Inside Analysis

Navigating Buyer Needs in Times of Disruption

by Geoff Webb,
Vice President Strategy at PROS

She has a brain five times the size of yours, can make a noise so loud it would deafen a normal human, and she’s set to teach us all a lesson about running a business in uncertain times.

Her formal title is Physeter Macrocephalus but she’s ok with the less formal, “Sperm Whale” or the rather uncommon “cachalot” (from the French for “big teeth” ).  But it isn’t her teeth (or even her giant brain) that we should be interested in – it’s her ability to see in the dark.  An ability that is especially pertinent for enterprise organizations trying to navigate their way through the sudden and unpredictable changes in buyer behavior brought about by the COVID pandemic.

Because buyer behavior has most definitely changed.  I’ve seen examples of business having to move from a small percentage of their buying online to almost their entire revenue is coming through eCommerce channels.  In other cases, the mix of products being sold has changed dramatically and without warning.

The things that buyers need from your business may have shifted totally as a result of changes in their own business as, again, more and more of their customers have been forced to buy online.

So how do businesses deal with uncertain times? How do they know what to do, when?

Enter our friend, the whale.

Sperm whales hunt in the darkness of the deep seas, sometimes as much as half a mile straight down.  And like many mammals (and even some birds) they use echolocation to pierce the blackness and understand the world around them. While they can certainly make a lot of noise, they are exceptionally good at listening to the sound that bounces back.  And the kind of sound they are using varies depending on what they are doing – going from long, slow sounds when starting a hunt to faster and faster pings as they paint a fuller picture of what’s around them, until it’s a continuous sound that is often described as a “growl”.

Your business needs to do the same.

Specifically, they need to accelerate their listening.  As almost every market has become disrupted and confused, successful businesses are focused on respond in the right way to the new needs of their customers.  But do to that, they first listen. And they listen a lot.

They are evaluating past behavior of customers, to glean what current behaviors might mean.  Applying analytics to volumes of transactional data can surface insights in how businesses have responded in downturns, that in turn can provide predictive insight into what your customers might need tomorrow.

They are also listening in real-time, to both current transactions and signals from the broader market. This real-time aspect is critical (and is how our toothy friend finds her favorite meal, the squid.)  While it may have been ok to evaluate customer buying preferences on a regular, periodic basis in the past, it’s time to accelerate that review, gathering sales and marketing data together to store, sort, segment, and process. Looking at behavioral data and surfacing insights on preferences and needs will serve to guide your business through the gloom of uncertain change.

Of course, that also means processing a lot of data. Oceans of it. This is where tools like machine learning and even full AI can be used to quickly drive insight and analysis that sales and marketing teams can use. These technologies have the unique capacity to consume immense amounts of data and extract patterns of behavior that human analyses would miss or would take too long to evaluate. 

As a result, the power of AI to crunch through data and spot patterns is becoming central to the strategy successful businesses are adopting to navigate through the extraordinarily rapid changes in their markets. This is because, when things are moving as quickly as they are, it becomes imperative for businesses to both listen intently to their markets and customers and to respond quickly and correctly.  Conventional wisdom is unlikely to apply in such unconventional times and so analysis of behavior today, in the context of behavior in the past, will allow businesses to both respond to, and predict, needs.

Most powerfully, centralizing this predictive power allows the business to act as a single entity, feeding that insight to product teams, engineers, marketers, sales professionals, partners, and so on.  While the customer may themselves be forced to respond rapidly to changes in their own world, your business can unify around a single, clear perspective on what is going on, why, and how to best serve the customer’s needs.

From product design and production, to a sales exec on a zoom call, everyone has a clear, fact-based understanding of what each customer needs, and why.

That kind of alignment is transformational.

It allows even the most traditional enterprise to pivot quickly and smoothly to meet emerging customer and market trends because, simply, they see those trends sooner, and they all see the same picture.

And that’s the other lesson our sperm whale friend can teach us.  It doesn’t matter how big (or small) you are, if you have a single, clear, and accurate view of the world around you, then you can be successful no matter how rapidly the world (or your slippery prey) changes direction.

One Response to "Navigating Buyer Needs in Times of Disruption"

  • Gannon (J) Dick
    June 27, 2020 - 4:16 pm Reply

    Knowing that there are no atheists in foxholes will not help a strategic thinker when there are no ICU beds in Houston, especially if they live in Dallas. Beware the bigger sperm whale when they assume leadership.

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