I spoke to Des O’Connor about digital selling and the opportunities and challenges for technology startups in the UK.
Just to start off, and to give the interview a little bit of context, can you tell me a little bit more about what you do at EY?
Yeah, sure. So, I sit within the strategy team and our advisory practice. At the moment, I’m the EY Wavespace lead.
EY Wavespace is a new, global initiative of 16 innovation centres based in the hottest cities throughout the world and I’m here in London looking after our London centre, which is the focus for customer experience and innovation.
The idea behind Wavespace is that we can co-create new solutions with our clients and leverage off the strength of our network and each centre focuses on a different area of disruptive technology such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, data analytics.
Our London centre is the customer-centric side of things, so for the digital selling side of it, is really important that we help our clients understand the importance of social selling and the impact that is happening on the traditional way that we engage but also sell to our clients.
So, you’ve just mentioned digital selling and it’s actually what we are here to talk about today. It’s such a broad topic, can we just break down a little bit and perhaps, would you be able to define what it actually is.
Yes, so digital selling is the process whereby organisations can leverage professional networks to engage with their clients using platforms.
There’s a number of different platforms that are out there in the marketplace that people can leverage the strengths of that and as a result there’s been a fundamental shift in consumer behaviour patterns.
Consumer loyalty from a B2C perspective is on the decline because people can move around more responsive organisations and see the opportunities and products that are available to that via social.
As mobile technology is becoming more prevalent in our day-to-day lives, people are able to research and gather information really seamlessly, which is now resulted in a multi-omni channel experience for the consumer.
What we’re seeing in EY is that the consumer patterns that are happening from a B2C perspective is now starting to impact the B2B selling side of things and organisations are starting to struggle with the grapple and the understanding of how they can remain relevant in the marketplace but also use these platforms to sell these products to clients as well.
So, it is a really interesting and exciting time as organisations and consumers alike are really interested in the topic.
So, clearly there are a lot of opportunities for startups to harness, but what are the specific challenges that they’re up against?
I think brand loyalty is down, right, so people will shift quite quickly. The consumers are more informed now as well so they expect a lot more out of the sales person and there is a statistic out there that between 50 to 80% of the consumer journey is already completed before they make contact with an organisation or a sales person. So, that can be a bonus as well because cold calling is now practically non-existent.
The leveraging of the social networks is more appropriate, more targeted, so people are expecting a lot more now from organisations in pushing information, rather than organisations having to pull that information from consumers. So, there’s a lot more elements of engaging the people now at the right stage of the customer journey buying process but as a result of that, the marketing and sales departments need to be more closely aligned to ensure that they are getting that seamless interaction between both of them so that they can get the right customers and the appropriate amount of customers into the organisation at any given time.
It sounds like the lines between and commercial are blurring and even more so, but I just wanted to pick up on something else that you said.
So, you’ve mentioned the different channels and specifically B2C sales and B2B sales, but what are the different approaches that people need to bear in mind when they’re trying to target other businesses and customers?
I think that it is actually the opposite effect because we are so connected as consumers now to organisations and we have it on the move 24 hours a day, we are starting to see that millennials are the largest proportion of the workforce at the moment and are bringing their experiences into work.
So, people are starting to blend their personal side of things, with regards to research for products, into work and then as a result the behaving patterns, the purchasing patterns are actually shifting now as well. So, this is actually then resulting in organisations having to fundamentally think of their social strategy and start listening more to how consumers are social platforms and then adapt that to the organisational perspective as well. So, for startups there is a huge opportunity there to actively gather and proactively engage with their clients through the uses of social media.
Social media has changed so much over the past 10 years, even five years, where do you foresee the industry going in the next 12 months?
Well, I think over the next 12 months it’s going to be an interesting one, right.
I think for startups and organisations that are on the early journey of adapting this, it’s really important that they create a culture that is safe for people to experiment and try things differently by using live streaming or by actually putting content on the web that can enhance the organisational offering.
But I think over the next couple of months, we are going to see a bigger push from the social platforms in driving new forms of activity. So, there’s filters now available, tags, there’s live streaming, but over the next 12 months to 24 months, I think the augmented reality side of things is going to become even more prevalent and the user experience is going to become more tantalising for people purchasing products online.
So, like for startups there is an opportunity to leverage the data that’s available and to enhance their offering is really, really important because there’s so many free tools online that you can understand how your hashtags are working, where your purchasing patterns are coming from, where your enquiries are coming from. It’s scraping all that data and actually making into a tangible output that can benefit the organisation.
I think there is a huge opportunity for organisations and startups alike to actually invest in getting the ability right at the beginning so that they can have a broad spectrum and a strategy in place. It’s not just one element. I think it’s important to leverage your ecosystem and think about how you can create the end-to-end customer journey. I think, you know, it’s really important to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and think about that engagement.
If you are fresh and heard about the product straight off the street, how would you go about that, how would you engage with it, what social media channels are you on, how do you go about building your social presence, and the impact that’s having within that space as well, that’s really important.
The opportunities are vast but it’s surely to businesses to harness them responsively.
I always think, you know, when things go well, it’s great because the organisation is making sells from it, we’re getting the products out there, right, but there is an element that you need to remember and I think in a lot of social context the organisation, especially startups, can forget about that. When things go wrong, you need to have a policy and a procedure in place that you will then protect your brand.
You want to create a culture of innovation and opportunity for your sales team to go and explore that. I think I mentioned earlier on the gamification of it and creating that little competitive advantage within the organisation, but I think it’s also about risk and governance and having the understanding what can actually, what the firm can do when things go wrong and how they can leverage the brand name because I think as consumers we are very responsive in doing research and actually going from that end-to-end element, but the whole peril of the social network as well is that if things go wrong, and we’ve seen a number of instances over the last two years, that can severely impact the organisation’s bottom line, right.
You need to have a strategy in place as well around trust and governance and the PR side of how to protect your brand, which is critical, right.
There’s clearly a lot of things for people to think about and consider, but what’s your top-level advice for people to sell online?
I think there’s a couple of things that are really important, right. The ability to know your customers, and anticipate their needs and stay relevant. There’s nothing more, there’s nothing worse than having a platform that is not active, that’s set up, that’s quite out of date. Refreshing it and make sure that you’re updating it with content from the firm or content from your industry and do a market scan, see what your competitors are doing and try and do things a little differently and stand out in that perspective.
But utilise the power of the network, there’s so much there that you can do but build on that and actually engrain it in your overall strategy on how you are getting the product out there. And just out of interest, have a look, gamify it within the organisation if that needs to happen, right. And reward people within the company that are using social to engage with clients and see the impact that it has because we are seeing from our EY perspective that it is really prevalent for the larger organisations to get on board with that. I think it’s really, really good use of different tools. So you can do your freemium model, or you can actually go and actually invest in some proper hardware to get the data and prove to yourself that it is a worthwhile investment on that one.
Definitely sounds like it is about getting the data, harnessing that data and understanding it and then utilising it.
A lot of food for thought there. Thank you very much for your time Des.
To find out more about digital selling, read O’Connor’s latest piece here.