In yesterday's post, I explained that the Information Age is dead because everyone now has all the information they need (and then some). We can now treat information as a given, i.e. as infrastructure, like the railroads of the Industrial Age.
We are now in the Conversation Age where the ability to connect and converse is far more important than the ability to create and disperse more information and data. Companies that wish to thrive will need to transcend their current information-centric strategies.
Here's where to start:
- Re-enclose your open plan offices. The point of having employees at a central location is so they can have more face-to-face conversations, right? Since, contrary to popular belief, open plan offices actually reduce the number of such conversations, create more private areas, which will increase them.
- Implement employee-only online conversations. Workers, especially younger ones, prefer texting to emailing because it's quicker, more personal, and there's (so far) a lot less spam. Companies should encourage texting (and keep it spam-free) by implementing in-house system like Slack.
- Replace PowerPoint with paper. Rather than have people sit through presentations (which focus on information) start each meeting by having everyone read a concise, printed backgrounder on the topic to be discussed. Then have a conversation about it, because it's the conversation that's important. (Note: I totally didn't get this idea when it first surfaced, but I'm now a convert and true believer.)
- Disinvest in content marketing. You, your company, and your customers already have more content than everyone really needs. Time to refocus. No more white papers, e-books, presentations, videos, sales pitches, brochures, etc., etc. Start thinking of content as a burden on the customer. Unless you're talking expert-to-expert, anything more than a sentence or two is TMI.
- Redesign your website so that it starts a conversation rather than merely provides information. Stick the informational stuff deep in the page where that rare visitor who wants it can still find it. For everyone else, try to engage them ASAP in some kind of online interchange.
- Retool your email marketing so that it's more personalized, contains a minimum of information, but instead invites the customer into a conversation. Send short, personalized emails that don't point the recipient at information but instead ask a yes/no question, thereby inviting them into a conversation.
- De-emphasize CRM. True, it's useful to have all the contact data in one place and a way to track the stages of a sales process. Anything beyond that, however, is marginally useful, which is why CRM installations have such a dismal failure rate. CRM is mostly overhead at this point. Minimize it or do without.
- Have salespeople engage online. Rather than pestering customers, salespeople should be participating in conversations--ideally within conversations that the customers themselves have started. Think of social media as the world's largest meet-and-greet conference, where you're a tentative guest. Make the conversation about them, not you.
- Expect salespeople to be conversationalists. To be blunt, any salesperson who's dumb enough to give a sales pitch, sales presentation, elevator pitch, or send a customer a brochure or a link "for more information" should be fired. Selling means conversation not information. Great salespeople have always known this, by the way.
In short, here's your strategy going forward: Create more connections, not more content.