If People Buy From People, Why Are We Racing In The Opposite Direction?


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In complex B2B buying, I believe the old maxim, “People buy from people,” is still highly relevant.  There’s probably a lot of data that supports this, but, anecdotally, let’s reflect:

Complex B2B buying decisions are most often consensus decisions.  Customers are getting other people in their organizations involved in the problem solving and decision making process.  They value or need the engagement of others to make the decision.  They know the active buy-in and engagement of others is critical to the success in the change management efforts.

Surveys show the importance of Trust, the value of Relationships, the importance the customer places on feeling heard and understood.

We constantly get feedback from customers that they buy from people who listen and care.

We constantly read about the importance of EQ.

I could go on, but you get the point.  Just think of yourself, your circle of colleagues and how you work.  Very few of us want or are able to work without engaging others.

So if the people to people connection is so important, such a vital part of what our customers want, what human beings crave, why are we racing in directions to minimize people to people engagement?

For decades, we’ve faced the challenge of connecting and personalizing in our marketing outreach.  Marketers would vary their advertising and messages to fit the audience for wherever those messages would appear.  The message that might appear in WSJ would be different than that which appeared in TV Guide (remember those days?).  Direct mailers looked for technologies to print “Dear Dave” on their mailings rather than “Dear Occupant or Current Resident.”

Fortunately, technology, analytics have moved us to capabilities of rich personalization and addressing “customer segments of 1.”  Despite having these powerful, technology enabled capabilities, we still execute the mass marketing, mass messaging techniques of decades before, inflicting millions of irrelevant, unpersonalized communications on an ever increasing volume of people and organizations.

In spite of their outrage, their use of SPAM filters, their constant unsubscribes, the feedback that says, “I don’t want this crap,” we continue to do the same thing at ever increasing volume and velocity.

We do the same in our “social networks.”  These networks were intended to bring people together, to help grow relationships, to provide rich means of communicating whether through messaging, stories, videos, and so forth.  But instead, we move the “relationship” out of it.  We leverage these platforms to drive likes, visibility, popularity.  We engage in soliloquies not conversations.  Rather than responding to a message with another message, perhaps, “Thanks for the invitation, it’s great to meet, tell me about yourself….” we let LinkedIn choose our response—Thumbs up, Not Now, Not Interested…..  We no longer have to be engaged in the relationship or create conversations, we rely on bots to do it for us.

LinkedIn goes further in helping automate our relationships and conversations.  Rather than looking at individuals, finding people that may be relevant, LinkedIn does all that work for me.  It chooses the people I might be interested in and is glad to send a connection request to hundreds at a time.  99% of the people asking me for a connection have never looked at my profile before making the request (I do acknowledge some have seen my articles or comments and are driven by that).

“Chatbots” are all the rage right now.  We can leverage chatbots so that we don’t have to actually talk to and engage people.  We can let the machine do it for us, all in the name of efficiency and volume.  Yet, being on the receiving side of a chatbot, it’s always very obvious that I’m not communicating with a person, I’m communicating with a machine.  I think, “Thanks for showing that you care.”

It seems much of the drive for these applications of technology that depersonalize our communications and conversations is driven by the desire for volume.  We reach out to more and more, more frequently, because what we are doing now isn’t producing the results we need.  Logically, if we do more, faster, we can scale the results.

Customers become depersonalized widgets on our marketing and sales production lines.  They move from MQLs to SALs to SQLs handled by different specialists called SDRs, BDRs, AEs, Account Managers, Customer Success Specialists.  They become a data point in our activity and tracking metrics, not people with hopes, desires, dreams, goals, or challenges.

I often ask sales people about a recent win, asking, “What did you sell that for?”  Unsurprisingly, the response comes back “$100K in ARR,” or “$1M.”  It’s very seldom, “To help the customer solve this problem or address this opportunity.”

Ironically, there are some that do less, but more personally, with deeper and richer engagement.  Even more ironically, they produce more results more consistently. They recognize that, ultimately, we are human beings, we crave interaction and engagement.  We want to share our views, our dreams, our goals to someone that will listen.  We want to learn the dreams and goals of others.  We don’t want to go it alone, recognizing we need to collaborate and need help to make sense of what’s going on and to move forward.

Interestingly, these people leverage technology, as well.  They leverage technology to learn more about people and organizations.  They leverage technology to help them become more informed about what they are facing, what they care about, what they are trying to achieve.  They leverage technology to improve the quality of their conversations and their ability to engage people in meaningful, relevant ways.

Again, ironically, these people find they accomplish more by doing less.  That is they realize success in sales isn’t really about volume and velocity, but it’s about reaching the right people at the right time and engaging them in high impact conversations.

If people buy from people, if we, ourselves, crave meaningful conversations, relevance, and relationships, why are we racing in the opposite direction.  Why are we displacing the personalized outreach and “connection” with surrogates?

This is not a technology discussion, tough too many will think it is.

It’s a discussion about who we are, how much we care, how we achieve, and how we help our customers achieve.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


  1. Dave,
    Good points about the volume (both numeric and noise level) and velocity of technology-driven communiques. While the technology is evolving at high speed, our DNA remains fixed, hence the desire for personalized conversations. And the need for trust.

    At the same time, the continual business imperative to do more with less–and faster–drives people to jump on the tech bandwagon. These folks want to be shielded from tech (spam filters, etc.) while wanting to leverage it (multiple daily tweets) to reach others.

    Like any tool, used properly you get big-time leverage (think of a chain saw); used improperly, folks can get hurt. Before individuals reach for the latest new tool, they should reflect on your comments and examine their motives. What is my intention in employing this tool? Would I be pleased to be approached by someone using it to get my attention?

    Again, good stuff.

  2. Thanks Barry. It really isn’t about the technology but how we leverage the technology to maximize our personal impact. As you say, too many haven’t taken the time to understand this, as a consequence, they are creating crap at the speed of light.

  3. Well – lets us ALL take one minute and think what the cell-phone has done to the younger generation – they sit and tickle keys all day long – then ask them how their day was and you receive a dumb look…….no talkies anymore !!

    The robots will be walking around with a smile and the HUMAN RACE WILL BECOME THE UNEMPLOYED TICKLE YOUR POT-PLANT ZOMBIE.

  4. Dave, excellent thoughts…
    I guess there is B2B and B2B. Some requires personal touch and some does not. In B2C same. I guess the more complex the transaction the more personalised it becomes.
    You have give us much to think about

  5. It’s good to remind ourselves, or be reminded, that value delivery and trusted relationships are built on both art and science. Balancing is critical. Over-emphasis of one leaves the other vulnerable. Too much dependence on people can result in underdeveloped technology Too much dependence on technology can result in people being secondary or tertiary. And, the reality is that customers are keenly aware if art and science are not in balance, with the result that they will gravitate to companies that offer both in the experience.

  6. Agree. In our relentless pursuit of efficiency, we have traded off pieces of our humanity. I can fuss about it, but then there’s that nagging issue about what I’m willing to pay. Then, I must accept some of the blame (or credit!) for my product experience, be it bad, or good. If I’m only willing to pay so much for a product or service, or if I’m prone to defecting to a less expensive choice, then I might have to accept self-service or automation in place of things a real live human being used to perform. Market forces are predominant in driving these changes, and less so a wanton ‘drive for volume.’

    I’m old enough to have experienced air travel pre-internet. Booking a reservation from Washington, DC, the closest major city to my home, to say, Chicago, once involved many human interactions. My entry into the transaction began with an airline reservations agent who might have spent many minutes on the phone discussing itineraries and fares. I would have booked a reservation, a laborious process supported only through voice communications. Then, a day or two prior to my flight I would have confirmed my reservation by calling a central reservations number. I would have spoken to another agent, and repeated much of the same information . . . and on, and on. Just now, I have counted six live airline-employed humans involved in the pre-flight process, and I haven’t yet boarded the plane. If I craved that much human contact today, I’d bet that I’d push back when I learned the cost of receiving all that personal attention. The labor-intensity of yesteryear’s air travel market would be unsustainable today. The same applies to many other industries and markets.

    There’s opportunity in every industry for a company to play the role of iconoclast, but I question the ability for them to survive when their direct labor costs aren’t in line with their competition.

  7. Andrew is so right about earlier days booking flights versus today’s self-serve. And yet, I must say, when I call Southwest (and I’m not a particularly frequent flyer with them), and get a live agent after 2 rings, I’m always pleasantly surprised. I book online but if I need to change or cancel, then talking to someone ‘live’ can be super helpful.

    And, yes, they’re iconoclasts in their industry, not charging change fees or baggage fees (“bags fly free”) and offering other customer oriented services. I think they’re a good example of balancing technology and human interactions.

  8. And I enjoyed an expert travel agent finding deals for me which are no longer easy to access…We are doing with less, under the guise of having control.

  9. Fully agree, listening is always underestimated. It is about helping to buy then sell. Still empathy needs some investment time even if gives a great potential and depth of the relations. ,,,,. Technology anyway may help but ( hopefull) will not replace the understating and emotional relations.

  10. Thanks for your thought provoking article, Dave.

    Interestingly, so far your post has garnered 217 view and 10 responses. You have managed to connect with these people in a way, and in a time frame that would have been virtually impossible to do in person. Further, you may have met them and not have been quite as successful in connecting with them – for one reason or another.

    While it’s true that “People buy from People”, I also understand that People buy from People they like”. And, they like those people for reasons such as trust. Your blog engenders trust, and therefore, like. You have successfully harnessed technology to connect with people through genuinely conveying your perspectives and inviting comment.

    Are we really racing in the opposite direction, or, are we trying to harness technology to do more with less? Less time, less coffee, less travel, less cost?

    It seems the race is on and finding meaningful ways to connect is the challenge. I believe person to person sales approaches, such as demonstrating congruency, a genuine desire to add value and earn trust can be used via blogs. Dave, you have done just that. 🙂

  11. Dave, you’re welcome. Since I specialise in getting the truth, I’m compelled to tell it too. 🙂 Best wishes for a wonderful festive season and beyond.


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