Traditionally, within B2B transactions, buyers were dependent on sellers to provide expert advice. This often led to courtship, evaluation, and acquisition.
Of course buyers could pay consultants or purchase analyst research, but ultimately all roads led back to the seller. Even in the Google era, search results usually returned vendor-authored content. Vendors were essentially in control of what information was released to buyers, and when.
Conversely, social networks promote a free and open exchange of information that continues to drastically impact traditional buyer-seller relations and engagement models.Although the rise of social selling and service will not jettison marketing, sales, or support organizations, it will create significant challenges--particularly in early-stage development where competitive separation, trust, and credibility would have been previously established directly through these channels, and even (gasp!) face-to-face.
Add to this the record-breaking rate at which mobile apps have invaded our work and home lives and you begin to get a sense of the broader shifting landscape.
"(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." - Rick Segal, Worldwide President, Gyro HSR
Managing home-work boundaries is a continuous effort for many of us, a separation that obviously needs to be maintained; at least until "Generation Z" arrives.
I'm "GenX," part of a generation born between the 1960s and late 1970s. Unless your dad worked at NASA, you did not have a computer in your house growing up.
My nephew on the other hand is "GenY." He and his friends grew up watching extraordinary innovation change the world. In fact, a 2007 Strauss and Howe study of Gen-Y students revealed that 97 percent owned a computer and 94 percent owned a mobile phone. It also found that 76 percent used instant messaging, and 92 percent of those reported frequent multitasking - using some combination of all these technologies at once.
And then there are my kids, "Generation Z": born in the early to mid-1990s through 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 smartphones in grade school, text more than talk, and prefer using technology to communicate. Further, their communications are abbreviated, highly transactional, and out in the open (think Twitter). "Gen Z" does not think of technology as their predecessors do: a utility to make life more efficient. Instead, and which makes them extraordinary, they see it as basic need, Maslow-like: food, clothing, shelter, and technology.
"Gen Z" currently falls into the age range of 11-21, placing the eldest within the workforce as both buyer and seller, where they will not gasp at the thought of conducting critical B2B discussions in online social settings. Instead, paired with their "GenY" management team, they will move at speed of Z, ignoring those who cannot keep pace; driving permanent change to B2B and its fundamental belief systems.
It's clear that this is where B2B communications are headed. Buyers are no longer relegated to phone, email, or, heaven forbid, a fax machine to gather information. Instead they immerse themselves in real-time conversations, through various business and social networks, seeking answers through peer-driven conversations, engaging our business as part of their process -- at any time, from any device -- never hesitating to outwit, or simply ignore our master plan for them.
I suppose this evolution has put us all in a position to make some tough decisions, and go outside of our own personal comfort zones -- possibly, way outside. Yet, in order for our businesses to remain accessible, available, knowledgeable, and most important, competitive, I believe that this is exactly what is going to have to happen.
Or, I suppose, we could just put it off for a couple of years and let our kids deal with it.
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About the Author: Tom Scontras is vice president of sales and marketing at Glance Networks