The ability to persuade that is, influence someone’s beliefs or behaviours is more important than ever in business, especially because of what’s going on right now with the fallout of COVID-19.
I’m talking about budget restrictions on B2B purchases giving rise to ever-more ferocious levels of competition for smaller pieces of the tech investment pie, and the axing of jobs where more people are applying for fewer roles, at least in traditional areas of IT.
All of which will continue in 2021.
Because of this and the latest research, it’s my opinion, persuasion (having influence) will be a major focus.
What will be important will be to understand and apply persuasion in terms of the following seven things:
1. Shorter attention spans resulting from the aftermath of COVID-19: more anxious, overwhelmed and busier than ever buyers, teammates, managers and leaders. How will this change your communication style and approach?
2. Time is (and will continue to be) the most precious commodity. While this has been trending for a few years, in 2020-21, with people working longer hours and juggling home and business life means we’re all extremely protective of our time. Being precise and concise without sacrificing depth will be a highly-regarded communication skill.
3. Virtual business will be the norm. How we communicate online is different and will require a different set of skills or will challenge us to hone our communication skills like never before. Are you prepared?
4. B2B buyers want less interaction with salespeople: This has been a trend for a while, but research shows its growing. How we sell has to change. The first step, have you adapted your website to meet this growing trend?
5. Ethics (balancing purpose and profit) will be a major focus: COVID-19 exposed a lot of companies that didn’t live by espoused values and showed the leaders and companies that did. B2B buyers will have more stringent expectations when it comes to ethical behaviour, especially the younger generation. If you’re merely greenwashing, watch out!
6. Social selling will ramp up. B2B buyers want to do business with people and companies they trust, and more than ever are going online to read about you, your leaders and your company. What does your social footprint or that of your company look like?
7. Non-sales selling will come into focus. The ability to sell your ideas, creativity, expertise, knowledge and skills in this upside-down world of post-COVID-19, will see non-sales people working on their persuasion skills. As a non-sales person, are you ready?
Let’s look at these seven things in more detail:
1. You’re Competing With Shorter Attention Spans
Your audience today is more anxious and busier than ever. They have less focus, even for things that are important to them. So, it will be crucial to consider their state of mind and figure out what they value and how they want to digest your information (format and platform). Even this writer will be changing the format of my blog posts to shorter or bite-sized content in 2021. While your audience wants valuable insights, they may not be receptive the first time they hear, see or read your message because their attention is elsewhere or everywhere. Persuasion and influence in 2021 will require the power of repetition: the same insight delivered multiple ways. And most importantly, we will need to hone the message, sharpen the language; make every word count.
2. Because Time Is A Precious Commodity, Trade Smarter
It’s important to slow down and think through the purpose of any of your emails, conversations or presentations, and then carefully consider what the other party wants. Because if there’s not much in it for them, they’ll view you as a time bandit, which will blow any chance you have to persuade them of anything. Also, a lot of our business audience’s time is spent coping with a tsunami of information, much of it confusing or conflicting. Whatever your role, if you save people time by helping them make sense of important information, you’ll be highly valued. If you’re in a sales role, Gartner’s sense-making sales approach should be followed in 2021, if you don’t already.
3. Virtual Business Means Poor Communications Will Be Less Tolerated
Virtual business is here to stay even if some companies and people eventually go back to the office. When you’re conducting business on a screen, people will notice more if you’re unprepared, you waffle, or your slides are busy, ugly, or your content is irrelevant. Consider my points 1 & 2 (shorter attention spans and less time), and your audience’s ability to tolerate poor communications will be less than zero. If you’re lucky enough to present any sales pitch and you’re using PowerPoint, you need to succinctly persuade in the context of what is valuable to your audience. You can read this article for help with this. Even if you’re not in sales, the endless stream of virtual team meetings, town halls, and online brain-storming sessions can create brain fog. Want your ideas heard and executed? Then you need to employ concise communications providing only essential yet compelling content to your audience. And for everyone, whether in sales or otherwise, acute listening and in-depth questioning skills will separate the master persuaders from the mere presenters-of-facts or the pushy-type peddlers.
4. If B2B Buyers Don’t Need Sales People, How Do We Sell?
This one has plenty of research and commentary from analysts and most tell a consistent story. B2B buyers want to do most of their purchasing online without any hand-holding from salespeople, with this very recent survey of B2B buyers by McKinsey and Company reporting that “only 20-30% of B2B buyers want to ever interact with reps in person even in their ideal/post-COVID-19 model”. And they also note that “95% of B2B buyers claim they will make a purchase in an end-to-end, digital self-serve model, with the vast majority very comfortable spending $50K or more online.” Even when it comes to more complex B2B tech sales, websites need to better support the b2b customer on their buying journey rather than provide branding type content and facts about their solution or service. Watch this video by the insightful and likeable, Marcus Sheridan, on what you can do to accommodate your B2B buyer online. Branding and offering insightful content is important but being persuasive online is more so. So, reinventing your website to work as an end-to-end sales engine will give you a significant return on investment in 2021.
5. Ethics Will Play a Bigger Role In Profitability
Ethical companies are more profitable. I wrote a series of articles about the elements of persuasion, and one of them talks about employing Aristotle’s appeal to ethics. To be truly persuasive, it will be important in 2021 to persuade more from an ethical standpoint but beware not to exaggerate or lie. As a technology company, you’ll also attract more success if you can prove that your products or services enable your customer to build and operate a more ethical business, one that promotes “environmental sustainability or protects consumers’ privacy” as this Forrester report outlines. For consumers, ethics is bound up by how CEOs have reacted to the pandemic, and those that communicated with humility and empathy won out as reported here. For the C-suite, in any industry like tech for example, which in my opinion suffers a lot from hubris, being persuasive is more about showing up as a vulnerable human being that doesn’t know everything instead of turning up like an overly-confident jerk. Because big business still suffers from the cult of personality (think Elon Musk), the CEO needs to lead the way in ethical persuasion. If you’re interested in this topic, keep an eye on Edelman’s Trust Barometer (be sure to watch the video) especially about how technology companies are not as trusted as before and what we can do to build trust as people that work in tech (an industry I love).
6. The Social Executive Will Be More Persuasive
When you think about how consumers and business buyers value trust but don’t feel the need to talk to you in person, then building trust and credibility is best served via a social platform. The most important platform to connect with a global business audience is LinkedIn, as we all know. I’m not going to get into all the things you can do on LinkedIn, other than most sales executives should at the least have an up-to-date profile that shows how they help buyers solve problems rather than talk about how they’ve exceeded sales targets. Whatever your role, senior leadership, marketing, sales, technologist, delivery, project management, customer care, the best way to have business people trust you as ethical and competent is to engage socially on LinkedIn. That is, comment on people’s posts, congratulate colleagues, prospects or partners on new roles and share your point-of-view about your area of expertise. From a corporate standpoint, I believe you must have a company page on LinkedIn as this is where you can showcase why you’re an employer of choice in a real and authentic way and persuasively build business credibility with current and potential customers. For more on that, see Ogilvy’s efforts, and their strategic approach should be emulated.
7. Non-sales Selling Will Come Into Focus
I’ve been reading Daniel Pink’s book, “To Sell Is Human, The Surprising Truth About Persuading, Convincing and Influencing Others” published in 2012, but current for the post-COVID world. His research at that time discovered that most people outside of “trying to get others to make a purchase” are engaged in, “non-sales selling”. And says, “The ability to move others to exchange what they have for what we have is crucial to our survival and our happiness.” Whether you’re part of a team designing new products or services, you’re seeking a promotion, convincing your boss to give you a pay rise or looking for a new role at a new company, your ability to persuade others to listen to you or choose you will become more critical in 2021, especially as the race for talent heats up and the marketplace becomes noisier and more saturated. From reinventing your career, pivoting or moving up the corporate ladder, learning the science of persuasion should be a top priority for you.
Being persuasive is being human, and we all naturally try to influence others. However, it’s fair to say it’s much harder to persuade audiences of today who are time-poor, overloaded and exhausted. Being persuasive is not about talking more or being slick in how we pitch our ideas; it’s about sharing meaningful content and context. Being persuasive is demonstrating how we can be of value to someone, especially to solve complex business problems. And it’s about proving we can be trusted to serve our audience’s best interests.
To help you be more thoughtfully persuasive, download my short e-book, Mastering B2B Persuasion, here.
To your success in 2021.