Are you Prepared for the Shift in the Purchasing Process?

A Guest Post By Valerie Simon

  • 1990:  I want to go to a new restaurant. I open up the yellow pages, or a copy of a local magazine to find a seafood restaurant nearby. I call two additional restaurants for more information and reservations.
  • 2000:  I want to go to a new restaurant. I do a quick Google search and find several Seafood restaurants online in my area. I check out three websites, choose the one I want, and make a call.
  • 2010:  I want to go to a new restaurant. I post a status update on Facebook asking for recommendations. Within 30 minutes I have numerous suggestions from friends with comments telling me what to order and even where to sit. I go to the website or FB page for the phone number and call.
  • 2020:  I want to go to a new restaurant. I get dressed, hop in the car and  say “Grilled Tuna – $18” into an app on my mobile device and local seafood restaurants immediately respond matching my price, offering discounts and an online tour of the space. I click on the restaurant and see the reviews from all of my connections who have been there. Another click and reservations are set and an online hostess directs me to the parking lot.

Traditional advertising was all about the brand. Today companies understand that it’s about the consumer, and that companies are only important in regards to how they can satisfy customer needs. Until now, the burden of research for a sales transaction has been primarily on the consumer. Assisted by advertising, sales teams, marketing material, websites etc., it has been incumbent on the consumer to seek out prospective solutions. But why?

New platforms like Zaarly, described as the “the ultimate demand engine” by co-founder Bo Fishback, are empowering consumers in new and exciting ways. State what you need, and let others bid for your business. Social platforms like Quora and LinkedIn make it easy to crowd source specific expert advice, and in doing so influence purchasing decisions. And every new customer is suddenly an “expert” with the ability to share his experience with the marketplace;  New research by NM Incite, a Nielsen/McKinsey Company, notes that 68 percent of social media users go to social networking sites to read product reviews.

Building and maintaining customer relationships has never been more important. Earlier today, watching the trailer for Brian Solis’s new book The End of Business As Usual, I was reminded of the harsh realities companies are facing in a new digital culture. A failure to listen to the marketplace, can be fatal, as Katie Paine recently noted, in her analysis of the now defunct VMS.

With such high stakes what steps must brands take to leverage the listening power of these new tools to create and grow brand evangelists?

Strive not to sell products or service, but relationships. At the end of the sales cycle, what have you achieved? Rather than “Always Be Closing” the new mantra should be “Always Be Opening.” Social media presents new opportunities to engage customers outside of specific sales. Find opportunities to open the door for continued conversation and to stay top of mind. Seek to turn your customer into an extended member of your sales team, someone who will be quick to offer  referrals, testimonials, and honest market intelligence.

Location, location, location… The social universe is grand. Your budget and resources likely are not. Carefully consider where your customers/prospects live online, before investing time and money. Extend your search beyond Facebook and Twitter. Those in the fashion and beauty industry certainly want to consider Tumblr. B2B organizations should consider taking advantage of LinkedIn and SlideShare. Seek out the forums and active industry blogs where your customers spend time. And if you cannot find a specialized network meeting the social needs of your customers, consider whether you have the resources to build your own community. Mercedes Benz does, and welcomed their youngest customers into “Generation Benz”, a branded social network that allows Mercedes to interact with customers and solicit feedback.

Implement a social CRM program that puts the customer at the center of the organizations operations Rather than pushing messages to customers, use social networks as a means to listen and converse with customers Listening is not a matter of simply hearing words. Listening requires a concentrated method of digesting the information, and using that information to take action. As this simple example from Fed Ex demonstrates, a strong social CRM program can help you head off potential problems and improve your customer experience.  Identify how customer feedback will be quickly heard and managed by the appropriate member of your organization. How will follow up responses and communications be efficiently managed?

Be on a continuous quest to add value Allow your customers and the greater marketplace to guide you in identifying opportunities to pursue and vulnerabilities to address. Listen not only to those issues that pertain to your product or service as it exists today, but seek to understand the greatest needs and challenges of your customers and in the marketplace.

What will the next level of social media platforms offer consumers? And out of curiosity, how do you think you will go about deciding what new restaurant to try in 2020?


Valerie is an innovative developer of teams, communities, products and communications programs.  Formerly Senior Vice President, BurrellesLuce, Valerie has directed the implementation of new and upgraded services, planned and executed social media initiatives, and used social media to build relationships and sales. She has had the opportunity to work with a gamut of organizations, from Fortune 500 companies to regional hospitals and colleges to help integrate social media channels into existing marketing, communication and outreach programs and demonstrate ROI.  Valerie is passionate about the opportunity social media offers to build communities and business. Valerie is co-founder of #PRStudChat (PR Student Chat), a trending Twitter chat that brings faculty and students together for dynamic discussions with professionals and co-founder of HAPPO (Help a PR Pro Out), an initiative designed to use social media to leverage relationships and help facilitate introductions between employers and prospective employees. Connect with Valerie on Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+