The Red Queen Effect and the Future of Sales
The last decade or two has seen a tremendous change in the nature of how buyers buy, and thus how sellers sell. The main driver of this has of course been the shift to digital technology and therefore digital information. What this has meant is that information on what you might be about to purchase has gone from having a cost to completely free. Printed materials, delivered either by mail or by a salesperson, had a definite cost to them, while the marginal cost of digital information is of course zero.
But so what? A small cost becomes zero – why does that lead to a profound effect?
The Red Queen Effect
It does so because of the competition between companies around access to information in the hope that it will generate more sales. We’ve all devised marketing strategies that use marketing information as a “prize” in order to push buyers to take an action (talk to a sales person, fill out a form, etc). This works alright, but as soon as a competitor provides the same information at a lower cost to the buyer, they will generally go in that direction. This is known as the Red Queen Effect, named for the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass”, when she says to Alice:
“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”
This effect is only amplified by social media sharing and search optimization. The addition of any “hurdle” to access information greatly decreases its searchability or shareability.
An Arms Race of Content
So we are stuck in an arms race of content. More content, more media types, more options. More effort to get it shared, tweeted, linked, searched, and liked. More expenditures on paid media to get content in front of buyers earlier in the funnel. More investment in unique content to hopefully move higher in the organization and access increasingly senior decision makers.
But is this arms race working?
Buyers are overwhelmed with articles, studies, infographics, whitepapers, and videos. Content teams are desperately exploiting every catchy-overly-emotional-headline trick they have to convince people to watch their content, but as every concept and trick permeates the industry its effectiveness plummets. We are running as hard as we can just to keep in the same place.
Trust, and the Future of Sales
So imagine that we’ve blogged, tweeted, advertised, and posted our content so much that the senior decision maker, let’s call her Janice, has seen more of our content than our competitor’s content. You might be tempted to say “mission accomplished” and assume that the sale is ours to lose. However, there is a fundamental weakness. All that it takes is for someone whom Janice trusts to quietly say “oh, you’re thinking about buying from Acme Co? That’s surprising; they’re a great company and all, but really not a fit for your needs”. Trust trumps content, and your efforts to run as fast as possible and create the most and the best content are for naught.
To succeed, sales people need to invest more in trust than they do in content.
Finding opportunities to help, to acknowledge, to congratulate, to entertain, or to engage the people who might one day lean on you for a trusted opinion is the best use of time. Rather than just creating more noise, different noise, or louder noise, the successful salespeople of the future are those who build the deep, trusting relationships where a whisper is heard more clearly than the loudest content.