Once upon a time, people would buy what they needed at stores. These were buildings where helpful salespeople would match a customer’s needs to the products the store carried. Later upon a time, people would pick up a telephone, which is something like a cell phone connected with copper-wire. They would talk with well-spoken, knowledgeable salespeople that would help guide their purchases. Now upon a time, the salespeople are being replaced – by us.
Frequently, we need help with a purchase. We need guidance, information and frequently reassurance that we are making the right buying decision. When we call a company to help us with a purchase, it may be to get the “fuzzies” of hearing a human voice. It may also be because we can’t find the content we need on their web site.
Selling has always been about relationship building. As the web started to grow selling sites, the relationship part was missing. Amazon was one of the earliest adopters of using the voice, if not the wisdom of the crowds who came to their web site.
This “crowdsourcing,” the use of the online crowd to replace a function (in this case salespeople) is effective and its use is growing. eCommerce web sites without online communities will have a hard time catching up with the amount of content that their competitors have generated. And it is the content that draws people to eCommerce sites like flies to sugar. We want diverse opinions to help us reach a buying decision.
From Best Buy to Zappos and CDW to PC Connection, there are customers asking for the guidance that you and I can share. After all, they would rather take the advice of a stranger over a salesperson. And so would we. Sure, some of the reviews are planted by competitors, perhaps even by the manufacturer, but we believe that we can read through that. The more opinions that appear on the site, the better it is for customer and company alike.
Yelp.com is a standalone community that continues to grow, breaking 25 million monthly users in May, according to Compete.com. Yelp is based on your experiences with restaurants, services, and night life … and about anything else in a given community. By making their content easy to reach and navigate on mobile devices, their content and membership is growing – and becoming a better predictor of where we should be spending our money.
Best Buy takes you from leaving your comment page and asks “Would you like to answer some questions about other products in this category?” They try to keep you engaged on the site, and speaking your mind. Their new TXT service, (not yet fully rolled out,) will allow you to get product specs from your cell phone. And it is fast.
The reason that everyone wants your content is simply that CONTENT = $.
They want your word of mouth in their communities, and to engage with you one-on-one through Twitter and Facebook. They want to retain your mindshare, and the better companies work hard to make sure that you stay happy. @ComcastCares and @Zappos work very hard on Twitter to reach that goal. Dunkin Donuts leverages Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to keep your interest. They’ve launched their Dunkin Run application for your computer or iPhone that makes you the office hero with a run for coffee.
These companies realize that they do not control their company’s message. In fact, no company controls “their” message. Word of mouth, the person-to-person storytelling about a brand is what becomes our perception of a company or brand. And our perception becomes reality. Some companies are smart enough to have a seat at the table to politely correct errors, and share information of general interest.
Business continues to move toward having us share our opinions and be, in some way, rewarded for them.
People continue to be a more social and mobile society.
Still, there are an amazing number of companies who are putting this move off. Big, respected companies are hiding their head in the sand the way many missed the coming of the Internet.
It’s just hard to be social with your head in the sand.