The Human Effect

Take a page from the Chipotle book of doing business. That’s what Deb Calvert says B2B marketers and sellers should do to enact campaigns that deliver a human-based approach, instead of the consumer-based methods of the past.

Calvert, author of “DISCOVER Questions® Get You Connected” and founder of People First Productivity Solutions, says businesses like Chipotle enable consumers to build exactly what they want – every time.

Need a little more guacamole and a tad less salsa? You got it. In the mood for carnitas instead of chicken? No worries. Red beans, black beans, shredded cheese? Check, check and double-check.

The point, Calvert says, is that buyers can create something different and special that precisely fits their moods. “At Chipotle, buyers are in control and are active participants in creating exactly what they want,” she says. “In B2B, we need to engage buyers in a similar way, giving them more control and allowing them to participate in creating exactly what they want.”

The reality is that the landscape is changing. Marketing strategies of the past included everything from purchasing lists of demographic matches and advertising in industry-specific publications, to sending direct mail with special offers.

“Every lead that hits a seller’s desk was considered to be ‘warm’ and worth pursuing,” Calvert says. “Seller interactions with ‘warm’ prospects was human-to-human, with a phone call or a face-to-face meeting. Sellers invested time because they knew there was some genuine interest or some buyer characteristic that suggested a need.”

The catalyst driving the change in today’s landscape? Lori Richardson, CEO of Score More Sales and president of WOMEN Sales Pros, says technology has leveled the playing field for buyers, such that they don’t have to rely on sellers for much information.

“Information is everywhere,” Richardson says. “You can go to Google and get information about anything. So we don’t need to know information, but we need to know insight or how to use that information in the buyer’s particular situation or the customer’s particular situation.”

“Information is everywhere. So we don’t need to know information, but we need to know insight or how to use that information.” – Lori Richardson, CEO, Score More Sales

Calvert agrees, saying the ubiquitous access to information has left buyers feeling empowered because of more choices, meaning they won’t settle for less. “Buyers want to be dignified and respected as individuals, not seen as the means to an end goal,” she says. “Technology empowers buyers and makes it all the more important for sellers to personalize the customer experience.”

More than just leads

So, what does this all mean? For starters, it means it’s more important than ever that your clients feel humanized, necessitating you treat them like more than just leads.

“People have their choice of working with companies all over the world thanks to the internet,” Richardson says. “It’s like eating at a restaurant where you might get good food but bad service, or bad food but good service. There are just so many more restaurants out there. Why not try for good food and good service? Or fantastic food and service?”

Calvert recalls research done with 530 B2B buyers, in which they were asked what seller behavior would cause them to meet with and buy from sellers. Among the most highly rated behaviors was that the “seller treats others with dignity and respect.” Moreover, she says the same research identified that buyers prefer that sellers demonstrate a higher frequency of 30 specific behaviors that are more often associated with leadership than selling.

“Buyers want to be dignified and respected as individuals, not seen as the means to an end goal.” – Deb Calvert, Founder, People First Productivity Solutions

“The main reason not to depersonalize buyers is because they won’t tolerate it,” Calvert says. “They’ll go elsewhere in search of the buying experience and connection they desire … Leadership, of course, is very personal. We don’t follow people unless we feel connected to them in some way.”

But in today’s world, is humanization and personalization as simple as the “point-and-click” variety of interaction so many prefer today?

Well, thanks to technology, it is. For example, social media and networking sites such as Twitter and LinkedIn allow sellers to show their human sides with connected mobile devices in a matter of seconds through multiple engagements.

“Through your LinkedIn profile, you can show your professionalism and humanize yourself,” Richardson says. “Share your passions or hobbies, in addition to all the great corporate information. Be you more.”

Calvert says that consumers preferring to be treated like they were more than just leads was predicted in 2004 in the book, “The Future of Competition,” by professors Venkat Ramaswamy and C.K. Prahalad. Their summation was that consumers will migrate to businesses that allow them to be participants in creating what they want.

Think the Chipotle business model Calvert espouses.

“When we think about leads, prospects and customers, we respond as lead generators, prospectors and closers,” Calvert says. “That doesn’t dignify buyers as individuals with unique needs. It doesn’t allow for space for people to come alongside us and participate interactively in creating something relevant, personal and meaningful for them.”

Using the research with B2B buyers as a blueprint, Calvert says, a critical strategy identified was that sellers who want to be more effective in connecting should enable others to act. This is the result of behaviors that include answering questions and providing information that is relevant, timely and useful; involving customers in the decisions that directly impact their job performance; and engaging in two-way dialogue as the seller strives to understand the customer’s needs.

Thanks to all the different ways of connecting today, having meaningful, humanizing interactions with buyers isn’t getting harder. However, the temptation has increased to treat social-media interactions as the final step instead of just the first step in the process, Calvert says of the “social selling” phenomenon.

“[Some] sellers want to believe that passively connecting with people on social-media sites will somehow translate into a sale,” she says. “It doesn’t work that way. Social-media sites make it easier to find people and to open a connection with them. That’s only the beginning. It’s not an adequate replacement for genuinely connecting, voice-to-voice or face-to-face.”

Translation: Just because you have 5,000 Facebook fans, 8,000 Twitter followers and 10,000 LinkedIn connections doesn’t mean you’ve made meaningful connections. You still leverage these engagement figures to create value, differentiation or human-to-human interaction.

“Sellers who understand this see social media as a starter tool that makes it easier to identify people,” Calvert says. “Then, they do the work to truly open a relationship that later leads to a sale.”

Just because you have 5,000 Facebook fans, 8,000 Twitter followers and 10,000 LinkedIn connections doesn’t mean you’ve made meaningful connections.

Delivering a human-based approach in sales and marketing campaigns also requires being clear about who you serve (know your market niche) and not trying to be all things to all people, Richardson says. She cites Starbucks as a consumer brand that puts this into practice.

“Starbucks never claims to have a cheap cup of coffee,” she says. “That’s not their brand. That’s not who they are. They don’t want customers who are going to shop around for the lowest price. They serve people who get that the brand means a lot about community. Starbucks really builds community and it extends to supporting causes. People are clear on what they’re getting when they go there. If I’m paying $5 for a grandé coffee, I feel good about it because I know what [Starbucks] stands for.”