When I was a young boy, I was fascinated by the history of the Lewis and Clark Expedition that began in May of 1804. An exploration to chart and explore the Louisiana Purchase Territory at the behest of President Thomas Jefferson. Lewis and Clark spent the fall and winter of 1803-1804 in preparation. Requisitioning supplies and recruiting 41 brave men for the expedition. Gathering supplies such as compasses, camping tools, weapons, maps, and more. Including items to trade with Native Americans such as beads, knives, and mirrors.
The expedition lasted until their return in the fall of 1806 to Washington D.C. After many treacherous trials, they did complete their mission of surveying the Louisiana Territory from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. Doing so against tremendous odds. Suffering only one death during the exploration. Their preparation during the fall and winter of 1803-1804 often cited as a primary reason for their success.
When we hear the term “intrepid explorers,” Lewis and Clark often come to mind. Fearless and brave explorers. Courageous in every sense of the word.
While interviewing buyers recently, the word “intrepid” has come to mind. Especially as we face the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic is accelerating buying behavior shifts and also raising new behaviors to the surface.
The Internet Is 30 Plus Years Old
It may still surprise people that the Internet is more than a 30 years old phenomenon. The last 20 years seeing an explosion of new behaviors and technologies revolutionizing buying. We are now experiencing the next generation of buyers who have known nothing but the Internet and new digital technologies.
The BTI (Before the Internet) generation of buyers is dwindling. It was commonplace in the past 10-15 years to echo the sentiment that buyers are changing – because of the Internet. The next generation of buyers is evolving the art and science of buying – because they are digital explorers.
The Evolving Intrepid Buyer
Spurred on by the coronavirus pandemic this past year, we see buyers evolving their digital exploration. We now have to consider digital explorers who prefer seller-free environments. As of today, recent surveys show as much as 40% of buyers prefer seller-free interactions. This is expected to grow.
Modern digital explorers are in essence, becoming intrepid buyers. As if saying “we can do fine on our own, thank you.” Here is a real-world voice:
“I pretty much have my go-to sources, things that I am accustomed to looking up. Getting together what is needed to think through a decision and to be able to discuss with others. What we need companies to do is to not make it so hard to fill in the gaps on what we need and how to solve.” – Kim, Senior Director of Finance
As with the Lewis and Clark expedition, intrepid buyers are better prepared for digital exploration.
Centricity Evolves Into Enablement
In the mid-2000s, we saw the concept of customer focus arise. A lengthy article in the Harvard Business Review in 2005, The Quest for Customer Focus by Ranjay Gulati and James B. Oldroyd, put the onus on CEOs to develop customer focus through holistic coordination. In essence, laying the groundwork that customer focus was more than just implementing a CRM system.
In the next decade, we began to see the idea expanded to customer centricity and buyer centricity. Essentially putting the customer and the buyer at the center of the organization’s delivery of products and services. Customer centricity has its origins as far back as the 1960s but took on new meaning in the 2010s. Marketing and sales adopting journey mapping that originated out of Deming’s Total Quality Movement (TQM) and Customer Experience.
I mention the above not as a history lesson but to point out that they were in direct response to changing buyer behaviors because of the Internet. In response to BTI (Before the Internet) buyers changing and adapting to new behaviors.
What then is the response to the next generation of buyers who are adept denizens of digital exploration?
Digital explorers as buyers behave differently than BTI buyers. It is no longer about fulfilling just the information gap. BTI buyers saw the Internet and its evolution as a way to get information. They no longer needed to call a sales representative to begin information seeking. Content marketing arose in response.
Digital explorers know they can get information. And find the barrage of irrelevant content marketing annoying. They now seek much more. We are still learning what “much more” means. We are beginning though to understand that “much more” includes enabling them. Enabling them digitally. If sales intervention is needed, it should be by design to enable – not to sell to them.
Over the next decade, as buyers shift from BTI information seekers to digital explorers, the concept of centricity will need to shift to enablement. Being customer-centric or buyer-centric is a response to a different era. Shifting to customer-enabling or buyer-enabling is a response to the future.
The Future of Buying
The pandemic has accelerated the future of buying. Some trends will be anticipated. Yet, many unanticipated and unknown new behaviors will arise. What made the Lewis and Clark Expedition successful despite the unanticipated and the unknown was preparation.
To succeed in this decade will take exploration and preparation in the form of gaining deep buyer insights. Charting a new territory consisting of new buyers, new buying behaviors, new technological impacts, new ways of interacting, and a new future of buying.