"Bringing the Future to Your Industry"

Direct Marketing, Oct 1996 v59 n6 p26(2)

How to market and sell in a cyberworld. John R. Graham.

Abstract: The placeless business environment is slowly evolving as shown by firms that aim for growth by downsizing. This development has altered even the way business is conducted. As marketing and sales businesses adopt the placeless business environment, they must embrace some ideas on how to move into the cyberworld. These include focusing on the customer alone, doing useful and careful communication, concentrating on access, adopting conceptual thinking, engaging in a continuous process of servicing the customer and increasing connectivity within the organization.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1996 Hoke Communications Inc.

The fact that today there's no place to go may express the far-reaching impact of technology on business.

Place is past. The fact that today there's no place to go may express the far-reaching impact of technology on business. The eradication of place is the major cause of downsizing and explains why corporations can only grow by getting smaller.

The wiping out of place as a factor in doing business is changing business forever. A small community bank confidently recruits customers far beyond its farthest branch. It prospects for customers who have never heard its name with a simple but dramatic message: wherever you are, we're there; however you want to do business, we'll do it; whatever you need, we have it. These customers will never see a bank building, meet a teller or talk face-to-face with an officer. It's quite possible that this new customer will never speak directly to a human being at the bank.

The president of another small bank laments at the number of ATMs dotting the landscape, fearing that few customers will want to visit his bank's lobby. He is right. They won't. His place is past.

Another bank executive reflects on the changes and reveals more than he may realize, "You just have to keep your fingers crossed."

But the future may not be a matter of luck. The insurance agent speaks of the value of a personal relationship with customers as a badge of pride, something that makes his business enduring. But it is almost as if he is trying to convince himself that "personal service" still holds the old magic. It doesn't.

Whether it's banking, baking, insurance or any other business, the issues are the same. Some see the challenge as a race to retirement, hoping they can last long enough to hand the problems on to someone else.

In reality, there is only one problem, one issue and - for some - one opportunity. It's the challenge of a placeless business environment. The walls are all down including those that offered an advantage. The traditional distributor had a place, "a protected territory." The same is true for just about every local business that carved out a geographical niche. All this has changed. Whether it is the local bank or the local hardware store, place has now become nonexistent or a meaningless blur.

William Knoke calls it an "Age of Everything-Everywhere" where near and far have no meaning, "a world without place." In effect, place has become irrelevant, and the difference is dramatic. When most of us were in school, information was somewhere, in a book, a laboratory or a library. Today, information is placeless. How to access it has replaced where it is located.

There's no better example of such high velocity change than Amazon Books. The old question would be "Where are they?" The new question is "How do I get to them?" The issue is access and in this and a growing number of cases the answer is through the Internet. Amazon Books has access to 1.2 million books.

Even Fedex means place, moving something from here to there and there to somewhere else. Not so with e-mail. There is no place, either here or there. It might be wise for Fedex to consider doing away with the images of airplanes because they are sending yesterday's message.

Face-to-face meetings survived recession, downsizing and even stringent cost controls. Pressing the flesh is persuasive. The handshake lingers as a symbol of relationship. But it's all on the wrong side of the curve.

Video conferencing where everyone is together in a virtual room is here. And it's affordable and it reduces cost. It heralds the primacy of task and the irrelevance of place. In a placeless society, even thinking globally and acting locally is anachronistic.

When it comes to marketing and sales, what is relevant today? What operates? What makes sense? Here are several ideas for moving into a placeless business environment and into today's cyberworld:

1. Think customer. Geography continues as nothing more than a meaningless mental barrier. "We want customers we can service easily, not more than 100 miles from the office." Why draw the line? Why erect such a wall? Without barriers, the emphasis changes to defining the customer, not the customer's location.

Geerlings & Wade, the Massachusetts-based wine retailer, thinks customer. The company is a virtual wine cellar. It takes the product to the customer, a matter of moving to a new level of configuring customer service. To think other than customer is to limit the possibilities.

2. Think communication. Salespeople think place. Their traditional turf is a waiting room, an office, a conference room, a car, an airplane, a hotel and a restaurant. But today it's the salesperson's presence that's the problem. What the customer wants is careful, continuous, useful communication, not a smiling salesperson. Communication is the necessary interaction.

While the telephone is still primary, it is quickly fading from a priority position in the process of communication. Talking on the phone takes too much valuable time and this is why voice mail is seen for what it is - a barrier designed to stop time abuse.

Today's salesperson is a gatekeeper, a manager of communication. The laptop, cell phone, and modem are the message. Using ACT! or some other program for information management, the sales rep is armed for the day's work. The number of calls no longer counts; it's the flow of information that has value.

3. Think access. Fax machines are still here but they're history. The only significant issue is access. Customers are bothered most about delayed, inconvenient, inefficient access more than they are about the quality of products and services. Amazon Books understands the problem, as do the airlines and Charles Schwab. The issue is no longer where; it is only when.

But it isn't just the Internet and PC Warehouse that offer access. So do Home Depot and Computer City. It is all there when the customer wants it.

4. Think conceptually. Businesses thrive on action; they avoid concepts. We all want the quick, fool-proof answer. But today "gimmick thinking" is costly. Wasting resources by making one change after another is self-defeating.

The Personal Insurance Division of Fireman's Fund Insurance Co. is offering its agents a choice of four distribution arrangements: traditional agency; service center agency; total processing agency; and mass marketing agency. While this may be a step in the right direction, it is not the answer. There is no answer. Today, change is not a state but a continuum. Unlike the past, there is no "right time" to make a move. Those that wait, fall behind.

5. Think seamless. Business thinking tends to be linear. The planning charts move from one stage to the next and then to some finale. Start and end; design and build. But for many firms, sales and manufacturing are now one process. There are no more "steps" as in the past. Ordering, processing, manufacturing and shipping are all part of a single process.

When it comes to marketing and sales, only seamless is successful. The traditional October new model introduction is all but gone in Detroit. The new model comes from the software industry where the emphasis is on "upgrades," a continuous refinement and improvement of product.

The sales force pleading for something new to sell lingers but it, too, is a vestige of the past. The primary selling concept is a continuous process of helping customers stay ahead of the competition. It is no longer having something to sell that's new; it's knowing what the customer needs to accomplish.

Marketing becomes continuous in this environment, consistently creating customer interest by focusing on customer issues. When Amazon Books e-mails its message to the customer saying that "you will be pleased to know that your books have been shipped," the message is marketing. Quality communication matched with a positive message creates the environment for the next sale. Marketing and sales are seamless.

6. Think from within. Ironic as it may seem, placelessness leads to increased connectivity. This is the message of a recent Intel study on how those born in 1971, the year the computer chip was invented, see themselves getting the news by the year 2000: 59 percent indicate that they expect the Internet to be their source, while 31 percent think that they will depend on television and radio. Only 10 percent see themselves relying on the print media.

In the past, most change has been a response to changes driven from outside the organization. As something new becomes available, a decision is made if and when to adopt it. The source of learning tends to come from the outside. With rapid change, this means that companies must try to run faster to keep up with the competition. More often than not, keeping up turns into falling behind.

The power of the Internet rests in its ability to give individuals access to information so that ideas, concepts and knowledge flow up through the organization instead of from the outside in. The promise of the Internet rests in its ability to make us all teachers.

The impact of these six ideas on marketing and sales can be nothing less than revolutionary. There is always a tendency to wink at change and continue on the same path. While this may have been possible in the past, it is a dead-end in today's place-less business environment.

John R. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm founded in 1976. He is the author of 203 Ways To Be Supremely Successful In The New World Of Selling being published this month by Macmillan, and Magnet Marketing and The Ultimate Strategy for Attracting and HoMing Customers published by John Wiley & Sons. His series of six audio cassettes, Selling More, No Matter What, is distributed by The Dartnell Corporation, Chicago, IL. Graham can be contacted at 40 Oval Road, Quincy, MA 02170, (617) 328-0069; fax (617) 471-1504; e-mail: gramcom@aol.com.


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