I’ve just read a thought-provoking – if misguided – article by marketing author Jay Baer. It outlines how how far fewer purchase transactions involve interaction between real human beings these days and draws some interesting marketing implications.

Information is so readily available, the article says, that people now avoid sales staff like the plague if they can find out for themselves what they need to know.

It persuasively argues that this isn’t just about consumer markets – where I’d agree it’s usually easier to read reviews on Amazon and order things with a few clicks than to go to a shop and try to find a sales assistant who knows their stuff.  It’s equally true, Baer claims, in B2B markets.

The article reports that a recent survey by international research firm CEB of 1,900 B2B purchasers found they contacted a company only after already completing 60% of their purchase decision process independently.

All fascinating stuff which makes great intuitive sense. Even in business markets, so much information is readily available – on the Internet as well as via traditional media and companies’ own collateral. People trust much of this information more than what they hear from sales reps and can assess it in peace without someone breathing down their necks.

Undoubtedly, Baer is right that this has huge implications for marketing and communications. It reinforces that, to succeed, you need crystal-clear, inspiring information about what you offer – and this must be available for your customers to access with the greatest of ease. You can’t sit back and wait for them to get in touch to ask what you have to offer.

But at this point Baer loses the plot, arguing that it means a company’s ‘job is to nurture relationships no longer.’

This is a gross distortion – particularly for professional services and high-end products where trusted relationships are always vital.

Firstly, good relations – from prior transactions and other human contact – often strongly influence customers at the outset as they draw up short-lists of which suppliers to research.

Secondly, Baer completely overlooks the massively important remaining 40%.

The research shows that, at the 60% mark, customers then contact their preferred suppliers – and from this point on, human relationships play a huge part in purchasing decisions.

This is certainly true of my business. Even when organisations come to us not as repeat clients but from Internet research or third party recommendation, the relationships we build at that point are vital in helping to determine if we’ll work together.

And this is similarly the case for every one of my clients’ businesses.

So Baer is 100% interesting. But only 60% right.

 

What do you think – are relationships still vital in the sales & marketing process, or is Baer right that they’re no longer important?