Once upon a time there was certain symmetry to the flow of information between a buyer and a seller. There were, if you like, steps to the dance that were intrinsically understood and accepted by both parties. This symmetry endured even through transformative business cycles such as the dot com period. Sure, email and other technology-driven capabilities allowed new ways of enabling this interaction, but they still did not fundamentally disrupt the equilibrium of this age-old process. The advent, however, of social media, with its democratization of information flow and disintermediation of messengers, has introduced an asymmetry that is becoming truly disruptive.So many interlopers have inserted themselves into the buyer-seller relationship or have been wittingly or unwittingly co-opted that if you wanted to visually represent it you would be better handing a crayon and a large piece of paper to a three-year-old than using Visio's neat process flow diagrams. The seemingly random scribbles and overlapping loops and circles typical of a three-year-old's drawing bear far greater resemblance to the way we have begun to use the ever-increasing information tools at our disposal. Today the typical interaction between a buyer and seller can include or be informed by any combination of face-to-face interactions, phone, emails, professional networking sites, third-party review sites, tweets, Google alerts, information-swapping sites like Jigsaw and a host of other tools from the ever-expanding web and sales 2.0 universe.
While I referred earlier to this asymmetry being a by-product of the democratization of information flow, there is a real danger that it could become somewhat anarchic and chaotic and actually remove the value the salesperson as trusted advisor can bring to the buyer-seller relationship. This does, of course, mean that the onus is on the seller to ensure that they bring real value to the equation and they do so in a way that embraces the fact that the buyer has many and varied ways of gaining information and evaluating what they are buying. In essence, the seller must respect that the buyer to a large degree owns the conversation and will dictate where and when it happens and, indeed, when the seller is a part of it and, just as important, when they are not. In other words, there may be parts of the sales process that the seller is completely shut out of, such as when a buyer, unknown to the seller, uses their LinkedIn professional network to perform some due diligence.
So, as always, the choices come down to ignoring this growing reality, diving head first into it and embracing every social media and sales 2.0 tool with abandon, or taking a thoughtful and strategic approach, an approach that embraces the concept of Social CRM. An SCRM strategy, however, will only succeed if there is an organizational commitment to aligning the proven strength of real consultative selling skills with the new ways in which customers choose to receive and source information. This is not about trying to bring order to chaos; rather, it is an acknowledgment that with any evolutionary business cycle there is a need to identify that which has had an enduring impact and will continue to do so (such as consultative selling skills), that which looks like it will have an enduring impact going forward, and that which seems to be following the trajectory of a shooting star.
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