By Jay Bemis | Advertising Systems Inc.
A major challenge for chief executives during the pandemic has been the ability to adapt to change quickly and embrace the reality that a digital “future” already is here.
Recent research from Vistage, an organization that serves 21.000-plus member CEOs, is issuing this challenge for the C-suite in 2022 and beyond:
“CEOs must make a mindset shift to digital, from rethinking marketing strategy, to re-inventing customers’ digital experience, and realigning sales and marketing teams to create a world in which digital buyers can thrive.”
“The pandemic has overhauled nearly every aspect of life, from how people make payments to how doctor’s visits are conducted, where people choose to live, and how workplaces operate,” Joe Galvin, Vistage’s chief research officer, wrote in summing up the report this week for Microsoft News.
“It’s not a new normal, it’s an entirely new reality in a new world.”
Four Factors CEOs Must Confront in This New Reality
Vistage in its research found that 78 percent of CEOs report “dramatic shifts” in buyer behavior as a result of COVID-19, led by four key factors:
1) A shift to digital buying. “Buyers are taking their shopping online and conducting far more research on their own, prior to purchase,” Vistage found.
2) Virtual selling is replacing in-person sales. “Virtual selling is increasingly replacing traditional face-to-face interactions; customers may be more interested in setting up a video than meeting in-person.”
3) There is a slower sales cycle in this new world. “After initial periods of panic-buying subsided, customers are more cautious and measured, and less likely to take risks, creating a slower sales cycle.”
4) COVID-19 market dynamics. “Everything from a lack of trade shows to supply chain issues and inflation have greatly impacted the buying experience.”
Where CEOs Should Re-Imagine Their Strategies
“Every step of the customer journey should be smooth and consistent, no matter the digital platform or human interactions,” Galvin says.
The Vistage research with CEOs concludes that the C-suite, in these ongoing pandemic times, should focus its attention on these areas:
- Virtual sales — Buyers first became unable to meet with salespeople in-person during the pandemic and now have grown accustomed to purchasing virtually.
“While some degree of face-to-face selling will reemerge eventually, it will never return to pre-pandemic levels. Digital is here to stay, and subsequently, the significance of the digital buying experience has increased tenfold,” Galvin says.
- Realizing that “website is king” — A company’s website is its “digital storefront,” and it should be “engaging potential buyers at all phases and helping satisfy their search for information, from capabilities to price.”
The website, Vistage says, “must be the CEO’s primary focus area when it comes to customer engagement.”
- Customer touch points — Once the focus on website is in place, “social media should be the second most highly regarded area of digital investment for CEOs,” Vistage says. “It helps create and grow the customer relationship, beyond sales, and has the power to drive links to purchase.
“It’s critical that social media echoes the same messaging provided on other platforms, from online search to advertising campaigns and virtual help desks.”
- Customer service — There still will be occasions when customers want to speak to other humans, rather than communicate digitally. When such occasions occur, “it’s increasingly imperative that sales and marketing act in alignment.”
“Customer service should serve as product experts and brand ambassadors — they must be able to provide more information than a Google search would yield,” Galvin wrote. “Customers spend less time interacting with sales, and meet them later in the journey, so the touch points must be focused and value-driven.”
Making the Buyer Be Aware
“The buyer has spoken,” Galvin says in summing up the Vistage research with CEOs.
“Modern customers want to be empowered to self-inform, self-educate, and self-purchase. CEOs who successfully pivot to address customers’ changing desires and reinvest their sales and marketing strategies accordingly will be primed for success in the years to come.”