
At Oracle, we are experimenting with techniques to better engage with our customers and prospects through microsites that allow those gathering information about our solutions to connect with us and each other, kick the tires of the solution we are proposing and champion our joint cause within their companies. The old adage that “people buy from people” has never been more true, but today there are many, many more connections to make and get right. Oracle’s approach includes ways for customers and prospects to ask a question in a threaded discussion, connect to thought leaders through our blogs and quickly route them to answers with custom 800 numbers for groups that represent the specific solution they are weighing. We are also using technology like iHance to marry our Email traffic to our customers’ Web behavior in order to measure what buyers find interesting within an account, who the champions are and where our content ends up. And we are building technologies for mining sales and prospect behavior to
form customer segments on the fly as well as the tools that better allow salespeople to share techniques that are resonating with customers – all of which are pack-enabling technologies.
WHY IT REALLY MATTERS
So what are the real drivers making this switch to Web 2.0-enabled technologies necessary? Regardless of what vocation you find yourself in – from transportation, to banking, to communications – pretty much everyone can agree that the world is looking a lot flatter these days. Smart companies are defying physical and international boundaries to field the best possible teams. The breaking down of these boundaries is making every industry much more competitive.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO NOW
The companies and techniques mentioned in this paper were used to make a point and were not explicit recommendations. They are, however, a starting point for you to learn what’s out there, pick a direction and get going. As you will soon appreciate, most of these companies thrive because they are easy to do business with, as they are often enabled by simple integration and a software-as-a-service (SaaS) delivery model. Through fast experimentation, you can determine what will work best for your organization and get a jump on your competitors. Build failure into the plan too, as not everything you try is going to work, and quickly move on to address techniques that will improve and speed your game.
If I’ve accomplished anything in this article I hope I’ve impressed upon you that Web 2.0 isn’t just for geeky shut-ins. It’s ready for business. It’s also particularly relevant to how we sell and how we market, helping us embrace our inner animal to leverage our innate instincts for more social and more productive interactions. One day soon, we’ll laugh at the early days of the Web, as we begin to truly benefit from the interconnectedness that this medium can deliver and which we actually require at a genetic level to thrive.