Do we fall into line with the old cliché at our peril, in a hi-tech world where finding easier alternatives to buy from is not difficult? Asks T21 managing director Paul Laville
People buy from people.
It’s a cliché I found myself using at a seminar recently, and I kicked myself for doing so. No one else in the room noticed, instead they nodded sagely and muttered the words “true, true…”. But when I began to wax lyrical about the ‘customer journey’, I heard sniggering – apparently the words ‘customer journey’ hadn’t gone down so well. Business jargon, I was told afterwards. Means nothing. Consultant-speak. I didn’t dare mention the word ‘omni-shopper’…
Generally, I’m not a fan of clichés, I hate putting all my eggs in one basket and I’d rather shoot from the hip to the back of a much wider net. Playing devil’s advocate, I might admit that clichés have some value as unsophisticated linguistic shortcuts, transferring meaning and intent quickly without need for long-winded explanation. But that only works if we’re all singing from the same hymn-sheet and no one moves the goalposts when our backs are turned. I mean, provided we all understand the context and that the cliché itself remains truthful.
It’s that last point that worries me, because we often find ourselves accepting the truths of such statements without consideration, and if we continue to believe in something that no longer holds true, then maybe there will be consequences for our business. A bit like burying your head in the sand and believing in ‘the one true darkness’, while someone builds a car park around your butt.
Back to ‘people buy from people’. It’s a cliché used in sales a lot. Does it still hold true? Do people buy from people in the modern world of comparison websites, price-checking apps, virtual shopping assistants and ‘one-click, add-to-cart, buy-now buttons’ on Facebook?
Many of us would answer with a hearty, “yes, of course! Our people are the difference between our sturdy humanistic values and the robot-controlled internet of evil”.
However, my wife recently bought a new thing off the internet and she said it was one of the best buying experiences she’d ever had. Why? “Because no one got in my way,” she answered.
Next time we bought from that website, I took the reins on it and I was amazed. Here was the entire sales process distilled and made seamless without any human interaction. I won’t describe it here, except to say that all potential barriers to the purchase were removed. Price wasn’t an issue, because by the time I’d finished selecting all the options, the price was no less than I would have paid for it in-store.
Quite simply, I got exactly what I needed. Afterwards, I received some lovely e-mails reassuring me that I’d made an excellent purchase and that from this point onwards I would be looked after. Wow!
For me, this was a real blow to the whole ‘people buy from people’ idea, because there were no people involved in the sale. It was just easy to buy from them.
Another cliché used in sales training says that “customers will always travel down the route of least resistance”, which is a lazy way of saying that if you make it difficult for customers to buy from you, they’ll look for an easier option elsewhere. No retailer would say that they intentionally make it difficult for customers to buy, but I’ve met sellers slow to understand how loyalties to archaic attitudes and ‘legacy’ processes, even the failure to adopt new ways of engaging consumers (writing ‘customer journey’ off as ‘consultant-speak’ for example), can invisibly yet forcefully nudge customers towards alternative avenues of purchase.
Like it or not, we are in the ‘age of the customer’ and the tail is now wagging the dog. The customer has more choice and more control over what, where and how they buy than ever before, and the most successful businesses I get involved with are those that put the work into understanding their customer’s journey and then dovetailing their customer service and sales process into it.
Recognising how and why people buy, engaging them with your service and your brand at key stages of their buying journey, will give you some control back and empower you to revitalise business-critical interactive relationships. I mean, increase your customer loyalty. But sticking purely to a simplistic, idealistic belief that ‘people buy from people’ will only end in tears.
For what it’s worth I do believe that ‘people will buy from people’, but I’d add to that the caveat ‘unless you make it easier for them not to’.