How to beat the low energy state

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This isn’t a post about lethargy in our political system. Frankly right now, a little more lethargy may be welcome. Rather it’s about what seems to be the default position for human beings: we want to expend as little energy and time as possible to achieve our ends. We’re both lazy and impatient, an odd combination when you think about it. We want things done quickly but we don’t want to expend the energy to make them happen.

We’e invested billions to lubricate commerce #ukpunday

This is particularly evident in shopping, a market I’ve spent a lot of time looking at in the last couple of years. Back when I started my digital agency about ten years ago, we used to talk about the seven second rule: people wouldn’t wait more than seven seconds for a website to load. Now Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages load in around a tenth of that. On top of this raw page acceleration, we’ve seen drastic enhancements in search, on-site personalisation to surface the items we might want, and checkout processes so lubricated that we can slide through in a single click.

Though most of us may never consider this shift, once highlighted it is easy to recognise. What people don’t recognise so easily is the more general shift that affects every aspect of commerce — and life more widely. It doesn’t matter if you service citizens for a government, or sell professional services to the business elite, you are going to be affected by this trend.

So what do you do?

This is the subject of my talk at the Prolific North Live event this week. I’m offering three tips.

Openness

The first tip is to be more open. Specifically, to expose your business to deeper integration with the many channels of communication and commerce now available.

This point was highlighted for me through a conversation with the owner/manager of a lower-medium-sized (25m turnover) local business. He manufactured products that he sold through distributors to the trade and niche retailers. I asked him if he had listed those products on Amazon. He thought I had totally misunderstood his business and got quite frustrated when I pressed the point: “No, no, no. We sell B2B not to consumers.” Eventually I convinced him to go on to Amazon and type in some keywords for his products.

He quickly found his competitors on there. I think it was a shock. Just like every other, his industry had been disintermediated by the long-tail ecommerce markets and he hadn’t even noticed.

He’s not alone. And few people realise how far this trend will spread. I can call an Uber now by asking Alexa. I never touch a website, or my phone, or a Yellow Pages (let me know if you’re under 30 and need that concept explaining). How long before I ask Alexa — or its peers, voice-based or otherwise — to find me an accountant or a solicitor?

Companies need to be open to integration with these platforms, which are increasingly the de facto means of discovery for consumers and business buyers alike, whether that means selling goods through an online marketplace, integrating with AI assistants or whatever comes next: AR, in-network etc. A search presence is just the beginning.

Transparency

How long does it take information to move through your organisation? Imagine a customer request, or feedback from a bunch of customers, that needs to reach the CEO or someone who can take a strategic decision about addressing it. Does it take an hour, a day, a week or a month to reach the decision-maker? I’ve heard as much as three months before.

What happens to that information along its journey? How much is it polluted by processing as people translate it in a multi-stage game of Chinese Whispers?

This pollution can be innocent. It can be people covering their own arse. The results can range from inappropriate or non-existent responses to important challenges, all the way to fraud. See: BT, Volkswagen etc etc etc.

This issue only goes away if pathways are cleared. If information travels quickly, widely and untampered with through organisations. Of course this means you have to be selective about what information you collect: too much information is as bad as no information at all.

The trend right now is to collect everything and hoard it in massive data stores for notional retrospective analysis. This is expensive and obstructive. There’s nothing wrong with big data stores as long as you know why you’re collecting it.

Information should be shared widely through an organisation and beyond because this empowers those at the edge to respond, it reduces the opportunity for fraud (though not eliminating it — most people are busy doing their own jobs), and it increases responsiveness. But only if the right information is being collected shared.

Performance

Customers won’t wait. The way the buying cycle has shifted, it’s likely that buyers increasingly have the information they need to make a decision at the point at which you — as the seller — first encounter them. This is a major shift from two decades ago when the vendor was often the primary source of information for the buyer.

Any opportunity to strip friction from the purchasing process should be examined, whether your audience is consumers or corporates.

Consumer tools for this are well established: site performance and personalisation, one-click payments etc. But it’s less well understood in corporate environments, particularly those more familiar with a consultative sell.

The challenge is choice: we’re used to presenting customers with choices, when actually too much choice is a growing problem these days. People want answers, not more questions. You need to really understand your customer in order to be able to present the answer they want, even if they can’t yet properly formulate the question.

This is something with which I’ve struggled personally in this business: cobblers shoes and all that. Your own business is always the hardest one about which to be objective. I think I’m starting to crack it now though.

Fast & open

Successful businesses in tomorrow’s world will move fast and operate in an open fashion. They will share information with customers, partners and crucially, their own staff. They will act to optimise their interfaces with all of these groups.

This post forms part of my Future Human series. For more posts on this subject, visit the Future Human page.

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Tom Cheesewright